If the new year is all about getting a fresh start, then the combination of new year, new century and new millennium offers the possibility for a fresher start than most other January renewals. Now is the time to take a close look at your life and decide what needs changing, what needs discarding and what needs to be introduced to make things better.

Most rituals of purification and revitalization contain a physical component. It is not only symbolically that the body and mind are linked. When we eat or drink too much, we are likely to feel burdened and sluggish on all levels. When we exercise, we feel enlivened mentally as well as physically. A fast or a cleansing diet will revitalize the mind and the spirit as well as cleanse the body.

To design your own purification ritual, first determine your goals. Do you want to do something dramatic, or just ease yourself into a simpler, purer lifestyle for a time? Take your character into account as well. If you are the ascetic type, a complete fast will probably seem enjoyable to you. If you are one who does not feel alive without the pleasures of regular food and drink, you may be better off with a ritual that eliminates only one or two items from your diet, or with a ritual based on adding exercise or some other positive element rather than one which deprives you of something. You would possibly not stick to a very austere regime, and the sense of failure would be the overwhelming result of the experience. Not an auspicious start to a program of self-renewal!

The basic rules for fasting are simple: Consult your health specialist beforehand; if you are an inexperienced faster, try it for a day only and drink lots of water, fruit juices and herbal teas; even if you are experienced, never undertake a rigorous fast without arranging for regular medical monitoring. A cleansing diet is almost always based on eliminating all alcohol, caffeine, processed foods, meats, white-flour products and sugar and sugary products from the diet.

The usual cleansing diet relies on raw fruits and raw or lightly steamed vegetables and lots of water, and it is usually followed for a week or so. As for the fast, if you are unused to such nutritional experiments, consult a specialist.

Other ways to design your own purification ritual include the following:

* Choose one thing to eliminate. Tobacco, alcohol, sweets, potato chips, white flour, red meat, whatever you really wish you didn’t indulge in. As they say, choose your poison — and stop taking it.

* Eat less.

* Add something beneficial to your diet. An herbal supplement or tea, a liter of water a day, three fresh fruits daily, whole grains or vitamins.

* Add something to your exercise program. Start running, take up a new discipline, start stretching.

* Exercise more often.

* Get more fresh air.

* Breathe more deeply. Even the smallest adjustment to your lifestyle can make a big difference to how you feel. Among the rewards may be better health, clearer skin, more energy, a more optimistic outlook, greater stamina and at the very least, a sense of self-respect due to having achieved a goal.

Think positively of the adjustment you decide to make and it will be easier — if you consider it a chore it will be hard to maintain it in your weaker moments.

Remember, as you embark on any of these programs of purification and renewal, that habits are hard to change, whether they are good habits or bad ones. Be patient with yourself. It may take a while for the bad habits to drift into oblivion.

Make your new habits good ones, and may your new year be wonderful!

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