Many people I know who go to extremes in the world of health have been driven there by extremely negative or toxic experiences. Alessandrina Lerner is no exception. A French expat, Lerner was handed over to the care of the state at the age of 14 when her alcoholic father was deemed a risk to her safety. "It's not a very good story. He was very abusive," she said.
That's the same year Lerner became a vegetarian and began a journey of cleansing and self-discovery. "From there, my awareness kept growing. [When I ate animal products] I could just feel the suffering of the animals, so I just couldn't do it. I found yoga through meditation, and continued to try to figure out why I'm here and who I am."
Now in her early forties, she's a vegan who fluctuates between raw foods and macrobiotics. More importantly, she's dedicated herself completely to helping others detoxify both physically and spiritually. She's just recently teamed up with a Sadhu, a local Kundalini yogi and a spiritual guide to augment her program further. Together, they offer a thorough week-long detox program that even non-celebrities can afford.
Her path to this point has been long and winding. She earned an MBA and moved to Miami at 27. She quit her job at American Express' headquarters when she became pregnant with her daughter Amandine, making the decision to pursue something more meaningful instead.
Under the constant guidance of an Indian swami, she studied yoga, meditation, and vegetarian nutrition and purification until her ex-husband's jealousy forced her to give up the discipleship after a few months.
"The swami gave me massages. Of course they were nothing, but my ex found out and freaked out." But she didn't stop learning, continuing to read spiritual books and to practice yoga. "I would do asanas three or four hours a day and read, read, read."
In 2009, she became a certified yoga instructor through the teacher training at the Miami Yogashala in power vinyasa yoga. To watch her now, balancing her slight yet entirely muscled and tanned body on her fingertips, it's hard to imagine her having ever jetted around the world running errands for corporate banks. "It's really amazing how my body reacted. It was as though my body had always known these poses. I was just a natural," she said.
Two years ago, Lerner began developing her detox program in partnership with Fred Busch, owner of what's now called Brickell Hot Yoga (formerly Miami Yogashala) and one of the directors at the locally-based American Nutrition Institute. But the two eventually had a falling out and parted ways. Lerner continued to offer her juice detoxes as a solo venture, until she started taking Kundalini classes at the Chakrasamvara, a "tricked out" Buddhist sanctuary and yoga center on Hibiscus Island, with Sadhu, a local yogi and spiritual life coach. Kundalini is an ancient form of yoga that focuses on heightening consciousness and awareness.
"Kundalini yoga is so superior to any other practice of yoga that I've ever encountered in the context of transforming people, and in the context of detoxifying," said Lerner of her experience with Sadhu's teachings. "Because you're not just detoxifying your body - you're really shedding all the layers of your being. So for me, I was like, 'This is the most powerful thing I've ever felt, and I want other people to feel it."
So she and Sadhu joined forces to offer a truly complete 7-day guided detox program, one that combines Lerner's nutritional cleansing regimen with Sadhu's intense private Kundalini yoga sessions and spiritual guidance.
The first days of the program simply entail preparing for a 3-day fast by removing toxic elements from the diet. One day before the onset of the fast, clients have their first Kundalini yoga session with Sadhu.
Then, for the next three days, Lerner provides clients with three organic juices per day for the duration of the fast, with a concentration on green juices made primarily of kale, cilantro, cucumber, spinach, and a touch of green apple for sweetness. She also administers a blue-green algae called aphanizomenon flos-aquae (AFA). Produced by a company called E3Live, it is touted as the most nutritionally-dense superfood known to man.
"If we don't eat well and move around and breathe well all the time, our organs become sluggish," said Lerner. "So what you do by giving them optimal nutrition, you're maximizing your health. You're optimizing the way your organs function. And when you do that, you're creating the detox in itself. You're ingesting things that are detoxifying ... You're facilitating the detoxification process in a totally natural and holistic manner."
Meanwhile, clients continue to undergo private Kundalini yoga sessions with Sadhu on each day of the fast to enhance the spiritual effects of the cleanse. To make the program into a full-blown retreat, clients can even elect to stay on the premises for the duration of the three-day juice fast. Regardless, Lerner and Sadhu provide clients with ongoing support for each day of the program. Post-fast, Lerner continues to guide clients on how to break the fast and what foods to eat to preserve the fast's effects.
"We play the life coach for the people when they come every day for their juices and their supplements and their yoga. We hang out with them and talk and go through whatever they went through on that day," she said.
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All I could think as Lerner explained this was that it sounds fantastic ... and way out of my price range. Turns out I was wrong. The entire program, including seven days of guidance, four private Kundalini yoga sessions, and three days of organic juices and supplements, costs $450. I would not have been shocked at a price tag three times as high. And if clients decide to shack up on the premises of the Chakrasamvara for the three juicing days, it costs just $100 more. Thirty-three dollars a day to stay at a gorgeous spiritual center? You can't even get that rate at a skeevy Super 8.
"We wanted to make it accessible to everyone. We have to make a living, but the purpose is to help people," said Lerner. "You're really taking people from one space in their life to another. These are people who want to transform, and we're helping them to do that. I'm in seventh heaven."