Feeling clogged, heavy, or bloated? You don’t have to go on a cleanse or start chugging lemon water every morning (although you totally can if you want to!) There’s a one-time treatment that can make a big difference in your body: a colonic. And while the idea of physically cleaning out your digestive system may seem unpleasant, devotees say it’s helped them with a host of ills. Here’s what you need to know about colonic therapy.

Basically, a colonic (sometimes called colon hydrotherapy or colon irrigation) is a procedure where the colon is flushed with water. It requires a qualified practitioner to administer and involves a tube system where water flows from a plastic tube into the anus. This causes the muscles of the colon to contract, which releases waste back through the hose, where it’s then disposed of in a closed waste system. The whole process takes about 45 minutes to an hour, and can apparently be quite relaxing. Daneal Healey, a colonic therapist at Mountain Spirit Integrative Medicine in Santa Fe, New Mexico, explains: “I stay in the room the whole time and am in control of the flow of water. I’m often working with the body through massage or energy work to assist in the process.”

Colonic enthusiasts say they’re great for detoxification, weight loss, constipation, general gut health, and even skin issues.

So what are the benefits? Colonic enthusiasts say they’re great for detoxification, weight loss, constipation, general gut health, and even skin issues. Bronwyn Petry, a freelance writer in Toronto, says she first got a colonic after a vacation left her system feeling bloated and stuck: “When I came back, my stomach/gut felt really different, like there was a stone in it. I did so many things (less caffeine, no gluten, etc.) to try and fix that issue — it felt like a blockage, and both my doctor and my naturopath weren’t much help initially. So colonic treatment was trying to irrigate that feeling.”

These are common reasons to seek colonics, says Healey, who adds that dehydration is another driver: “The main job of the colon is elimination of waste and absorption of water. Colonics assist the body in both of these jobs. So many health problems are created by chronic dehydration and a decrease in the body’s ability to eliminate waste. Colonics help free the energy it takes for the body to store waste and toxins.”

Petry definitely felt some of these benefits and cites “immediate lightness, less bloat, and a definite sense of being cleaner.” Astrid Pujari, MD, a functional medicine doctor in Seattle, says, “From a natural medicine perspective, colonics do have benefits for helping with detox. It is used as part of some Eastern traditional medicine approaches as well, including Ayurveda and Chinese medicine. I have seen it helpful for psoriasis, for example, but it depends on the circumstances and patient medical history. I do not recommend it for anyone with a lowered immune system for any reason.”

Still, Western medicine is pretty skeptical of colonics, although they are sometimes used in conventional medical settings to prepare the bowel for a colonoscopy. They can also be cost-prohibitive for some people, as prices range from about $80 to hundreds of dollars, depending on what area of the country you live in. Therapists often recommend at least 3-5 sessions to start, so things can add up quickly. Despite that, Healey says he sees a range of people seeking colonics, including “those that are very proactive and knowledgeable about their health and people who are very ill and have exhausted most other avenues looking for help.”

If you’re interested in trying one, look for a trained practitioner and ask them lots of questions up front.

If you’re interested in trying one, look for a trained practitioner and ask them lots of questions up front. You can get a colonic at a range of locations, including a spa, doctor’s office, or general wellness center, but make sure any facility you consider is clean and well-maintained, and that you feel comfortable in the setting. Read reviews and ask for recommendations, too.

It’s completely fine to feel awkward as you prepare to get a tube up your butt, but you don’t have to be embarrassed at any point in the procedure, Petry says: “Usually the people who become colonic therapists are really into gut health, which means they a) appreciate poop in a different way than other people do, b) have seen EVERYTHING, and c) are complete professionals. So if you feel embarrassed, that’s completely natural, but go with it.”

Carrie Murphy is a freelance writer and doula in Albuquerque, NM. Read more on her website, carrie-murphy.com.