Let’s face it -- life is stressful. We lead busy lives and we’re often on the go. In an ideal world, we would eat healthy, balanced meals, get a full eight hours of sleep each night, let our emotions flow through us without bottling up our feelings, and get in time for adequate exercise. But in reality, this does not always happen.
Yoga can be a great combattant of the stress we face in daily life, from helping us realign our bodies to providing a chance to clear our minds. But did you know it could also be a crucial tool for helping us detox?
What is Detoxification?
Detoxification is a natural body process that helps us rid our system of unwanted materials and toxins, which can range from anything from chemicals produced by stress to unhealthy toxins we ingest from polluted air. “Toxins are everywhere: in our water, in the air, even in the foods we eat,” says Deborah Fryer, a certified Kundalini and vinyasa yoga teacher. “Our bodies are designed to rid us of these chemicals through an intricate detoxification system.”
The liver, kidney, colon, lungs, skin, and lymph system are all crucial organs in the process of detoxification.The liver is the primary detoxifier in the body, responsible for removing harmful substances we ingest, whether it be food, drink, or medication. Our kidneys regulate our water fluid levels and help to eliminate sodium and waste. Our colon is crucial in the digestion process, eliminating excess materials from the body as solid waste. Surprisingly, the lungs and skin play a valued role purely through breathing and sweating. Lastly, our lymphatic system uses white blood cells to combat toxins.
But even with the natural detoxification processes at work in our body, we don’t always get the detox we need. Ingesting large amounts of toxins through unhealthy food or undergoing significant stress can hinder and inhibit natural detoxification processes. This is where taking the time to introduce yoga to your daily routine can help you kickstart your body’s natural cleansing processes.
How Can Yoga Help?
As a practice that combines breathing, postures, and mindfulness, yoga can be an invaluable tool for cleansing physical and emotional waste that doesn’t necessarily get tackled by our organs. Through a process of stretching and squeezing the body and muscles, clearing the mind, stimulating better breathing practices, activating better blood flow and the lymphatic system, massaging organs, and allowing us to shed emotional baggage, yoga can be a powerful detox tool. Ultimately, all forms of yoga are beneficial to the cleansing practice, but here are some stretches that are particularly useful.
Yoga Poses for Detox
Side to Side Chair Twists (Revolved Chair Pose)
From a standing position, bend your hips and reach your arms to take chair pose. Be sure you can see your toes (and adjust if not!). Shape recommends, “Take hands together at center of chest, take a big inhale to lengthen through spine, and use exhale to twist to the right, taking left elbow outside of right thigh. Inhale back to center and use exhale to twist to the left. Repeat this sequence 5 times on each side.”
This is a useful cleansing pose because it stimulates the spleen, liver, and digestive process, strengthening your abdominal muscles and improving your body’s natural processes. It has the added benefit of improving spine and vertebrae health.
From a seated position with your legs long in front of you, bend your right knee and place your right foot outside of your left knee (you can leave your left leg extended or bend it into a cross-legged position). Wrap your left arm around your right leg and place your hand on the ground behind your sacrum. Inhale for five deep breaths, using each breath to lengthen your spine and expel negative energy. Repeat on the other side.
This massages and stretches key organs, including the kidney, liver, colon, and spleen, which is part of the lymph system -- all of which assist in digestion and elimination.
Shoulder Stand or Legs Up the Wall Pose
This is a variation on a similar pose -- you can choose to do a shoulder stand or you can use the assistance of the wall in a similar legs up the wall pose. For a shoulder stand, start by lying on your back and bring your legs back over your head in plow pose. Place your hands on your lower back on either side of your spine for support, bend your knees, and lift your feet into the air. Throughout the pose, press your feet to the air, lift your kneecaps and press your belly to your spine.
You can also practice this pose against a wall for better support, or do a variation on it where your back remains flat to the ground with your hips sinking into the ground as a bolster. Your legs will rest against the wall.
Whichever pose you choose, these are excellent postures to promote your lymphatic system. This pose places the head below the heart and allows lymph to drain back to the heart with the assistance of gravity. It helps flush lymph from the legs and feet back to the heart, which is especially beneficial at the end of a workout. This pose can help your restore and detox at the end of a tough workout by sending fluids back to the heart for oxygenation.
This is a fabulous, low impact stretch with many benefits. Lie flat on the ground with your arms out in a “T” formation. Hug one knee into your chest and allow it to fall to the opposite side of your body. Take your opposite hand to your knee to help ground it and for extra stretch, turn your neck in the opposite direction. This stretch helps align your vertebrae and promote breathing.
Shavasana, also known as corpse pose, involves lying with your body completely flat against the floor. It traditionally comes at the end of yoga practice and is aimed at putting the mind and body in a state of complete relaxation. We often work hard to detox our body from a practical standpoint, but the meditative aspect of shavasana is key for detoxing our minds.
Whether you’re a yoga beginner or a guru, it’s important to remember that all poses and practice are useful for detoxification. Implement these poses, but don’t be afraid to shake it up and try new things. No matter what pose you’re taking, you’re assisting the natural processes of detox in a positive and easy way.