We all know that Yoga is good for us. It offers countless benefits for the body, mind, and spirit. It is also a highly adaptable practice, which can be adjusted to support whatever physical or mental process we might be exploring. One of the many applications of Yoga is detoxification.
Yoga boosts the metabolism by stoking the internal fire. This is both an energetic metaphor and physiological reality. The folding, lifting, extending, and deep breathing in a Yoga practice increase internal heat. Holding poses for a long period time, especially positions that test our core strength, balance, or muscular control, also builds heat.
If you have ever had a teacher keep you in Warrior 2 or Boat Pose for an extra few breaths, you have probably felt this heat yourself. It is not usually the big obvious rush of heat we get from running or jumping jacks, but a subtle fire that warms us slowly and steadily from the inside out.
This inner fire is further stoked by focused breathing practices (pranayama), such as the ujjayi breath taught in many classes. Focused, steady exhalations with a slight constriction of the abdomen turn up the heat through the entire body.
Practicing a vigorous Yoga style such as Power Yoga or Vinyasa Yoga creates more obvious internal heat, but even a moderate Hatha class can get the fires burning.
Follow Your Heart
Yoga supports the health of the heart and entire cardiovascular system. Most classes can increase heart rate and strengthen the heart. A consistent Yoga practice can reduce LDL cholesterol and lower blood pressure.
Yoga cultivates a steady, sustainable increase in heart rate and improves heart rate variability (HRV). Over time, Yoga can help balance HRV, increasing it in those who tend to have low HRV, and slowing it down people who tend to have too much.
The lymphatic system is responsible for filtering the fluids of the body. Unlike the circulatory system that is actively pumped by the heart, the lymphatic system needs us to move to function properly. The churning, twisting, stretching, and inverting in a Yoga practice wring out and strengthen the lymphatic system. This improves its functionality and increases its ability to filter out toxins, bacteria, and other harmful substances.
Sweating also supports the lymphatic system, and vigorous Yoga practices get the sweat flowing! The sweating usually comes on gradually, from the entire body, which means parts of our bodies are being flushed that might not be accessed by normal movement.
Stress and Toxicity
There is a direct correlation between toxin level and stress level. When we are stressed, the sympathetic nervous system kicks in to give us the boost of energy necessary to run away or engage in combat (fight or flight response). To have the energy necessary for survival mechanisms, other processes like digestion, immunity, detoxification, and fertility shut down.
Stress also stimulates the production and release of cortisol, adrenaline, and other intense hormones. These increase the toxic load on the body, raise blood pressure and LDL cholesterol levels, and burden the liver.
The effects of stress are cumulative, and over time can lead to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and obesity.
Luckily, Yoga supports stress relief. Deep breathing, stretching, and the conscious effort to remain present mitigate the stress responses and move the toxic hormones out of the body. Releasing stress may be as important for detoxification as the sweating and twisting.
Happy Belly, Happy Body
There is some debate over whether Yoga can actually make the liver work better, but deep twists can increase circulation to all the digestive organs, including the liver. The pressure of deep twists combined with deep breathing forces out old blood heavy with carbon dioxide. When that pressure is released, fresh blood rushes into the organs.
The physical squeezing of poses that involve twisting, lying on the belly, and engaging the core support peristalsis of the colon. This makes for more thorough elimination, and reduces constipation and other intestinal challenges.
Particular Poses for Detoxification
Part of what makes Yoga effective for detoxification is the fact that it moves the entire body in many directions. A complete practice is one of the best ways to cleanse and clear. But there are a few poses and sequences in particular that especially support detoxification.
* Surya Namaskar Sun Salutation
This sequence includes forward bending, lunging, and back bending. Moving from the floor to standing repetitively warms the body, and the lunges and cobra squeeze the abdomen.
* Marichyasana Sage Twist
This twist, in all its standing, sitting, and reclining variations, is great for squeezing and rejuvenating the digestive organs and clearing constipation.
* Navasana Boat Pose
This core strengthener engages the abdomen and invites awareness of the belly region.
The ancient practice of Yoga offers many potential health benefits, and it can be adapted to the needs of the practitioner. Yoga can support detoxification because it increases circulation, supports the lymphatic system, and squeezes the digestive organs. It also stokes the internal fire and inspires us to breathe deeply. While it is only one component of a healthy lifestyle, Yoga has the potential to be a great ally on the quest for a vibrant body and clear mind.