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Yoga for Detox
From reading the celebrity rags, you may think that detox is something you do by either checking into a cushy rehabilitation facility or consuming nothing but liquids for 21 days. It seems either overly arduous or something only the rich and idle have time to do. But your body is designed to engage in detoxification every day. And one way to help it along is with a detox yoga practice.
How detoxification works
There are three main systems of the body that play a crucial role in the elimination of wastes — circulatory, digestive and lymph. The circulatory system pumps blood throughout the body, delivering oxygen to and carrying waste products away from cells. The digestive system processes the food we eat, separating nutrients from waste and eliminating anything the body doesn’t need. And the lymphatic system collects intracellular fluid from throughout the body and transports it to the lymph nodes where anything harmful (such as bacteria or other contaminants) can be removed before the lymphatic fluid is returned to the bloodstream.
It’s a robust system that works well on its own. But in order to help your body keep up with the heavy demands our stressful lives and nutrient-poor modern diet place on these systems, the trick is to give your body an assist so it can perform its natural detoxing function. And yoga is an ideal companion.
How detox yoga facilitates cleansing
Most forms of vigorous exercise stimulate all three systems of elimination to some extent, thereby helping the body in its quest to cleanse and detox. But yoga, with its focus on systematically stretching and compressing every part of the body, is particularly well-suited to keeping the waste-removal departments of the body functioning well.
“In a well-rounded yoga practice, every part of the body is pushed, pulled, twisted, turned and upended,” explains New York City yoga teacher Witold Fitz-Simon, founder of the yogaartandscience.com blog. "This facilitates the removal of waste products such as carbon dioxide, lactic acid and lymphatic fluid from the deep tissues and extremities of the body that a jog or a bike ride just don’t reach."
Yogic breathing also plays an important role in promoting detoxification. “We have as many bad habits in breathing as we do in every other area of our lives,” Fitz-Simon explains. Sitting with poor posture impedes the lungs from inflating fully, and our chronic state of low-grade stress often leads to a clenched diaphragm—the parachute-shaped muscle at the bottom of the rib cage that assists in breathing. As a result, we don’t take in as much life-sustaining oxygen when we inhale, or expel as much of the potentially hazardous carbon dioxide when we exhale.
“Yogic breathing helps clear out carbon dioxide from the lung tissue, stimulates the organs of digestion and can, over time, retrain the diaphragm to move freely,” Fitz-Simon says. And when the diaphragm moves with its natural fluidity, the abdominal organs are massaged and the lungs are fully emptied with every breath — not just the ones you take on the yoga mat.
Clear mind, clear body
In addition to its physical benefits, yoga aids in mental detox as well. “When we’re in a state of stress, fear or depression, that attitude creates a sensation in the body,” explains Patricia Moreno, founder of the intenSati workout. “Doing yoga helps purge toxic thoughts by teaching you to move your awareness away from the chaos of the mind and back to the present moment. That practice is not a basic component of other fitness pursuits.”
As a result, a regular yoga practice helps you eliminate the tangible and intangible toxins that could otherwise keep you from feeling your best. Here are three poses that are particularly suited to aiding detoxification or to help you kick off a natural body cleanse.
Yoga poses to detoxify the body
Marichiyasana 3 (Marichi's Twist) a featured pose in Gaiam Life's 'ConcentratiOm" yoga pose learning and memory game
Detox benefits: Squeezes the abdominal organs and stimulates digestion and elimination.
Sit up tall with your legs straight. Bend your right knee and bring the sole of your right foot to the floor just in front of your right sitting bone. Rest your right hand on the floor behind your back for support.
Reach your left hand up so strongly that your ribcage lifts up. Rotate your torso to the right and bring your left elbow to the outside of your right knee. Stay for 5 deep breaths, gradually and gently using the sensation of your left elbow pressing into to your right leg to encourage your torso to twist further to the right.
Either look behind you, over your right shoulder or straight ahead, depending on what feels best to your neck. Repeat on the other side.
Detox benefits: Getting the heart higher than the head reverses the pull of gravity and aids in the circulation of blood and lymph. Also gently tones the abdomen, which stimulates digestion.
Watch our how-to video on Downward Dog or follow these instructions: Start on your hands and knees with the entire surface of your palms pressing into the floor and your toes tucked under. Slowly lift the knees and straighten the legs. Press equally into the hands and feet and lift your sitting bones up as you move the thighs back. Allow the head to hang. Stay for 5–10 deep breaths.
Legs Up the Wall
Detox benefits: Encourages circulation of blood and lymph from the feet and legs. Bathes the abdomen in fresh blood, stimulating the digestive organs. Soothes the nervous system, allowing your body to shift its attention from warding off stress to daily bodily functions, including detox.
Watch our how-to video on Legs Up the Wall Pose or follow these instructions: Sit in front of a wall with your right hip and shoulder touching the wall. Bend your knees and roll onto your left side, so your feet and seat are touching the wall. Roll onto your back and extend your legs so that they rest on the wall. Either rest your hands on your belly or let your arms lie on the floor, palms up. Stay for at least 10 deep breaths.
Related detox links:
Kate Hanley is a freelance writer who specializes in exploring the mind-body connection. She completed her yoga teacher training at OM Yoga in New York City and has studied with yoga experts Rodney Yee and Cyndi Lee and meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg.