I must start this article by sharing how much I love yin yoga! It´s a wonderful quiet style of yoga that has multiple benefits for our health. In this article I describe two asanas (poses) that you can try at home, to support your DIY detox.
We discussed yin yoga in one of our earlier articles “What is yin yoga”, but to summarise: yin yoga is slow (so slow it is stationary!) and steady. We practice with inward drawn attention and our core remains soft. Yang yoga on the other hand is mobile, our core strength is active for the whole session and practice starts quieter then builds up to a peak before winding down. Movement can be an important part of a detox. However, yin yoga has little movement so people often wonder how we can cleanse by “not moving”.
Physiologically the liver and gallbladder are key organs in our detox. According to the British Liver Trust, one of the main functions of the liver is to neutralise and destroy toxins and drugs. It also plays an important role in controlling the level of fat and glucose in the body, and clearing the blood of particles including bacteria, as well as a myriad of other functions.
Practicing yin yoga regularly can support the liver as it goes about cleansing our body. Yin yoga works by flushing out the “sludge” in our veins and energy channels (called “meridians”). Some yin asanas temporarily restrict flow to some areas, so that when the asana is released, the blood or energy (called chi or qi) flows quickly through the area, flushing it clean. Other asanas direct blood or chi to specific areas. If you think about acupuncture, a small needle is placed in a particular point in the body and left there for a few minutes. This helps to unblock any blockages in energy flow (called chi or qi) and bring balance back to the body.
In Chinese medicine, the liver and gallbladder organs and meridians are paired. The liver meridian starts on the top of the big toe, runs up the inside of the legs, through the groin, through the liver and gallbladder, then through the lungs and finishes in the eyes – if you think about someone who has liver problems they often have yellow eyes. Read more about yin yoga for liver health here. The gallbladder meridian begins at the outer eye, runs through the head, down the back of the neck and shoulders, it then comes down the side of the body to the waist, through the gallbladder and then runs down the outside of the leg ending on the outside of the fourth toe.
Two yin asanas that you can practice at home, which are great for detox, are: wide knee childs pose and dragon fly. Hold these asanas for 3-5 minutes whilst breathing deeply into your tummy. We suggest doing these asanas first thing on a morning and also last thing at night, just before you go to bed. You will then also experience some time of calm and quiet before sleep. As you sit in the asanas, check in with your body, notice where you feel sensations – if you feel sensations in the areas mentioned you will know that you are stimulating the liver and/or gallbladder meridians.
Wide knee childs pose
Childs pose is often seen as a place to rest in most yoga practice, but it is itself a great asana, where you can allow yourself to sink into the pose.
Start by kneeling on the floor, with your sitting bones resting on the tops of your ankles and have your toes touching. Then move the knees wide – you want to take them as wide as you can, but not to their most extreme. You then bring your head down to rest on the mat – we suggest resting the head on your hands, so that your shoulders stay relaxed. Make sure your shoulders stay away from your ears. If you need to, place a blanket or cushion beneath your head to support it. If your sitting bones come away from your ankles then place a block, bolster or cushion beneath your head. Breathe. Relax all your muscles and allow your body to sink deeper. After one minute, check in with the body, if you feel that your body has opened a little then you can shuffle your knees a little wider. Your back remains slightly rounded.
Wide knee childs pose stimulates the liver meridian along the inner thighs and groin, so check to see if you can feel any sensations in this area.
Dragon fly pose
This asana looks similar to a wide leg forward fold that you might practice in a hatha style yoga class.
Start by sitting on your bottom, with your legs out in front of you. Open your legs as wide apart as they will go. (If sitting with your legs out in front of you is uncomfortable, then sit on a cushion or block. You can also bend your knees and place padding beneath the knees if you have tight hamstrings). Start to bend forward, feeling the movement from the hips and pelvic area, and allow gravity to bring your chest down towards the mat. You can rest your hands beneath your body and, as your body gets closer to the floor, you can rest on your elbows; eventually your whole chest might come down towards the mat. You can allow your back to round, if you have no back problems (if you have back pain or problems keep the spine straight, so the muscles are active). Your toes are in the direction of the ceiling, but make sure the muscles in your legs are relaxed and soft. Stay here for 3-5 minutes, breathing deeply into your tummy, relaxing all of your muscles. Be aware of your neck – if you experience any straining or pain in your neck you can either support it on a bolster or block, rest your chin on your hands, or activate your neck muscles (keep the gaze to the lower wall, rather than the floor). To come out of the pose, use your abdomen muscles and hands, coming back to an upright position with your spine straight. Place your hands on the mat behind you and rest for a few breaths.
Dragon fly stimulates the liver meridian (inner leg), kidney (inner thighs and along the spine) and bladder meridians (down the back and backs of the legs).
We recommend that you try these asanas first with a teacher who is practiced in yin yoga. Always listen to your body, any pain can be a sign that you are pushing or too deep, so you need to adjust or come our of the position. Also be aware of tingling when holding any asanas for a long period of time (3 minutes or longer). In forward folds (like dragon fly) be careful if you have sciatica – any sharp pains running down the lower back, through the bottom and into the thigh might indicate sciatica. Bend your legs and ease up a little. You can also practice dragon fly against a wall (instead of seated). If you are new to yin, you might want to hold the pose for less time, maybe for 2-3 minutes first and as you become more practiced you can extend the length of time to 4 or 5 minutes.
Read our article on DIY detox – five things to include in your diet to cleanse your body. As part of your yoga retreat here at La Crisalida, you can also experience a detox, allowing you to cleanse and rebalance body, mind and spirit.
According to Chinese medicine, one of the emotions associated with a liver imbalance is anger. The counter emotion to anger is kindness. Yin is great for learning to practice with kindness to oneself. As we practice on the mat, so we can take this out into our whole life. So, as you practice allow space for kindness and softness.
About the author
- Lisa is one of the founders of La Crisalida Retreats. She is an Epidemiologist, therapeutic hatha and yin yoga teacher and also teaches mindfulness meditation. Lisa has studied NLP and hypnosis, as well as nutrition (she designs the menus).