January is a traditional time when we might be considering a detox, or making some healthy changes in our lives. In this article we explore some great yoga asanas to support your detox.
What is a detox?
A detox is about cleansing the body. This can be done by removing impurities, sometimes known as toxins, from the blood and cells. A large part of detoxification takes place through the liver, but the body also removes toxins through the kidneys, intestines, lungs, skin and lymphatic system. There are many physical and mental benefits of undertaking a detox. You can read more about them in this month’s sister article by Lisa how does the body detox?, or earlier article which explores: what is a detox and why does it matter.
How yoga can help us to detox?
There are lots of myths about yoga and detoxing. For example, you might have heard that ´twists ring out the spine´, or that ‘yoga can detox your liver`. These are not supported by scientific evidence. However, there are lots of great yoga asanas to support your detox.
Practising yoga asanas, along with other forms of exercise, will help improve your cardiovascular strength. This helps to increase our heart rate, which in turn can help lower your blood pressure and improve your stamina, which in turn give you more energy. As well as increasing your heart rate, cardio vascular exercise helps to increase your metabolism. This in turn helps to increase the body’s processes.
Deep breathing has been proven to help us feel calmer and well. Deep breathing can help us to move from a state of fight or flight, to a state of rest and digest. During this state of rest, your body gets chance to start healing and cleansing. You can almost imagine letting go of waste and toxins, as you exhale. Many yoga classes include techniques to help improve how we breathe. If you want some tips to practice at home, you might like to read our article: how to breathe in yoga and the health benefits. We also explain how to practice yoga three-part breath (dirga pranayama), which can help with relaxation, re-connection and release. Yoga has been shown to help with our digestion, part of which is linked to the relaxation aspect of yoga. See our article on Yoga asanas to support a healthy digestive system for more information. For more about the benefits of yogic breathing see this article on ‘using your breath to alleviate depression, anxiety and panic.
Yoga can help manage detox symptoms
Yoga asanas to support your detox can help with how we experience detox symptoms, such as having a headache, low energy or feeling grumpy.
Any changes to our normal diets and routines can leave us feeling a shift in our energy and mood. Therefore during a detox we might feel the need for more quiet time. Yoga can provide this time, in particular the quieter forms of yoga such as gentle Hatha, Yin or Restorative (all of which we offer here at La Crisalida Retreats).
During a detox, withdrawal from caffeine and other substances can lead to headaches and body aches. Inversions, by increasing blood flow to the head, have been said to help decrease headaches and migraines. You can also use some gentle shoulder and neck stretches to help ease the tension of a headache.
Often a detox might be accompanied by an increase in exercise, which could also result in body aches. Yoga, through gentle stretching, can help with body aches.
While the body is detoxing, you might feel tired, so during a detox we suggest that you make time to catch up on some sleep. As well as helping with sleep, Yoga Nidra can be a good way of setting an intention for our detox, for example we might set ourselves an intention around health. For more about how to practice Yoga Nidra see this article on Yoga Nidra for relaxation, inner peace and rejuvenation.
Yoga asanas to support your detox
I have included some yoga poses below that could help to support your detox. Remember, if you have any pre-existing medical issues or injuries please remember to check with your medical practitioner before undertaking any new or unfamiliar movements.
Although twists do not ´ring out the spine´, they are a great way to mobilise and increase the range of motion on the spine. They also help to stretch and compress the muscles of the abdomen and stomach, which can help with digestion.
- Supine (lying down) twists
To do a lying down twist, simply lie on your back with your knees bent and the soles of your feet on the floor. Lift up your hips and move them a few centimetres to the right, then take your knees over towards your left. You can use various props such as blankets, bricks or bolsters to lessen or intensity the twist. Stay in this pose for up to five minutes, before swapping to the other side. Supine twist can be a great release for the lower back, and helps to stretch the shoulders. A more supported version, using props, can also be a great pose for finding some quite time.
- Revolved chair
If you are looking for a more active twist, which will also work the leg muscles, revolved chair position is a great one to include in a dynamic routine. To do chair pose stand with the feet together or a little apart. Bend down like you are going to sit in a chair. Then take you right elbow over your left knee, and hands in a prayer pose. Stay in the position for 5 or so breaths before swapping to the next side.
Inversions are a great way of supporting heart health as when the legs are above the heart this helps with the flow of blood back to the heart. Inversions can also help with lymphatic drainage, which in turn is said to help boost our immune system. Our lymphatic system is also involved in the detox (cleansing) process of our body.
- Legs up the Wall
There are many types of inversions in yoga, from super easy to the more difficult. During a detox I would recommend starting with focusing on more the easy inversions as your energy levels might be low. Legs up the wall, or Viparita Karani, is one of the simplest inversions we can do. It is a wonderful tonic for being on your feet a lot. An easier variation of this pose can be done with a chair (see photo). Lisa explains how to do this pose in this article on yoga asanas for relaxation and headache relief.
Poses that squeeze the belly can also support your detox by helping to helping to stimulate the digestive organs. Some of these poses may also have a beneficial effect on the liver and kidneys, two of the important organs of detoxing. For more on Yoga detox and how does yoga influence our liver see this article by Lisa.
According to Yin Yoga, the Sphinx Pose helps to stimulate the liver meridian and organ. To do this pose, lie on your front and have your elbows directly below your shoulders. Look slightly down or forward (being careful not to strain you neck) and focus on your breath. You can stay in this position for up to 5 minutes. For more about Yin Yoga and the liver see this earlier article about Yin Yoga for liver health and to soothe anger.
When detoxing your energy levels might vary. If you are experiencing low energy it might be best to stick to a few slower quieter poses. However, if you feel your energy is high you might prefer to do some more dynamic flows. Dynamic flows can also help to improve our cardiovascular health.
- Cat and cow
Cat and cow is a great dynamic flow which can be done at various paces. For instructions on how to do this pose see our earlier article on Yoga and digestion: asanas to support a healthy digestive system.
- Sun salutations or other flows
If you would like to do some more dynamic yoga during your detox you could try to do some sun-salutations. For a simple sun salutation check out this version on the external link to a Yoga Journal Article on how to salute the sun. Or you might like to include some more flow to your practice by drawing from styles such as Vinyasa. We talk more about this in our earlier article what is Vinyasa Flow Yoga and how to boost our energy naturally.
You can see from the above article there are many ways you can use yoga asanas to support your detox, so if you are embarking on a January detox why not give some of the above suggestions a try. Here at La Crisalida Retreats we run year-round detox and weightless retreats, which are supported by lots of yoga classes. Come try it for yourself!
About the author
- Tania is one of our programme team, who loves teaching yoga, mindfulness and other programme activities.