Is yoga an effective method of detoxification?
Is yoga an effective method of detoxification? It may be, but it may depend on what you want to detoxify. While it makes sense that yoga asana practice could detoxify the physical body, there actually are no scientific studies that prove that. But the main toxin for the yogi is avidya-misperception of the true nature of the self; identification with our body, thoughts and feelings, rather than with the Absolute, Divine Self; thinking that there is a “you” that is separate from others-and the yoga practices can definitely clear that away. Avidya is the cause of all of our suffering: it creates all the emotional toxins, like sadness, fear, anger, anxiety, etc., while identification with the larger Self creates a “super” or “angelic” body that is invulnerable to pain, disease or emotional upset. Anyone suffering from avidya can benefit from detoxification through yoga.
How does yoga detoxify? Here are some of the ways:
Chanting. Chanting takes us “out of ourselves”-out of self-absorption and identification with our whirling minds. Negative thoughts create toxins. Also, the suffering of others toxifies the atmosphere around us, so for example chanting a mantra like lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu, which is an affirmation proclaiming that the chanter does not want others to suffer, creates an atmosphere free of suffering and toxicity. This is strong medicine and can act as a powerful detoxifier for the one reciting the mantra as well as those receiving the blessing.
Kriya. Yoga offers an array of cleansing practices called kriyas, each designed to eliminate particular kinds of dirt from the physical and subtle bodies. For example, kapalabhati-short, sharp exhales with passive inhales-eliminates excess air inside the body, helps us overcome our clinging to the inhalation and stimulates the ajna (6th) chakra-the third eye center. Another kriya is agni sara (“fire wash”), which uses the fire element in the body to burn up impurities and blockages in the subtle energy channels. Agni sara is performed by standing up and exhaling all the breath out, then pumping the diaphragm up and down without breathing.
Meditation. Our thoughts are not necessarily poison, and the goal of meditation or yoga practice in general is not to get rid of our thoughts. But identifying with negative thoughts-dwelling on them, letting them grow larger and spur on more and more thoughts, mistaking our true selves for our thoughts about ourselves-this is poisonous. In meditation, we watch our thoughts come up, and we let them go. We do this by constantly returning to the focus of the meditation, such as the breath or a mantra (like “LET GO”). Every time we notice we are thinking, every time we notice the mind wandering, we return to our focus without getting involved in the thoughts. Over time, we develop the ability to hold our attention on whatever we choose for as long as we choose, and we become less and less identified with our negative thoughts.
Asana. Culture limits our physical presence to an acceptable range of motion and movement. The asana practice takes us outside of that limited range of movement and introduces us to a whole world of possibilities we did not realize that we were missing. Asana improves our self-confidence and destroys the poison of low self-esteem. Asana also stimulates the endocrine system, which boosts our immunity so that we become less susceptible to physical toxins like the environmental pollutants in the air, water and food we eat.
All asanas offer these benefits, but twists are particularly powerful detoxifiers. When we twist, we put pressure on the internal organs, and when we breathe in a twist, we modify that pressure. It is like wringing out the dirty water from a dishtowel. Stagnant residue can be released from the organs, and when we exhale or release the twist, the organs are refreshed and better able to do their work. Twists also detoxify the subtle body by activating the manipura (3rd) chakra, located at the solar plexus, which is the seat of the ego. Twisting the torso where our ego resides can help break identifications with power or status. It may be interesting to note that every category of asanas has a twist variation.
Yoga teaches that we create our own reality by how we see things. Our perspective then, is key. Even if we are facing a serious illness, we have the choice to see ourselves as a living person, rather than as a dying one-after all, every living person is also a dying person, whether or not there is illness. Our point of view can be toxic or not, and through the yoga practices, we are always changing our point of view: we look at things upside down, right side up, from all angles, while breathing regularly or controlling our breath, etc. These practices offer the opportunity to experience life from a different perspective and thereby provide us with opportunities to root out the toxins that plague us.