When you hear the words “detox” or “cleanse,” chances are you think about changing the things that you put in to your body.
While cleaning up your eating can certainly give your body a chance to right any imbalances you may have built up after several months of heavier foods and less physical activity (see my last post about a Simple Spring Cleanse for more information), it’s only part of the equation.
You can also support your body in getting what’s already inside out. And I’m not talking about laxatives of any sort! I’m talking about yoga. Specifically, twisting yoga poses.
Your body has great natural detoxing abilities—it is continually processing the air you breathe and food you eat and releasing waste products through the breath, sweat, urine and the digestive tract. But, as DC-area yoga teacher Gina Nelson explains, “We often slow down the body’s ability to detox based on our lifestyle: Poor diet, lack of exercise and stress can really tax the body, causing it to work overtime just to maintain.”
Twists help the body catch up by massaging the digestive organs. When you compress the abdomen during a twisting pose, once you come out of the pose you also increase circulation to the organs, improving their function and helping to flush waste products away.
“I like to imagine each twist is a wring of a sponge releasing built up mental and physical sludge,” Nelson says. They also release tension from the muscles of the back. These combined effects make twists energizing and restorative—meaning they are the perfect exercises for spring!
Here are four twisting poses to add a little oomph to your body’s innate detoxing abilities. Enjoy!
Benefits: Builds heat and promotes overall detox
How to do it: Stand in mountain pose with the feet a few inches apart, spine extended, collarbones spreading away from each other, and fingers reaching toward the floor. Bring the hands in to prayer pose and bend the knees deeply, lowering your hips as if you were going to sit in an invisible chair. Rotate your torso to the right and hook your left elbow on the outside of your right knee. Use the leverage of your elbow pressing in to the knee to deepen the twist. Keep the spine long and turn your head to look up at the ceiling. Stay 3-5 breaths, then repeat to the left.
Benefits: Ground, energizing, improves balance, promotes detox
How to do it: Stand in mountain pose. Transfer all weight into your left foot and lift the right knee up high, clasping the right foot with both hands with the left hand on the outside of the foot and the right hand on the inside (or use a strap around the ball of the foot and holding one end of the strap in the each hand)*. Pause here and straighten the left leg, lift the spine and find your balance. Allow the right hip to release down toward the floor (it loves to hike up!). When you’re feeling steady, extend the right leg straight out at hip height. Bring the left hand to the outside of the right foot (or hold both ends of the strap with the left hand), and extend the right arm out behind you. Turn your head to look out over your right shoulder. Stay 3-5 breaths, then repeat on the left.
* I left my yoga strap in a hotel room somewhere, and so am using the belt from my robe in this photo. It worked great!
Benefits: Deep digestive relief and releases tension in the muscles along the spine
How to do it: Sit on the floor with legs outstretched. Bend your left knee and step your left foot to the outside of your right knee. Either keep the right leg straight or bend the right knee and bring the right foot to rest on the floor on the outside of the left hip (the right knee stays on the floor). Place your left hand on the floor just behind your left hip and reach the right hand up high, extending the spine up as you do. Twist to the left and bring the right elbow to the outside of the left knee. Press that elbow in to the knee and the knee in to the elbow to increase the twist in your spine. Look over your left shoulder. Stay 3-5 breaths, then switch the legs and repeat, twisting to the right.
Benefits: Soothes the nervous system and relieves stress
How to do it: Lie on the floor (yay!) and bring the right knee in to your chest. Wrap your arms around the right shin and hug that knee in for a few breaths to massage the ascending colon. Then drop the right knee across the body to the floor outside the left hip. Put your arms in a T and turn your head to look over the right shoulder. Stay 5-7 breaths. When you repeat with the left leg, don’t skip the hugging-the-knee-in part! It will massage the descending colon and further help move the digestion process along.