The last few days have been gorgeous -- sunny with temperatures in the 50's and 60's. The snow is gone, our crocuses are up, robins are singing, and I heard (then saw) sandhill cranes as they flew overhead this morning. (Sandhill cranes have a very distinctive "call" -- Maybe you've heard them but don't know what they are. Check out this website for an audio clip about halfway down the page. Sandhill cranes )
With the warmer weather, I've been airing out the house and cleaning out the accumulated winter clutter and (I hate to say it) grime. The stronger sunlight shows the dirt and dust more clearly. It is time for spring cleaning.
Our bodies can use some "spring cleaning" too. During the winter, many of us start to feel more sluggish and heavy, both mentally and physically. We eat heavier foods in winter, we may not get as much exercise, and with less daylight, many of us are less energetic and more moody.
The practice of yoga poses can help us "spring clean" our bodies by helping our natural detoxification processesses to work more fully and efficiently to get rid of accumulated "gunk" -- waste products and toxic materials.
Wastes and toxic matter are eliminated from our bodies through the circulatory system, digestive system, lymphatic system, and through the skin and lungs. If we're healthy, then these systems work well by themselves. But if our diet is poor, or if we don't exercise, or if we're under a lot of stress, then these systems don't work as well, and can use an extra boost.
A well-rounded yoga practice, with different kinds of poses will stretch, twist, and compress all parts of the body, and turn it upside down. All categories of poses will help, but the three categories listed below, to me, are the most important for helping the body "detox".
When I think about yoga poses to help detox the body, twists come to mind first. Twists have a cleansing, refreshing effect on the abdominal organs.
B.K.S. Iyengar talks about the "squeeze and soak" action of twists. Just as we would wring out a sponge to force out dirty water, so it can then soak up clean water, so the twists "wring out" the abdominal organs, forcing out metabolic by-products and toxic material. When the twists are released, then fresh, nutrient-rich, oxygenated blood flows into the organs.
Twists also promote digestion and circulation of blood and lymph.
Forward bends and Abdominal poses
Forward bends and abdominal poses compress the abdominal organs, again helping to force out waste material. The digestive system is stimulated, which helps with the elimination process
Inverted (upside down) poses such as headstand, shoulder stand, or a simple legs-up-the-wall pose help to drain lymph fluid from the legs so it can re-circulate through the body. This benefits the immune system.
Inverted poses also help to soothe the nervous system and reduce stress. When we're not stressed, then it's easier to make better choices for our bodies -- we're more likely to eat better and to get more exercise when we're not stressed.
For a somewhat longer (and admittedly more commercial) article on this, check out Springtime Yoga Detox