As the ground thaws and hibernating seeds send up their shoots, so liver, a primary organ of detoxificationtoo are we ready for a season of light and renewal. In Chinese Medicine green is the color of spring – think about all the young, tender leafy greens that appear during these months. Spring is also associated with the liver, a primary organ of detoxification making this season an optimal time to incorporate practices that support detoxification into our routine.
The body has various methods for eliminating toxins via the liver and other organs and systems including urinary (kidneys), digestive (colon), lymph and skin. Gentle practices that support and enhance the body’s innate detox mechanisms tend to be more effective than harsh, radical detox programs which can end up making us more toxic rather than less. There are many healthy ways to support detoxification through food, targeted nutritional supplementation, and of course yoga.
Yoga poses can stimulate these organs and tissues by alternating compressing and squeezing with relaxing and increasing circulation. Certain poses create a ‘dam’ effect, i.e. compression creates a relative dam, temporarily reducing blood flow to tissues. As the pose is released perfusion is restored and the tissues are flushed with fresh blood, oxygen and nutrients. This process tones and revitalizes organs and tissues, encouraging detoxification.
Integrate one or more of the following yoga poses or techniques into your daily practice to support your body’s natural detox pathways:
Forward fold/Big Toe pose
Forward bends compress and massage the digestive system, increasing blood flow to the liver. From mountain pose with feet hips width apart and parallel to the mat, keeping a micro-bend in the knees hinge forward from the hips. Bend your knees enough to bring your torso to rest on your thighs and with your two peace fingers, wrap your big toes, thumbs rest on top. Allow your head to hang freely, draw your shoulders towards the ceiling, away from your ears. Using biceps, pull up on your toes as your toes press towards the floor. Allow your elbows to fan out to the sides, keeping neck long. Stay for 5 breaths. On an inhale release slowly back to stand.
This is one of those squeeze and flush poses. If balance is an issue, keep one hand on a stable piece of furniture, or do the entire pose lying on your back.
From mountain pose, bend both knees, shift weight into your left leg. Lift the right leg up as high as you can and cross your R thigh over your L thigh. Work towards wrapping the R shin behind the L, possibly hooking the R foot around the L ankle. Keep sitting deeply in the L leg as you press the R leg into your L thigh. Squeeze your inner thighs together, think of creating an internal dam in your groin and pelvis. Optional to bring hands into prayer position, or cross the arms in front of the chest, hold opposite shoulders. Hold pose for 5 breaths. On an inhale unwind and return to stand.
Lying on your back, draw your right knee into your chest and extend your left leg on the floor. Place your right foot on your left thigh just above the knee. Drop your right knee to the floor on the left side of your body. Open your right arm into a T position in line with your shoulder. Rest your left hand on the outside of your right knee. Turn your head to the right, bringing your gaze over the right shoulder. Invite your right knee and right shoulder to melt towards the floor. Hold for 5 to 10 breaths. Release the pose and pause in the center before repeating on the left side.
Legs-up-the-wall-pose with bridge-at-the-wall pose
Any muscular contraction will move lymph, but inversions are especially cleansing because when the feet are above the heart the usual direction gravity pulls lymph is reversed. This pose drains lymph from the lower body and pelvis, and if you move into bridge-at-the-wall you’ll even stimulate the lymph nodes and tissue in the GI tract.
Sit on the floor with your left hip close to a wall, legs out straight parallel to the wall. Using your hands to support you, lean back and pivot so that you can bring one leg up the wall and then the other. Depending how open your hamstrings are you may need to inch yourself closer or farther away from the wall. Optional to have a cushion or stack of blankets under your pelvis and low back. Rest here, one hand on your belly and the other on your heart. Stay in the pose for a few minutes, taking deep slow breaths.
To come into bridge-at-the-wall pose, from Viparita bend your knees and slide your heels down the wall until the soles of your feet are flush against the wall, shins are about parallel to the floor. Press into your feet equally and slowly roll your spine up, from tailbone up one vertebrae at a time into bridge. Your sternum should move closer to your chin remaining perpendicular to the floor, hold for a few breaths at your peak, and then slowly release, lowering down one vertebrae at a time. Repeat 3 times.
Skin is our largest organ of elimination and sweating is a great way to clean house. If you have access to a sauna, try doing a few simple seated postures while sitting on the sauna bench, i.e. a seated side stretch: sitting tall, inhale arms up over head, interlace fingers at the top and release the index finger. Breathe and lengthen the spine, lift the back ribs up and away from the hips as you start to stretch over to the right. Index fingers reach to the seam where the ceiling and wall meet, draw the right lower belly in. Maintain lift on the right side, weight is balanced equally on sit bones. Hold for 5 breaths. Return to the center and repeat on L side.
As we look to the season to inform our yoga practice, we allow our practice to bring us closer to balance with our environment and in our lives.
Jill Hoffman, ND, RYT 200, is a naturopathic doctor with a private practice in Philadelphia, PA, where she is also a yoga teacher. In addition to her one-on-one work with patients, Dr. Hoffman promotes naturopathic medicine through public speaking events and runs group detoxification programs at an organic spa. Dr. Hoffman is a graduate of Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Arizona. Prior to receiving her naturopathic degree, she graduated with honors from Skidmore College. During her undergraduate work in French, she studied in West Africa and attended university in Paris where she first stepped on to a yoga mat over twenty years ago. Many classes later she became a certified yoga teacher through YogaWorks in Los Angeles. In addition, Dr. Hoffman has been privileged to study with gifted teachers around the world and continues to expand her knowledge of yoga in all its dimensions.
Part of Dr. Hoffman’s mission as a yoga teacher is to make yoga accessible to all, since the benefits of consistent practice offer something for everyone. She is known as an enthusiastic and challenging teacher with an emphasis on proper alignment and breath as the gateway to finding ease in postures. Mindfulness and compassion are at the heart of her teaching, and she encourages students to integrate both as part of their own daily practice, on and off the mat.
Although her roots are in rigorous physical yoga practices, in recent years Dr. Hoffman has been moving towards teaching gentler practices that emphasize relaxation and balancing. As with her naturopathic patients, Dr. Hoffman meets yoga students where they’re at: modifying to accommodate areas of restriction and expanding from there.