Us yogis love to detox 😉
This practice is not about the physical exercise–it is easy to get distracted since the physicality grabs your attention . . . and the sweet deal is the side effects from this practice will make you strong and flexible, but that is not what this practice is about!
Asana is done first for the breath–we do the postures for the breath! Asana is just decoration for the breath my friend Harry in Maui told me Pattabhi Jois told him 🙂
Deep breathing effects all 5 layers of our bodies–the physical, mental, emotional, energetic, and spiritual bodies. Deep breathing effects many of our bodies operations, such as:
- reduces tension in our physical body which reduces stress, stress in the #1 cause of disease
- by pulling your breath in deep to your lower lobes of your lungs you activate the parasympathetic nervous system–lowering your heart rate and blood pressure (nasal breathing helps with this and also filters the air we breathe)–the receptors for the part of our nervous system that relaxes us are in the lower lobes of our lungs–the receptors for the part of our nervous system that raises our heart rate and blood pressure and induces the release of the hormones responsible flight or fight response are in the upper lobes of our lungs, shallow breathing activates that part of our nervous system. And if we run or fight then we use up those hormones–if we don’t then those hormones become stress hormones that stay in our system and are linked to increased heart disease.
- Conscious breathing helps with the movement of blood and lymph or prana–energy in the body. Specifically the ujjayi–loud style of breathing we use spirals the air deeper in our lungs where we the blood is more oxygen rich (the lower lobes of the lungs hold the most oxygen rich blood) giving us more oxygen to every cell in our body
- In our practice synchronizing the moving of our body and breathing consciously is very important–since the breath effects both the body and the mind–it brings into unison the body and mind. When your mind and your body come into unison it means you find purpose in difficult life experiences. Events that our mind has a hard time wrapping around tend to get stored in our body in raw sensations and emotions. Over time the body will try to filter these emotions back through our mind for another try at integration–no life experience is junk–its all there for our evolution. Our mind tries to define experiences as good or bad–but our body knows they are all just good, so it preserves them until our mind learns how to make good use of them. Emotions that are stored too long in the body eventually get expressed as physical pain or ailments. The body and mind coming together in unison brings peace with the traumas in our life–so our mind and body see the “stuff” in our lives in the same way, having purpose. Its fun to look at the root meaning of unison; uni=same, son = sound, so it means “of the same sound”. So when the body and mind are in unison they are in tune–singing the same tune, vibrating at the same frequency–if our body and mind are singing the same tune, then we get synergy and the strength and usefulness of life’s tunes an they can be assimilated into our lives for our growth.
The second reason we do asana is for the internal cleansing. When we are in a pose we are squeezing and soaking–wringing out and massaging our organs and tissues in our body. Rarely do we get our heart rate high enough (we have to max it out) to circulate blood throughout the entire organ–so stale blood accumulates in the lower portions of our organs–it is in this stale blood that toxins turn into disease. Just like in a creek, where the water does not flow it gets stagnant and dirty. When we are in a posture we are literally wringing out our organs, we we release the posture fresh blood, oxygen, and nutrients are fed into our organs and tissues. This is how we clean the toxins and/ or disease from our organs.
This is why primary series focuses on forward bending; forward bending helps this wringing out process. This is also why I like to bend the knees in paschimattanasana if your hamstrings are tight, then your abdomen does not get to your thighs–it is the pressing of the abdomen to your thighs that starts the squeezing and soaking process. This is helped further along by our heel–we use our heel as a tool (the heel carries heat so it is very therapeutic)–especially in primary series, this is why we put our heel in all these funky places in our abdomen and try to forward bend–we are aiming our heel for different organs to press into to aid in the removal of toxins.
If you can not get your heel into your abdomen–keep coming back! As you get more flexible you will be able to get deeper detoxing, until then you will still get some of the detoxing benefits just by breathing, moving, and forward bending–but as you get more flexible you will get deeper into the asana and experience deeper releases and more detoxing.
And this is also why we build our body heat in this practice–with the physicality, with our breath, and with our bandhas (I love that we use internal and external tools to build heat :). Breathing and moving together heats our blood (or as Pattabhi Jois says–boils our blood!), thick blood is dirty blood–the heat created from yoga moves the toxins out of our blood to the sweat–the sweat then carries the toxins out of our body.
Heat also thins the blood making it easier to circulate and do “its job”–thin blood circulates better around our joints freely removing body aches and pains–the heated blood also moves better through our organs removing impurities.
So sweat is an important part of this practice! Just like we heat gold so the impurities rise to the surface where they are cleaned off–the same happens to our blood in our body, heat brings the toxins to the surface where our body can rid them.
Hatha Yoga Pradipika on Sweat:
Hatha Yoga Pradipika 2:13
Rub the body with the perspiration from the labour (of pranayama). The body derives firmness and steadiness from this.
When the body is unclean, impurities are excreted through the pores of the skin in the form of perspiration. When the body has become purified, only water, salt, and hormones are excreted through the skin. When the body becomes hot due to pranayama, excess water may be lost. The Shiva Samhita states “When the body perspires, rub it well, otherwise the yogi loses his dhatu.” There are seven dhatu known as sapta dhatu: blood, fat, flesh, bone, marrow, skin, semen/ova. To maintain these, certain chemical hormones are produced and when they cannot be stored they are expelled from the system. If there is perspiration due to pranayama, chemical hormones are released unnecessarily. Therefore, the perspiration should be rubbed back into the skin so they are reabsorbed through the pores. This also helps to rebalance the system and tone the nerves and muscles.(From the Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Swami Muktibodhananda, Bihar School of Yoga, Munger, Bihar, India)
Organs and postures
Everything is done for a reason–even the binding and bandhas are about internal cleansing–not shoulder flexibility or good looking abs . . . in the binding process you pull your heel deeper into your body getting a deeper cleansing of the organ.
And the bandhas help move lymph through our gut–our gut is known as our “2nd brain” and influences your mind your mood and your behavior. Our gut and brain are actually connected via the vagus nerve–it runs from our brain stem to our abdomen and explains phenomena from your “gut feeling” to “butterflies in your stomach”. Also in our gut is the majority of our immune system– lymph system. Lymph removes disease from our body–it is like the drain to our system. Lymph does not have a heart to pump it like our blood does–so movement, pressure, and massage are very important to keep our lymph mobile so it can do its job; the pressure of the bandhas gently pressing inward and upward in our lower abdomen help to move lymph in the gut.
Postures and organ benefits:
Paschimattanasana starts the entire process, the pressure on the abdomen from forward bending improves circulation and begins the whole “squeezing and soaking” process. Forward bending postures also aid in the removal of air in the body . . . which is why its best to practice on an empty stomach . . .
Purvattanasana is a counter balance to paschimattanasana.
Lotus and half lotus forward bending postures mostly focus on the liver and spleen. This is why we do full lotus with right leg first, it helps to angle the heels to press into our liver and spleen. The liver (filters the blood coming from our digestive tract) detoxifies chemicals from our system and controls fat digestion and aids in our metabolism. The spleen purifies our blood by recycling old red blood cells and storing white blood cells and platelets.
In the Janu Sirsasana series we use the heel to put pressure on the nerve which stimulates the pancreas to regulate insulin (A & B for men and C for women). It also benefits the prostate gland.
The Marichyasana series is good for digestions and elimination. We are using our heel to apply pressure to our ascending colon first (which is why your le9 leg goes first into half lotus) then descending colon. The kidneys are also effected by these postures–the kidneys process waste and excess water from our blood and pass it to the bladder for elimination.
Navasana does strengthen your abdominals–but not so much for ascetic reasons–or even for back support; strong abdominals aid your body in digestion, so you strengthen your abs to improve your digestion. If you have weak digestion your body can not break down the food you eat and retrieve the nutrients.
Bhujapidasana is done for the esophagus, the esophagus transports food from our mouth to stomach, poses that stretch the esophagus improve the function of the muscular walls of the esophagus which help move the food.
Kurmasana and supta kurmasana are about the heart and lung system. They improve the amount of oxygenated blood to the heart and lungs–flushing out the arteries and veins. These postures are also good for the lungs, the yogic texts say kurmasana poses can cure heart disease, asthma, and bronchitis.
Garbha Pindasana and kukkutasana work to clean the liver and spleen via the lotus legs, kukkutasana also helps to strengthen the urethra eliminating urinary problems.
Baddha konasana affects the stomach and improves gastric function. It also cures rectal problems such as constipation and hemorrhoids.
Upavishta konasana A&B and supta konasana are a counter balance to baddha konasana–they have more external benefits such as healing back problems and correcting subluxations of the vertebrae.
Supta Padangusthasana cleanses the rectum, urinary tract, veins, and esophagus. This pose also helps us with our bandhas and connecting our upper and lower bodies. It also says in the yogic texts this pose helps to correct the length of our extremities in relation to our torso.
Ubaya pada-goose 😉 and urdhva mukha paschimattanasana strengthen the genital organs.
Setu Bandhasana is good for the lungs–the stretch it gives the lungs improves lung capacity. Setu bandhasan is also good for the veins.
Urdhva Dhanurasana–is not really part of closing. It used to be the last pose of 2nd series, but over the years got added to primary; it is a powerful pose and since ashtanga yoga likes to give you the quickest methods to health and longevity it decided to give you urdhva dhanurasana in primary 😉 It is like the climax of the practice. It benefits the nervous system, digestive systems, respiratory, cardiovascular, and glandular/endocrine systems. Urdhva dhanurasana also improves your proprioception–where your body is in space. Our world usually does not put us upside down and backward–if you are not used to viewing your world this way and you do not “know where you are” it can be very confusing for your nervous system–which will zap your strength and not allow you to push into the pose. So part of being able to push upward into the backbend has to do with your proprioceptive skills–and relaxing–so your nervous system allows the posture.
And lastly closing, inversions are first and foremost about blood flow, draining stale blood out of the organs where it can be purified. Inversions also directly effect our hormone and endocrine system. The major glands to our endocrine system that are located in the head and neck (thyroid, pineal, and pituitary glands) are brought into balance by the extra blood flow to them during inversions. Also the additional blood flow to the brain and eyes are beneficial.
If you have any afflictions listed that are cured by specific asana, you want to hold that asana for a long time–at least 25 breaths and up to 3 hours . . .
Primary series is known as yoga chikitsa, which means yoga therapy. Primary is for therapy for body and mind and it is the series for detoxing and aligning our physical bodies. You should have about a year in primary of CONSISTENT practice before learning second series. Second series is not an advancement of primary–it is a counter balance. There is nothing you need to accomplish or “master” in primary to start learning 2nd. What is important before learning 2nd is that you have an established consistent practice and you know your body and where your body is in the primary series poses.
Second series is known as Nadi Shodhana and means nerve cleansing. With 2nd series we are cleansing and releasing our nervous system, and as in primary the poses focus more on internal cleansing than external exercise:
Pasasana is is a grounding posture, grounding us as we prepare to take flight into second. The spinal twisting in pasasana helps to relax the nervous system.
Krounchasana is li9ing and lengthening, it prepares our spine for back bending postures and the chin to shin position stretches the scalenes–little muscles on the sides of our neck that are o9en tight and lead to tension and pain around the neck.
The next set of poses are done on your abdomen, lying and rolling around on your abdomen tones and balances the organs in the abdomen–specifically acting on the liver and the pancreas. The adrenal glands and kidneys are also toned by the ‘squeezing and soaking’ they receive as the back is arched back and their area compressed. These postures are also very good for your spine and back issues–shalabasana is one of the most common PT exercises for back related pain. Metaphysically the additional pressure on the liver deeply detoxes it–the liver holds stored anger, so as this releases from the body many people experience anger when learning 2nd. Its helpful if those around you understand what you are going through. It is only temporary and will pass once you clean out your liver!
The set of postures on your knees work into deeper backbending, this is where your nervous system will get the deeper cleansing. As you back bend the vertebrae on the front of your spine are stretched allowing blood and fluids to nourish the spinal cord and nerves. These back bending postures also benefit the stomach and intestines by stretching them and relieving constipation and improving digestion. The stretch on the neck is good for regulating our thyroid gland. These posture are very good for your posture–especially if you sit at a desk all day. Also these posture stretch and release the psoas–a deep muscle that flexes the hip and when tight leading to back pain.
Supta vajrasana lengthens out our back a9er the intense back bending done on our knees. The arm position also helps to expand our chest and lungs to bring in more oxygen–so it is also beneficial for lung ailments. Vajra in yoga terms refers to the nerve and energetic pathway which connect our brain to our genitals.
Bakasana releases our back from back bending.
The next two spinal twisting posture are relaxing our nervous system and preparing our spine to bend the other way. Spinal twisting postures give a nice massage to our internal organs and are good for back and disc issues.
The next fours posture series are about putting your leg behind your head. Now you are deeply bending your spine the other way stretching apart the vertebrae allowing blood and nutrients to the spinal cord from the back of the spine. The solar plexus and adrenals are massaged increasing vitality, and all the organs in the abdomen are toned.
The next two postures, pincha mayurasana and karanadavasana are inversions, so they improve blood flow in and out of the organs and brain and eyes. The liver and pancreas are especially toned in karanadavasana. They also improve strength and balance.
Mayurasana is a deep detoxer. The pressure of our elbows in our gut deeply detoxifies the organs and stimulates the metabolic functions which in turn improves the elimination of toxins from our system. It also helps develop physical and mental balance.
Nakrasana–the push up hops throw off lethargy and brain fatigue 🙂 It rejuvenates our entire body. This is one of the only postures in yoga that stimulate our fast twitch muscle fibers–giving our muscles more power.
Vatayanasana reduces hyperactivity of our kidneys. It is good for our knees and lotus postures.
Parighasana is a good lateral stretch which benefits our lymph system and again massages our internal organs. It is also good for the skin around your abdomen–some yoga texts say in can improve stretch marks and saggy skin.
Gomukhasana induces relaxation as we near the end of the series, relieving tiredness and anxiety. It stimulates the kidneys and when able to sit on our heels (like janu b–putting pressure on the nerve to the pancreas) is good for alleviating type 2 diabetes.
Supta Urdhva pada vajrasana – another spinal twist to relax our nervous system as we prepare to invert.
7 headstands . . . more inversions and those benefits plus they strengthen our neck and improve balance.
All this “magic” that takes place from putting your bodies into asanas requires a little more than just pushing into your abdomen (although that may help) or even just putting your body into the asana (although there certainly is benefit there by itself too)–the sequencing, the heat that we build, the breathing and the bandhas combined with the asana that create an extraordinary therapeutic system that detoxifies our body.
The actual practice of learning and doing Ashtanga Yoga is therapy—the breathing, sweating, stretching, rearranging, realigning, squeezing and soaking, and purifying–its transforming. It cleans out the system, de-stressing and detoxing as it assists the body in its ability to heal itself and maintain a strong and healthy immune system.
There are many other little hidden benefits too, for example I have not spoken much about the standing poses as they are primarily for the external musculature–opening up the hips and hamstrings and preparing our body to go deeper into asana for the inner work of the seated poses. But they also have internal benefits–one of the “side effects” of the standing poses is the lateral wall of your heart is stretched and toned and all the major blood vessels are too–keeping them elastic and free flowing. Also the standing poses stimulate the femur–the long bone in your thighs–this is good for bone density–especially when you jump your feet apart to prepare for the pose (weight bearing on the long axis of the bone is what improves bone density) and just as important, this is also good for your blood–in the long bones of our body is where we produce marrow and red blood cells, the femur being the longest is main center for this production.
And another “hidden benefit” from the little details of the ashtanga practice–the placement tongue on the roof of your mouth has benefit, it activates our pineal gland–located between the halves of our brain (also called the third eye). It is responsible for the release of melatonin and our circadian rhythms. Metaphysically it helps with our connection to our divine or transcendent frequencies.
All this is not magic–it is based on science . . . and yet it is a little magic–Its like the cartoon by our sign in sheet . . . and then a miracle occurs.
The sum is greater than the parts. Yes it requires effort, but its worth it!