by Dana Meltzer Zepeda: Whether it’s too much turkey or Grandma’s famous pumpkin pie, the holidays tend to lead to overindulgence.
But they also provide a great opportunity to detox your body, mind, and spirit. “Our modern lifestyle has most of us on toxin overload, and that gets compounded during the holiday season,” says Liz Lindh, a vinyasa yoga teacher who will kick off the new year by leading a week-long yoga detox retreat at The Sanctuary at Two Rivers in Cabuya, Costa Rica.
Dead bug kriya
Lindh created this 8-pose sequence of detoxifying Kundalini kriyas, or repetitive movements, exclusively for YogaJournal.com to boost energy, promote mental clarity, and rid the body of toxins. “This simple sequence is exhilarating, energizing, and strengthening, but is also deeply restorative and cathartic,” she says. “It works the whole body: purifies the skin and lymphatic system, improves digestion and elimination, boosts circulation, balances the flow of prana, releases stuck emotions, and clears the mind.” Goodbye, food coma.
Empty Coat Sleeves Kriya (Kundalini Breathing Exercise)
How to Do It: Place your feet just wider than your mat with the heels turned in and toes turned out. Soften the joints in your body and gently twist from side to side so your arms are floppy. Allow your arms to flop against your front and back as you twist. Breathe deeply. Repeat at least 20 times.
Why It Works: This movement massages the lymph nodes in the armpit and groin regions and will improve the flow of lymph, boosting immunity, promoting healing, and removing cellular waste, including unnecessary fats and excess fluid retention. It’s also very soothing for the nervous system, unblocks the energetic pathways and encourages natural detoxification.
Jumping Up & Down
How to Do It: Bring your feet shoulder-width apart. Let go of any tension in your shoulders and arms. Keep your knees soft. Jump up and down while shaking out your arms like you are flinging water off of your arms and hands. Do this for 1 to 5 minutes. A good way to keep your momentum going is to choose a song with a good beat and jump for the duration. Let out a yell every now and then to keep yourself going.
When you finish jumping, take five deep Ujjayi breaths while inhaling the arms up overhead to Anjali Mudra (prayer) and exhaling the hands down to the heart center. On the sixth inhale, reach your arms up, then Forward Bend (Uttanasana). Inhale to a long spine, exhale chest to thighs, bend the knees and inhale to lift the chest and arms into Chair Pose (Utkatasana).
Why It Works: This movement is a great opportunity to cultivate a positive inner dialogue and free yourself of toxic self-talk. It will clear the mind, strengthen the bones, boost cardiovascular endurance, improve circulation and lymph flow, strengthen and de-stress.
Parivrtta Utkatasana (Revolved Chair Pose)
How to Do It: Bring the hands into Anjali Mudra. Twist to the right first. Tuck the upper arm bone against the outer thigh bone and press the top hand into the bottom hand. Create a straight line from elbow to elbow and keep the palms in front of the heart center. Be sure to keep the toes and knees even. Gaze up. Hold for 10 breaths. Inhale to untwist and stand all the way up, reaching for the sky. Fold forward on the exhale. Inhale extending your spine long. Exhale folding your chest to your thighs. Bend your knees and inhale to lift your chest and arms into Utkatasana (Chair Pose). Repeat the twist to the left. Do this 3 times on each side.
Why It Works: You should be sweating by now. Sweat is the way our body eliminates toxins through the skin. This asana also massages, squeezes, and cleans the abdominal organs, which will improve the way the liver, intestines, and kidneys process waste. It also wrings out various nerve plexuses to activate the parasympathetic division of the nervous system. Parivrtta Utkatasana is very strengthening for the legs, and will remind you that you have the power to firmly and gracefully stand your ground.
Downward-Facing Dog Donkey Kicks
How to Do It: Inhale to stand all the way up. Exhale and Forward Bend. Inhale to a long spine. Exhale and step back to Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog). Step your feet in a little closer to your hands than usual. Bend both knees and hop both feet off of the floor, kicking your heels to your bottom. Repeat for 1 to 5 minutes. Again, a song with a good beat and a little yelling will help to keep you going. Rest in Balasana (Child’s Pose) for about a minute once you finish.
Why It Works: This repetitive movement, or kriya, is also an inversion. It is detoxifying because it activates circulation, stimulates the pituitary and pineal glands (which regulate all of the body’s functions as well as our waking and sleeping cycles), cleanses the lymphatic system, and clears the mind. It also builds strength and endurance for the entire body.
How to Do It: From Downward-Facing Dog, lift your left leg to the sky on your inhale. Exhale your leg forward into Pigeon. Breathe deeply for 3 full breath cycles before folding forward over your bent left leg. Stay here for 1 to 5 minutes. Relax and breathe. Breathe into your hips and allow them to soften. Breathe into your kidneys at your low back to purify your blood. Breathe into your belly to absorb the nutrients from your food. Breathe into the back of your heart and let go.
Why It Works: Here you have the time to be introspective, to check in with your body, breath, and mind, and simply observe the present moment. It is also a nice counterpose to the other more active movements you have just done. Relaxing here will bring your body into repair and heal mode by switching on the parasympathetic division of the nervous system.
Ardha Matsyendrasana (Seated Spinal Twist)
How to Do It: From Pigeon Pose, lift your head and torso up, sweep your right leg around and cross your right foot over your left thigh. Sit upright with your right leg crossed over your bent left leg with your right foot firmly pressed into the floor and your left foot close to your right sitting bone. Inhale both arms to the sky, exhale and twist to your right. Hug your right thigh into your chest with your left arm and use your right arm to support your twist. Look over your right shoulder. Stay here for at least 10 breaths. Untwist your legs and return to Pigeon. Sweep your left leg to the sky and then lower it into Downward-Facing Dog. Repeat Pigeon Pose and the Seated Twist on the other side.
Why It Works: In this asana, turning your head massages the thyroid and parathyroid glands located in the throat. These endocrine glands regulate metabolism, mood, energy level, and bone density. When they are working properly, they enhance systemic detox. This asana also promotes relaxation by soothing the nervous system. It also opens the gall bladder meridian, which eases irritability and facilitates decision-making.
Belly on Block
How to Do It: From Downward-Facing Dog, lower onto all fours. Place a block on your mat the low wide way and lie down on top of it. Align the block below your belly button. This is a very intense sensation, especially the first time you do it. Rest here for about a minute breathing slowly and deeply. Then press back into Child’s Pose for a minute to allow the increased circulation to bring your body into balance.
Why It Works: This is a deep cleanse for the colon, improving elimination. Controlled pressure on the abdomen like this also massages the greater omentum, a web of fibrous and fatty tissue that holds the organs in place and provides cushion and protection. This massage prevents the fatty web from solidifying, eliminates stagnation and accumulation of waste products that collect in between the tissues. If you have a uterus, you will also feel increased circulation there and increased circulation means detoxification.