Guest Post By Nicole Adams
The idea that practicing yoga, following a certain diet, or using a specific product can remove stubborn and scary toxins from our bodies are widespread claims running rampant online and in yoga and exercise classes despite there being little to no evidence that a practice, diet, or product can do that. As for yin yoga and yoga specifically, there’s been no research done to show that it improves your body’s natural detoxification system. Let’s explore these common claims and learn what’s going on in our bodies and how yin yoga can still be beneficial.
Does Practicing Yin Yoga Help Release Toxins From Your Body?
The notion that practicing yoga, including yin yoga, can help you “detox” and “release toxins” from your body is a controversial and largely misunderstood concept. B.K.S. Iyengar famously stated that deep twists caused a “squeeze-and-soak” effect on the body. The theory was that twisting your spine compressed muscles and organs, which blocked the flow of blood. He claimed twisting cleansed your internal organs in the same way that a sponge discharges dirty water when squeezed and then absorbs fresh water and expands again. The idea was that when you twist, you create a similar wringing action, removing stale blood and allowing a freshly oxygenated supply to flow in when you release the pose. While no research has been done on such a phenomenon, many people experience energetic and physical fluidity as a result of their yoga practice.
While there’s not likely a literal physiological detoxification happening as a result of practicing yin yoga, one could explore a symbolic releasing of energetic or emotional “toxins.” Yin is a slow paced type of yoga that gives you a few minutes (versus a few seconds) of time to explore a pose and release any physical or mental tension within it. This could look like changing your breathing and utilizing mindfulness to become aware of or relax parts of your body, or to slow down mental thoughts. You might experience fear or discomfort and with the emphasis of time and introspection, integral aspects of yin, you might be able to revel in trusting your intuition and letting go of thoughts or emotions that no longer serve you.
Does Any Type of Yoga Detox Your Body?
It’s important to realize that “toxins” in this context is vague and misleading, as it doesn’t specify what substances are being referred to or how yoga might influence them. Detoxification is the physiological processes through which our body identifies, neutralizes, and eliminates toxic substances and metabolic byproducts, and our bodies perform these processes quite effectively. There are some chemicals that cannot be easily removed through these processes, including pollutants found in pesticides, phthalates found in plastic, and heavy metals. The detoxification theory claims that heat causes sweating, and sweat carries toxins out of the body. Some research has found that certain heavy metals can be excreted from the body in sweat, but only a trivial amount.
The primary organs responsible for detox in your body are your lungs, digestive system, liver and kidneys. Your lungs remove gasses and volatile chemicals when you exhale, and as food passes through your gastrointestinal tract, it either gets broken down into smaller molecules for use or passes through your large intestine as waste. Your liver and kidneys also process toxins and excrete them as urine or stool and these organs can do this work without undergoing twists, forward folds, or excess heat.
Additionally your lymphatic system collects fluid, toxins and metabolic byproducts, and clears it out of your tissues. Unlike your circulatory system, which has a heart to pump blood through the blood vessels, there is no lymphatic pump, so this system depends on movement and exercise to make the fluid, known as lymph, flow. While there hasn’t been much in the way of scientific study (yet), all types of physical activity, not just yoga increases the mobility of your organs to perform their normal detoxifying functions making it beneficial practice for your overall well being.
While it may indirectly support your overall health, yoga does not have a scientifically proven effect on “toxin release” in the way that the term is commonly used in marketing or popular culture. Yin yoga, like other forms of yoga, does offer a range of health benefits, including stress reduction, improved flexibility, relaxation, and overall well-being.
Want to experience it for yourself? Kerry offers weekly yin yoga classes in person or online via Zoom geared especially for those over 50. You can also explore free pre-recorded yoga practices on her Youtube Channel.