Imagine a fish tank filled with the most beautiful fish. If the water starts to get dingy or murky, the sooner the tank gets a good cleaning, the better its inhabitants will fare.
Same goes for our bodies and minds. They may get soiled and cluttered after periods of stress, distraction, and busyness, when we’re unable to prioritize physical, spiritual, and mental wellness.
Even though our bodies come equipped with natural detoxification systems like the kidneys, skin, and liver, these organs function all the better with the right support.
A steady yoga cleanse and practice contributes to mental, spiritual, and physical purification, as well as nourishing self-awareness. Here are a few yogic cleansing practices and principles to help prioritize physical and spiritual wellness.
Asana, With a Twist
Twisting postures manually wring the organs to help the body detoxify more rapidly and efficiently. Twists directly stimulate digestive organs and those that support waste elimination. When done correctly, they gently but effectively encourage the yoga cleansing process.
Don’t twist too vigorously during your first yoga cleanse. Purification isn’t something you can achieve in an hour by trying every single twist with full force. Regular exercises in combination with breathing practices contribute to sustainable yoga cleansing. As you incorporate twists into your yoga practice, be aware of:
Your breath. When the diaphragm expands, it acts as a pump against neighboring organs. Inhale deeply into the solar plexus to go deeper into your twist, and then relax on the exhale.
Bodily sensations. If something hurts, ease up. If it’s mildly, constructively uncomfortable, you may choose to sit with the sensation.
Energetic reverberations. Notice what the pose makes you feel on an emotional and energetic level: is there anything there you can let go of?
Poses like Supta Matsyendrasana, Jathara Parivartanasana, and Ardha Matsyendrasana are known for their energizing and cleansing properties.
A quick guide to twisting yoga poses:
- Supta Matsyendrasana (supine spinal twist). Lying on your back, bring one knee into your chest, and, holding the outer knee with the opposite hand, bring the knee across your body as far as is comfortable. Breathing should be smooth, deep, and easy. Repeat on the other side.
- Jathara Parivartanasana (twisted abdomen pose). Lying on your back, bring both knees into your chest and drop them both over to one side. Keep your opposite shoulder and arm on the ground and keep the knees in line with or higher than the hips. Repeat on the other side.
- Ardha Matsyendrasana (sitting half spinal twist). Starting in a sitting cross-legged position, bring one foot to the ground beside the opposite knee. Bring the opposite elbow to the outside of the upwardly bent knee, gently push into the outer leg, and find your twist. Remember to keep your back as straight as possible, not rounded.
If done correctly, supine and seated twists release the lower back, elongate the spinal muscles, strengthen the shoulder muscles, aid digestion, and clear the mind.
Ayurvedic Cleansing Techniques
The Shatkarmas are six cleansing techniques said to support the body’s natural detoxification processes and can assist with a yoga cleanse. While not all of them may appeal to you, they’ve been used for centuries under the supervision of skilled Ayurvedic practitioners (as should these methods). Here they are:
Neti for Nasal Passages
Already in love with your neti pot during allergy season? Then you’re already a jala neti practitioner. For the uninitiated, a small pot filled with lukewarm salted water is slowly poured in one nostril and drains out the other. The three stages of purification are from nostril to nostril, from nostrils to mouth, and from mouth to nostrils. Sutra neti is a manual version wherein a string of cotton thread is flossed along the nasal passage and down the back of the throat. Pretty intense!
Trataka for the Eyes
Remember staring contests? Similarly, this Shatkarma is an exercise in not blinking. Concentrate your gaze on a specific immobile object and use the principle of 1-to-4: Focus on the object for one minute with your eyes open and then visualize the same spot for four minutes with the eyes closed.
Dhauti for the Digestive Tract
The three basic Dhauti techniques include Vastra Dhauti (wiping with a cotton cloth), Jala Dhauti (cleansing with lukewarm water, as in a bidet or shower spray), and Vaarisaar antar dhauti (a lukewarm water wash paired with specific asanas).
Basti for the Colon
Using the same principle as an enema, this Shatkarma typically incorporates herbal decoctions and warm oil to eliminate waste and purify the colon.
Nauli for the Abdominal Area
Nauli is a self-massage practice for the organs in the abdomen. It’s typically done standing, using breath control and locking all three of the bandhas, or energetic locks in the body. Here, the abdominal muscles are isolated and moved in undulating waves by contracting the oblique muscles in and pushing the rectus abdominis out, all while the body is emptied of breath.
Kapalbhati for the Frontal Lobes
Kapalbhati is a breathing technique that involves repetitive, consecutive short forceful exhalations and automatic inhalations to boost the circulation of the oxygen while pumping the abdomen. The English translation of kapalbhati is “skull-shining breath.”
You know how they say the body is almost 60% water? Movement and abdominal (diaphragmatic) breathing support the lymphatic system’s important work of circulating and cleaning the fluids in the body. Lymphatic fluid picks up pathogens and waste products and moves those to the bloodstream, so that the organs of elimination can filter them from the body more quickly.
Interested in cleansing breathwork? The book The Power of Prana is a great place to start, as it includes instructions on the Nine Energizing Breaths, among other exercises. Nadi Sodhana Pranayama is a good beginner exercise for cleansing and balancing energy meridians.. Using the thumb and ring finger, block one nostril at a time and inhale through the other, and then reverse the nostril being held and exhale through the other.
Another Pranayama to try is Sitali or cooling breath, in which you inhale through a curled tongue. It has the power to cool the body, soothe the mind, and encourage tranquility.
By now, you know meditation can help release tension and balance your energy. It can also assist in clearing the mind of stagnant thoughts.
“Toxic thought patterns have a negative impact on physical chemistry,” says Kyle Risley, Founder & CEO of Lift Vault. “When you meditate, tension and tightness leave the muscles.”
Here are a few variants to try:
Feel frustrated with the process? That’s a sign that continuing to practice may be your best medicine.
Embrace Tapas: Your Inner Fire
Tapasya, or the practice of building tapas (self-discipline and heat) is an intensive yogic cleansing practice of refining body, speech, and mind.
Tapas can be built through a structured, disciplined physical-spiritual practice such as Ashtanga yoga, and can also be cultivated through the restructuring of thought patterns.
Tapas is also gained through putting positive physical energy into yogic exercises. Effort and difficulty create heat that reinforces inner power. Dynamic yoga, warming pranayama, or hot yoga can help you become aware of prana and get you fired up on all levels. Plus, sweating is believed to help cleanse all the systems of the body.
On and off the mat, tapas facilitates body and mind purification, fueling the body and revealing internal force.
Try as many of these techniques as you like to build up willpower and inspire a holistic yoga cleanse that helps you build lasting radiance and clarity.
Interested in more yogic techniques? Here's the case for yogic breathing.