Yoga Spring Cleaning: 8 Twists
To Clean, Detoxify, And Jumpstart Your Body
Written By Julie SchoenAs the spring season makes herself known in the world, tempting us outside with warm sun and new growth, it’s easy to get distracted away from spring-cleaning tasks on hand. Yes, you should clean your garage. Yes, now is a good time to take down your holiday lights. Yes, it would be nice to donate all those clothes you never wear, or organize your spice rack, or plant seeds. But, out of all the cleaning you should do, the one you should absolutely not forget to do is the cleaning that happens inside of you.
Winter can be a tough season for most individuals. As a group, we tend to overeat, overstress, and over indulge during the colder months. We also tend to move less. And even if you are the one person out there reading this saying, “Hey! I was good this winter! I ran in the snow and ate healthy soups and ignored my family!” you still could benefit from a spring-cleaning too.
No matter how “good” you are, you are alive and human living on earth, which means your body is absorbing toxins. Toxins in food, water, and air can come in the form of preservatives, pesticides, stimulants, and heavy metals. Even your own body produces metabolic waste products (aka toxins) thanks to the need to digest and breathe.
And while the body is equipped to deal with toxins on its own, to flush them out through daily functions such as elimination, breathing, and sweat, oftentimes our bodies are so inundated with toxins that these processes get backed up, which means it takes a long time for toxins to finally make their way out of your body. This buildup of toxins leaves many of us feeling tired and stressed with poor digestion to boot. Research has even proven that too many toxins in the body can (and probably will) lead to disease.
So what is the best way to get rid of these toxins?
The good news is that there is a whole long list of ways to eliminate toxins – from diets and cleanses to dry brushing and oil pulling. The bad news is that this huge list can be overwhelming. You can get a lot of great information out there about detoxifying the body, but then never actually use any of it.
This is why we are going to focus on one (that’s right – one!) simple thing you can do each day this spring to help clean your body of toxins, boost your energy levels, improve your mood, enhance your immune system, and increase the overall functionality of your body and its systems.
Adding twist to your daily yoga practice (or just doing these twists in general after physical activity) will help to not only spring clean your body, but your mind as well.
Being active, whether through a yoga practice or other physical activities, help to increase the heat in the body, which boosts agni, the fire in your belly that aids in digestion and detoxification. Adding twisting poses to this fire help to wring things out. According to the Iyengar theory of yoga, twists isolate and compress certain organs of the digestive system. This action is commonly referred to as “squeeze and soak”, which means that the twists squeeze out impurities and blood from the tissues, in turn allowing fresh blood and proper nutrients to be soaked up. It is thought that these twists in yoga help to actually dislodge stuck particles in the colon and improve overall health of your organs and digestion, specifically the liver and kidneys.
In addition to the kidneys, liver, and colon, one of the other key players in detoxification is our body’s lymph.
The job of the lymphatic system is to clean up your body, meaning cleaning up disorganized cells and pathogens that have entered. How well this system does its job is directly correlated to amount of toxins in your body and your ability to fight off illnesses, such as the flu and the common cold. Lymph fluid, which is like the blood that runs through veins but specific to the lymphatic system, is clear and colorless. Much thinner than blood, your lymph flows at a slow place and under low pressure. This fluid is formed all over the body by various tissues. After it is formed it is carried from the extremities (like your hands and feet) to your core by small vessels.
The lymphatic system is comprised of nodes and ducts, which are strategically located throughout your body at convenient “stations” – in the neck and throat area, the armpit, behind the elbow, the groin area, and behind the knees. These stations are where the bad stuff (such as toxins and the flu virus) gets destroyed. But in order for the body to get the trash out, it must drain out of the lymphatic system and into the blood stream via ducts located on the left side of the chest and just below the collarbones. If the lymph system doesn’t drain, it doesn’t work and the harmful viruses, bacteria, etc. get stuck in your body – and you get sick.
Twists in yoga are very helpful to the lymph in our bodies because it stimulates both the skin and the lymph nodes along the spine in addition to compressing organs that aid in digestion and detoxification.
Need another reason to twist?
Twists in yoga can be very soothing to the parasympathetic nervous system, another major player in the world of detox. The act of twisting helps to bring your awareness inward, allowing us to be present and to take notice of what is happening in our bodies and minds on a deeper level. This simple act of being present relieves enormous pressure and allows our bodies to start functioning on an optimal level.
Ready to give it a try? Here are eight twists to add to your daily routine this spring. Try doing all eight in order or choose one or two to work on for a few days. Even after your first session you will start to notice increased energy, better mood, and a digestive system that actually functions!
8 Yoga Twists To Clean, Detoxify, And Jumpstart Your Body
Parivrtta Utkatasana (Revolved Chair Pose) –
Bring your hands to heart center in prayer position. Twist open to the side, using your bottom elbow to gently push against the outside of your upper thigh to help you deepen the twist. Be sure that the weight stays in your heels and that your two knees are in one line so as to protect your lower back.
Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (Revolved Extended Side Angle Pose), variation –
Squeeze your bottom arm and knee together as you carefully shift your weight into one leg and step back with the other into the High Lunge position, back heel off the mat. Keep your arms in the same position, continuing to twist through the back and shoulders by rolling your top ribs back and your bottom ribs forward. This pose builds a lot of heat in the body, which is great for the lymph system, in addition to detoxifying the body and its internal organs.
Parivrtta Utthita Trikonasana (Revolved Extended Triangle Pose) –
Keeping your legs in the same position from Triangle, reach your opposite hand to the outside of your front foot. Just as you did before, reach your top hand up towards the sky, working to create a straight line between your two arms. Roll the top ribs back and your bottom ribs forward so that your heart opens. Focus your attention on your feet for balance, rooting through the inner heel of the front foot as much as possible. Hold this pose for 3 to 5 breaths before carefully coming back up to stand.
Parivrtta Padanghusta Ardha Padma Utkatasana (Revolved Half Lotus Toe Balance), variation –
From a standing position, shift your weight into one foot, evenly distributing the weight through all four corners of the foot. Lift your other foot off the floor and bring it into half lotus position on the upper thigh of your opposite leg. Bend your standing leg’s knee as if you were entering Utkatasana (Chair Pose). Depending on your hip flexibility and natural range of motion you most likely won’t get as deep into the pose as you would if both feet were on the ground. Bring your hands together at heart center and twist towards the raised foot. As you twist, pull your navel in towards your spine and lengthen through your side body. To complete the twist place your bottom elbow in the sole of the raised foot. Breathe deep into your abdomen. Stay for 3 to 5 breaths before coming out and changing sides.
Pasasana (Noose Pose), variation –
Move your feet apart several inches so that your heels touch the ground while you are in a low squat. Bring your hands in between your legs and place them on the ground in front of you. Use the elbows to gently press into your legs, helping to open the hips and straighten the back. If it is too difficult to bring your heels down to the mat, place a rolled blanket under your heels so that you can still evenly distribute your weight through your feet.
Stretch your arms strongly forward, lowering your torso down towards the mat as much as possible. Walk your arms over to the right. Lift your right hand off the floor, turning the palm to face you. Bend your right elbow and reach your hand as far back along your back as possible. Lift your left hand off the floor, turning the palm to face you. Bring the hand right alongside your body, bending the elbow and reaching for your opposite hand. If the fingers don’t clasp, use clothing or a strap to give yourself something to hold onto.
Once a clasp has been established, grow long through your torso and use your arms to increase the twist and compression. Stay in the pose for 5 to 10 breaths before switching sides.
Marichyasana III (Marichi’s Pose) –
Sit with your legs extended straight out in front of you. Bend your right knee and bring the heel towards your body. Place the right foot over your left leg. Place your hands on the ground behind you and press down to help you straighten your spine as much as possible. Reach the left hand towards the sky and then twist to your right. Bring the elbow of your left hand to your outer right thigh, using this contact to work into a deeper twist. Continue pressing into the ground with the right hand in order to keep the spine long. Hold this pose for 5 to 7 breaths and then repeat on the other side.
Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana (Revolved Head To Knee Pose), variation –
Sit with your legs extended straight out in front of you. Bend your right knee into the shape of Virasana (Hero’s Pose), keeping your heel as close to your outer right hip as possible and the joint of the knee closed. Extend your left leg out to the side, straightening the leg strongly with your toes pointing straight up. Hinge at your left hip, lowering yourself down over your left leg slightly. Slide your left hand under your right thigh, reaching for the heel of your right foot. Once that connection has been made, lower your left shoulder down inside your left knee. Pull your navel in and twist your heart up towards the sky. Reach your right arm up, extending the hand over your right ear and reaching for your left foot. Use a strap as necessary.
Alternatively, if the position of Virasana is not possible or comfortable for your knees, simply use the traditional Janu Sirsasana shape (sole of your right foot against the upper inner thigh of your left leg). You won’t be able to do the bind in this option, but you can still twist and fold to receive the same benefits.
Garuda’s Twist –
Lie down on the floor flat on your back with knees bent. Cross your right leg over your left like you would for Garudasana (Eagle Pose), adding the cross at the ankles if possible. Press into your feet and lift your hips up off the floor to shift them over to your right slightly. Lower your knees to the left until they reach the floor. Try to keep the right shoulder and shoulder blade in contact with the floor as much as possible. Focus the twist in the abdomen by engaging your core slightly and breathing into the digestive organs. Stay for 1 to 2 minutes on this side before switching.
Have an extra minute?
Add an extra restorative pose to your practice to continue soothing your parasympathetic nervous system and maximizing the benefits of the detox! Try a supported version of Savasana (Corpse Pose) or, my favorite, Viparita Karani (Legs Up The Wall Pose).