Yoga Detox with Shanti Kelley
Shanti Kelley performs Variation A: Parivrtta Utkatasana (Twisted Chair Pose)
We sit down with Shanti Kelly, accredited IAYT Yoga Therapist, to get her expert advice on detox, including recommended diet, practice and intention-setting. To get more of her brilliance, check out her classes at Wanderlust Yoga Austin and Practice Yoga Austin.
What herbal recommendations or recipes do you recommend to use during a detox?
Warm cooked foods are the easiest to digest, and the fiber and water in steamed vegetables will usually help pull out toxins from the body for elimination. Detoxing is not just about reducing the toxic load that one may accumulate in the body but also about giving the system a break from all the work that is required to process what is put in. What we know in Yoga Therapy is that when the body rests it heals. This is true for the digestive system as well.
Tip: Drink plenty of water to keep toxins moving through and out, and try to stick with whole foods, moving slowly as you release heavier and/or more processed products (this includes many salad dressings). This will ensure that you don't experience side effects from releasing too many toxins at one time. Personally, I like to let go of one thing per day, leading to a final day of just warm, nourishing and cooked vegetables, and then slowly adding foods back in, if I choose. It is always advised, however, to check with your physician or healthcare provider to ensure whatever cleanse you do is it right you.
What are the benefits of doing yoga to detox the body?
Yoga is a great supplement to any detox. It can assist the body in releasing toxins that get built up in the system. Through gentle compression, movement and inversions the organs, lymphatic system and bloodstream are stimulated to move unwanted waste through and out. Yoga has also been shown to improve the respiratory system, which is intrinsically connected to the autonomic branch of the nervous system. Studies have shown that when our respiration is long, steady and smooth we are not only oxygenating our cells, but we are also moving our nervous system into the relaxation branch of the ANS (autonomic nervous system). Consequently, we experience greater levels of ease, mindfulness and calmness when we practice deep breathing.
I would say there are two main benefits. The first is for improved health. Yogis call this Ojas. It’s a sense of radiance, well-being and enhanced immunity. The second is a balanced mind and spirit which yogis call Sattva. It’s known as the illuminated state, where we can see things clearly, and are generally undisturbed by life’s circumstances. In this way, we have an overall balanced or peaceful outlook on life.
When toxins build up in the body, we tend to get run down, our immune system can weaken and we may not have the resiliency in relationships, work or family that we normally would in a balanced state. Giving the body a break to make sense of and distribute all that has come in is beneficial, healing and rejuvenating to the whole system. We are not only giving our bodies a chance to keep what is useful and let go of what is not, but also allowing space for our minds, emotions and spirit to assimilate and nurture as well.
What are the top poses you recommend to cleanse, strengthen and inspire from the inside out?
To release toxins from the body, we work on poses that gently compress and release the organelle body and move waste through the intestinal tract from right to left. Poses like twists and forward folds add gentle pressure to the abdominal cavity and intestines. Inversions encourage the lymphatic system to carry toxins to the glands for elimination through sweat, waste and urine, while heart openers stretch the belly, encourage respiration and create a spirit of openness.
Here are two variations for the five types of poses for detox. Variation A may be useful in the beginning of a detox whereas Variation B can be helpful towards the end. Use these variations, and you’ll be on your way to feeling like a new you.
Parivrtta Utkatasana (Twisted Chair Pose) to wring out the organs and promote peristalsis.
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog) to stretch the belly, create heat and strength and decompress the organs.
Shalabhasana (Belly-Down Backbend) to compress the organs (including kidneys), open the chest and lungs and to build heat.
Salamba Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand) or Viparita Karani (Legs-Up-The-Wall) to reverse lymph and calm the mind.
Ananda Balasana (Happy Baby Pose) to release the spine, hips and low back, cool the nervous system, decompress the kidneys and calm the mind.
Ardha Matsyendrāsana (Seated Twist) to increase the flexibility and function of vertebrae of the spine. Also helps to increase oxygen supply to the lungs, increases blood circulation to pelvic region and improves function of the reproductive organs.
Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose) Use a blanket or bolster here. To encourage respiration, open the lungs and chest, release tension around the neck and shoulders, decompress the abdomen and encourage assimilation and elimination.
Viparita Karani (Legs-Up-The-Wall) to reverse lymph and calm the mind.
Balasana (Child’s Pose) to release the spine, hips and low back, cool the nervous system, decompress the kidneys and calm the mind.
Meditation to enter a steady state of calm regard. This is where the reparative processes of the body really occur.
What are the emotional effects of detox poses? How does this relate to yoga therapy?
This is such a great question! It’s true that emotions can arise as we move into our detox. It's also true that we often feel these emotions more readily when coming to our mats. In part, the cleanse is releasing the chemical load that keeps us dulled to our experience. We’re not just processing the food and drink that we’ve taken in, but also the experiences that perhaps we did not take the time to look at or appreciate. Another aspect is that we are, in a very real way, changing a pattern. We’re letting go. When we start to slow down — to feel and to let go — we can often become aware of the undigested emotional material already there. Be willing to welcome anything that arises, and gain support should you need it. At the end of the day, it’s all in service to the clarity, upliftment and lightness you are seeking. Remember, emotional toxicity can have just as much of an effect on our well-being as physical toxicity.
What's the best way to start to a detoxifying practice? How can one set their intention?
Yoga is really a whole system, so starting may be as simple as stopping what you’re doing to create the toxic load or sense of imbalance in the first place. You can build from there, perhaps starting at home, clearing out the clutter or organizing your space, so the mind and energetic body can be more at ease and so your environment is promoting a sense of health and healing for you as well!
Make space for practice. Carve out a certain time each day with regularity. Regularity is the key to change! In yoga, setting intentions is called Sankalpa. Make intentions clear, realistic, present-centered and doable.
How do you start your day when you're detoxing?
I start every morning pretty much the same way — detox or not. I sit with tea and study – sometimes philosophy or sometimes something new that I’m interested in like yoga therapy, but I make sure it is always in paper form…no screen to start the day.
After that, I do a 3-minute child’s pose every morning — no matter what. I find it relaxes my nervous system, opens my back and begins the process of deep, full yogic breathing. It totally sets my day and gets me ready for my regular practice. Depending on where I am in the process, it may be a stronger or softer practice, but is oriented to giving myself what my body and mind are needing for that day.
From there, meditation and journaling with lots of water and soup or green juice.
When Shanti is not doing work in spiritual psychology and applied anatomy and kinesiology for yoga teachers, you can find her teaching classes at Wanderlust and Practice Yoga Austin. In the spring, Shanti will publish her first book on yoga anatomy for teachers titled the “Body of Metaphor”.