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Cleansing for Health: User-Friendly Yoga Techniques for Detoxification
In this interview, Kristine Kaoverii Weber, founder of Subtle yoga and author of Self-Healing Massage, discusses the yogic approach to detoxification and ways to open the subtle channels in the body to facilitate the flow of Prana, or life force.
YogaUOnline: Many of us think detoxification as something you do when you’re sick and you may go on a lengthy fast. But you seem to have a different idea of what detoxification is and why it’s necessary. Could you talk a bit about that?
Kaoverii Weber: Well, yoga, as well as the numerous Ayurvedic cleansing practices, focus on cleansing the Nadis, or rather, removing the sediments and toxins from the Nadis. The Nadis is the Sanskrit term for all the channels that run through our body. This includes all the well-known passage ways of the body – the intestines, the veins, the arteries and nerves. But it also includes all the subtle energy flows in the body.
Cleansing is considered important in the yogic tradition, because the ancient yogis understood that if the body is toxic, it’s difficult to meditate, it’s difficult to do deep practices, it’s difficult to achieve self-realization. So, cleansing and detoxification sometimes precedes some of the deeper meditation practices. But it’s an important step for everybody.
In the West, when we think of yoga and detoxification, we tend to think of a hot, sweaty, power Vinyasa practice. And yes, anything that makes you sweat, without a doubt, is useful for detoxifying. However, the yoga tradition has also provided us with very specific practices that help to detoxify the digestive organs and to cleanse and stimulate the organs of digestion in many, many other ways. There are other practices you can do that are really helpful, and which are not so time-consuming.
It’s also important to distinguish between cleansing and detoxification. Longer fasting detoxification practices are very powerful and very useful, when you’re dealing with a specific illness or you’re dealing with a long history of inappropriate eating, or even substance abuse. But there are many practices that are more applicable for all of us in daily life, which facilitates daily cleansing, without the hardship of long fasts and more intense detoxification. Such daily cleansing practices are important, because they can keep us feeling well, feeling healthy, and able to live with greater energy, more happiness, and a greater feeling of aliveness.
YogaUOnline: Most of us think of detoxification as something that’s needed because in modern society, we’re exposed to so many environmental toxins. However, that was not the case for the ancient yogis. Why would the ancient yogis think that including cleansing procedures as part of your daily routine was important?
Kaoverii Weber: Well, the body is aging. As we age, the system starts to break down, and we increasingly need practices that help us to retain some of our vitality, so that we can age gracefully, retain energy, and still enjoy life!
According to the ancient yogis, if impurities or sediments are allowed to accumulate in the Nadis, our health gradually deteriorates. And it’s not just about cleansing on the level of the body. Even if we only ate high quality, nutritious, organic food, if the mind has any kind of heaviness or stress, our mental state also produces toxins.
That is often overlooked in our Western culture. We think, “If we can only find that magic bullet, if we can only find that perfect food, then we would be completely healthy. But you can eat completely healthy foods and still be toxic, because the mind is converting the foods and anything else in your experience into toxicity.
So this is a really important piece. How do we shift what’s going on in the mind, so that whatever we take in is converted into nourishment as opposed to into toxicity? Eating healthy foods is not enough, we need to also take time to self-nurture, do meditation practices, the things that help that food then to be converted into essence, into vital nutrition as opposed to into toxicity.
YogaUOnline: Yes. It sounds like what you’re talking about is the Ayurvedic concept of Ama. Ayurveda describes Ama as a sticky, metabolic residue, and it doesn’t just result from the digestion of foods, but from mental and emotional stress or, for lack of a better term, ‘stuck-ness.
Kaoverii Weber: Yes, exactly. If we’re not vigilant about our state of mind, it doesn’t matter how many wonderful vitamins and nutrients we take in. The mind is going to convert that stuff into toxicity. That piece has offered me so much solace over the years, just the understanding that I don’t have to be perfect. My diet doesn’t have to be perfect. It can be good and it should be good. But what’s just as important is my state of mind.
If we are hyper-focused on what we eat and drink, we’re not necessarily looking in the right direction. The yogic model tells us to look up into who you are instead of just looking down to the ground for your answers, that it’s not just about nutrition, vitamins and minerals. Instead, the yoga tradition prompts you to look up into who you are and find your source of strength from that direction. Then your life will not necessarily have to be so measured out and so careful.
Ultimately, all the yogic cleaning practices are important and useful, but the most important way to cleanse the body, from a yoga perspective, is to look into our spiritual source, look to what fills us with light, what fills us with happiness, what fills us with contentment and peacefulness. Then what we take into our body is much more likely to be converted into healthful nutrition, as opposed to toxins.
YogaUOnline: What are some of the symptoms of toxicity that might indicate that you have too much Ama, too many toxins in your body—whether it be mental toxins or just metabolic residue of incomplete digestion?
Kaoverii Weber: Well, fatigue, lack of energy or zest for live is one typical sign. Incomplete digestion is another big sign that something isn’t right, either constipation, loose stools, or undigested food or mucus in the stool. Also, skin issues are a sign that detoxification would be a good idea. Headaches often are another indication.
These are early warning signs that the body’s internal balance is disturbed. But before it gets to the point of disease, we can work with cleansing practices that can help us bring the body back to balance. And with this, there are things we can do that are very manageable and gentle, and don’t involve intense detoxification.
But it’s important to pay attention to the signs we’re getting from our bodies, and to work with the cleansing practices a little more strongly, if we need to in order to help prevent later stages of disease.
YogaUOnline: When we think of cleansing and detoxification, we think about preventing disease and pave the way for healthy aging. However, for the ancient yogis, keeping the Nadis open and clear was really a matter of facilitating the flow of vital energy, or Prana. So, from that perspective, cleansing practices are really a preparation for spiritual deepening and spiritual experience. Could you talk about the Nadi system and how that relates to spiritual efforts? I think, according to the Indian tradition, there is said to be seventy-two thousand Nadis in the body.
Kaoverii Weber: Yes, it’s fascinating, isn’t it? When we in the West think about detoxification, we think about the gross organs, the liver, the kidneys, the digestive tract. But clearly, there is a flow through the entire body, and that gets stuck on other levels as well.
Certainly, that’s how acupuncture works, the idea is to release blocks in the subtle energy flow. That principle is common in all the oriental, the Asian medicines: If we can unblock the flow of energy in the subtle body, it will affect the gross body in a deeper way, than if we were to go in the other direction.
This is exactly what I was talking about with toxicity, or mental and emotional ama, being on the level of both the mind and the body. There are the deep Samskara patterns that all of us have and all of us need to work with. If we can release energy from the blockages of the mind, it can then flow into the gross body. And the gross body will benefit greatly from shifts that we make in the way that we think.
So it’s a two-way street. The body fixes the mind, the mind fixes the body. In our culture, we tend to overemphasize the body. We tend to think that if we fix everything with the body, everything else will be alright, the mind will be alright. That comes from a materialistic reductionist worldview that we have long embraced in the West.
The yogic system gives us a much bigger picture and offers a different perspective on how we can influence the body and the mind. It offers a bigger perspective, that there are other ways we can do this.
Also check out Kaoverii's course on Yoga U Online:
Revitalize and Reenergize - Yoga for Detoxification
Kristine Kaoverii Weber is is the director of the Subtle Yoga Teacher Training and Personal Transformation Program, which offers a 200-hr. teacher training for social workers. She is also the author of Self-Healing Massage. Kaoverii has been teaching yoga since 1996, and has a background in Viniyoga, Iyengar, and Anusara Yoga. In her yoga teaching, her focus is to assist students in discovering optimal alignment and flow of Prana in their practice as well as to help students experience their yoga practice as a vehicle for self-transformation.