Seven yoga poses to cleanse your post-Christmas body
A teacher of mine once described spine twists and folds in a yoga class as a way of ‘wringing out the sponge’ of our bodies and getting rid of all the toxins that reside within, allowing fresh blood and energy into the body parts that most need it. So here’s our top six yoga poses and pranayama practices for a post-Christmas detox, focusing on the digestive organs that need it most. But let’s start by giving our brains a thorough cleanse…
1. Kapala Bhati – “skull shining breath”
This is a cleansing practice for the brain after it’s forgotten what day or time it is, especially in between Christmas and New Year – during those confusing days of ‘Twixtmas’. It’s the one you’ve probably already practiced at your yoga class, where you actively exhale, sending the breath out in short bursts, pumped by your diaphragm, and your body passively inhales after each one. You sit in a comfortable seated position with the spine straight, eyes closed, and pull your navel strongly in as you exhale, breathing through your nose. This practice is said to rid the body of 80% of its toxins, in particular cleansing, charging and invigorating the front of the brain, removing carbon dioxide, and improving circulation, digestion and the nervous system. This is a good pranayama (breath) to practice for ten to twenty minutes after your asanas, just before meditation.
2. Parvritta Utkatasana – revolved chair pose or prayer twist
I personally like to call this pose ‘prayer chair’ because it’s exactly what it is. And it’s exactly the sort of asana that teacher was referring to in the ‘wringing out’ description – perfect to practice after you’ve been sitting in an actual chair for a very long time, eating and drinking everything in sight. Standing with your feet together in Tadasana (mountain pose) and your hands in prayer position (namaskar mudra) you bend your knees in a squat, as though you’re about to sit on a chair. Twisting above the hips to the right, you place your left elbow on the outside of your right knee and rotate the chest around as much as you can, trying to keep your thumbs on your sternum and looking up to the sky. Every inhale can be a lengthening on the spine, every exhale a deepening of the squat. Stay on each side for at least five deep breaths.
3. Parvritta Aṅjaneyāsana – revolved crescent lunge
This is a pose that builds on the twist of the asana above. You can stay in the prayer twist and lift the opposite leg to the way you’re facing at the knee and place it behind you in a high lunge. Alternatively, you can come into this pose from crescent lunge by bringing the hands into namaskar mudra and placing the opposite elbow outside the bent knee. Great for stimulating the abdominal organs and kidneys and stretching out the spine – hold for five breaths on each side and feel the toxins draining away.
4. Uttanasana – forward fold with abdominal massage
If all the twisting isn’t doing it for you, then this just might hit the spot. Stand in tadasana and place your fists at your hip crease. Fold forward over your legs, keeping your fists in place, and then once you’re hanging heavy, letting gravity pull your torso down, you can begin to rotate your balled fists. This will really give your abdominal organs the best massage they can possibly get, short of opening you up. Stay down there for five long breaths before carefully and slowly rolling up back to tadasana.
5. Adho Mukha Svanasana – downward-facing dog (three-legged dog)
Because inversions are typically executed towards the end of a class, it’s hard to think of this classic asana as one, but it is. An inversion is simply a pose where the heart is positioned above the head, and in good old Adho, it is. By raising one leg into the air behind us, we are kick-starting our circulation and magnifying the effect of sending a fresh load of blood around our bodies, flushing out any areas where toxins might be lurking. If that’s too much for you after a binge-heavy yuletide, simply use classic downward dog as a first step, pushing your hips into the air as high as you can and hold for five breaths.
6. Halasana – plough pose
This inversion is perfect for stimulating the digestive system, and flushing out the kidneys and bladder after a series of parties. You can come into this pose either from shoulder stand, or, from a supine position, bring your knees to your chest, and support your middle back as you straighten the legs upwards and allow them to come over your head with the aim of the feet touching the floor behind you. If you cannot touch the floor, then keep the arms supporting the back. If you can, you can stretch out the arms along the floor and clasp the hands together. You have the option of keeping the knees bent if your hamstrings are tight. Do not turn your head in this pose and hold for at least five breaths.
7. Savasana (corpse pose)
And after all of that wringing out and replenishing of your system, finally treat yourself to a relaxing savasana and concentrate on the sensation of fresh blood and lymphatic fluid flowing around your body as you relax everything. Take a moment to focus in a quiet place, away from the festive hubbub, to think about your intentions for the year ahead and what you might let go from your life if it’s no longer serving you in a positive way. From all at Sampoorna Yoga School in Goa, a very happy new year. May 2020 bring you all peace, harmony and joy, wherever you are in the world. Om Shanti Shanti Shanti.