An entire industry has emerged around the concept of detoxification—the notion that specific practices, diets, or products can scrub your body free of long-stored pollutants or poisons that can negatively impact your health. While it’s tempting to believe in the magic bullet—that one simple remedy or treatment could undo years of unhealthy lifestyle choices—you’d unfortunately be fooling yourself.
The truth is your body has an innate detoxification system that’s operating all the time. Your lungs, skin, kidneys, and liver are good at their job of ridding your system of impurities. You’re excreting unwanted toxins day in and day out without even trying. This is due to the onboard intelligence of your body known in Ayurveda as ojas. This intelligence knows how to restore and maintain balance throughout the body by its very nature.
Problems occur, however, when your habits or lifestyle choices interfere with the uninterrupted flow of ojas. And while you can’t actually “detoxify” yourself, you can engage in behaviors that maximize your body’s stream of intelligence to maintain optimum mind-body balance and well-being. The following activities and practices will help enhance your system’s ability to remove toxins and purify your life.
Meditation is a foundational tool for self-purification. When your mind settles into stillness, the turbulent, chaotic swirl of mental activity begins to fall away, allowing clarity to emerge. Like a debris- and rubble-filled tornado that weakens and dissolves once the atmospheric conditions change, your mind becomes calm and centered through meditation, sending the message of stillness to every cell of your body.
In addition, entering into the silence between your thoughts is the field of pure awareness, which helps to cleanse and decontaminate your being from the inside out. The more time you spend in that stillness, the more purity you bring back into your life at every level.
Prana, or the primordial life force, enters your body through a variety of sources, but none more vital than through the air you breathe. How you manage your prana through breath is called pranayama or yogic breathing. There are several foundational pranayama techniques. One, however, known as kapalabhati or the shining breath, can be an especially powerful tool to flush stagnant or sluggish energy from your body and mind.
3. Yoga Asana
A key network of tissues and organs that help rid the body of toxins, waste, and other unwanted materials is the lymphatic system. Unlike the circulatory system, however, the lymphatic system doesn’t have a pump to move lymph from place to place. Instead, it depends on the frequent and routine movement of your body to gently squeeze glands and vessels, which causes the lymph to flow.
A perfect means to this end is the practice of yoga asanas (poses). Regularly bending, twisting, expanding, contracting, and breathing through a series of basic yoga poses can be a great way to support the detoxification process (along with numerous additional benefits) carried out by your lymphatic system.
4. Use a Neti Pot
Whether during the practice of pranayama or just regular daily breathing, your nose processes the vast majority of the air entering and exiting your body. Its interior is lined with hairs and mucous membranes to warm the air and trap particles and toxins before they enter your lungs. However, depending on your environment, pollutants, pollens, dust, bacteria, or allergens may accumulate in your nasal and sinus passages.
A neti pot is a tool to irrigate your nasal lining and flush out inhaled contaminants. A practice dating back thousands of years in India and China, a regular neti routine is a helpful way to remove accumulated nasal toxins and impurities.
5. Tongue Scraping
According to Ayurveda, the incomplete and unmetabolized food and experiences of your life creates what is known as ama. Ama is a sticky toxic residue, the leftover of a weak digestion. Believed to be the foundation of disease, ama accumulates in different parts of the physiology, but the most visibly noticeable is the coating that sometimes appears on your tongue in the morning. This coating can be an indicator of the accumulated toxicity present in your system.
Following a daily tongue scraping practice can be a great way to eliminate mouth-borne toxins before they are swallowed and reabsorbed into the system.
6. Smudge Your Space
Smudging is an ancient Native American ritual designed to clear a space or person of stagnant or negative energy. Typically performed by burning sage and allowing the smoke to waft through a room or home, the smoke is said to remove any accumulated emotional or mental toxicity that might adversely affect you. Irrespective of these metaphysical beliefs, however, smudging can be a potent ritual to help focus an intention of purity and healing in both your environment and your body.
One study found the use of medicinal smoke to lower the airborne bacterial load by 94 percent and effectively disinfect the air—to make the environment cleaner.
7. Drink Plenty of Water
You likely recognize the importance of staying well hydrated throughout the day, but from a detoxification perspective, water should be considered nature’s purifier. Your body is three-quarters water, and nearly all biochemical processes take place within a narrow window of hydration; it’s of paramount importance to consume plenty of fresh, pure water to help your body flush out toxins.
In addition, Ayurveda recommends routinely sipping hot water throughout the day. Hot water helps break up and flush out the ama residue leftover from incomplete metabolism. In the same way, it dissolves and cooks off grease from dirty dishes, so too can hot water cleanse away the ama that might be clogging your system.
8. Curate Your Awareness
You are continually exposed to vast amounts of information through your five senses. Unfortunately, much of that input can be inherently negative or toxic. Watching negative news stories reporting hostility or suffering, listening to harsh, loud arguments or jarring music, inhaling cigarette smoke or exposure to toxic chemicals, engaging in arguments or negativity via social media, and consuming unhealthy or unnatural foods all increase the toxic load in your mind-body system.
“You are what you eat” doesn’t apply to just the food you take in, but ultimately whatever you put your awareness on consistently. Guarding your awareness against exposure to potentially harmful influences may not be a regular practice. However, with mindful attention, you can learn to consciously filter out those elements that could be harmful. Commit to regularly asking yourself, “Is this something that my mind and body need right now?” If the answer or sensation you receive doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not the most nourishing choice.
9. Commit to Releasing Mental and Emotional Toxicity
Anger, hostility, grudges, grievances, resentment, compulsive behavior, and addictions are all forms of psychological or emotional toxicity that can damage your subtle body as badly as poison can harm your physical body. Recognizing and acknowledging harmful mental and emotional states is a powerful first step to freeing yourself from these negative forces, but you still need to have an action plan to reduce the negative emotional energy you’re carrying. Whether it’s through the help of a caring friend, an emotional release practice, or traditional talk therapy, a specific and tried approach can be a helpful way for you to let go of these unhealthy influences and step into moksha, or emotional freedom.
By practicing these tools regularly, you will help move your life in the direction of greater purity or sattva, and thereby awaken your body’s inner intelligence and natural healing ability.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; it does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health programs.
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