We don’t talk about toxins or detoxing in Mysore-style Ashtanga yoga, (silent practice!), but I’ve definitely heard it mentioned in other classes I’ve visited and in my 200-hour teacher training. Twists, for example, are praised for their detoxifying properties. I’ve always just nodded my head. Toxins are obviously bad, right?
But part of yoga is svadhyaya, or self-inquiry, so I decided to look into it before blindly accepting that practicing Marichyasana D (a wicked twist) six days a week for the past 14 months has made me the most detoxed mother%$#*er in town. What are these toxins, anyway, and why are they bad for me?
Merriam-Webster says a toxin is “a poisonous substance that is a specific product of the metabolic activities of a living organism and is usually very unstable, notably toxic when introduced into the tissues, and typically capable of inducing antibody formation.” Hmph. That doesn’t help too much.
Luckily, Auriel is a massage therapist, so she’s studied this stuff. I asked her for an explanation.
“Well, toxins are anything that your body doesn’t utilize. So they are chemicals that can’t be used or waste products that are naturally produced—things left over after the body has taken what it needs. Make sense?”
It did. But I was still curious. So I started bugging my office-mates, who are mostly environmental scientists and geologists. They helped me come up with a list of environmental contaminants that could be taken in via air pollution or ingested with food or water (please note that I’ve barely scratched the surface here—this is NOT a comprehensive list). Their sources are tied to today’s industrialized lifestyle: humans are exposed to these chemicals through petroleum, pesticides, and byproducts of manufacturing and other industries. In small amounts, they supposedly don’t cause any major noticeable harm. But in larger amounts, they’re bad news! Some, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) can even build up in your system over time. Since the EPA has only been around since 1970 and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry since 1980, there is a lot that we don’t know about pollutants, toxins, contamination, and all that jazz.
|Some Environmental Contaminants and Associated Health Effects|
|Benzene||Benzene is a petroleum hydrocarbon and a known human carcinogen.|
|Asbestos||Inhalation of asbestos fibers is known to cause cancer.|
|Cadmium||Can lead to kidney disease, lung damage, and fragile bones.|
|Lead||Affects almost every organ/system, especially the nervous system.|
|Volatile organic compounds||These can impact the blood, immune system, and the nervous system.|
|Naphthalene||Classified as a possible human carcinogen, can cause cataracts, retinal hemorrhage|
|Polychlorinated Biphenyls||Known human carcinogen; can cause birth defects, depression, fatigue, and changes in the liver.|
|Mercury||Mercury, at high levels, may damage the brain, kidneys, and developing fetus.|
|Pyrethins||High levels of pyrethrins or pyrethroids can cause dizziness, headache, nausea, muscle twitching, reduced energy, changes in awareness, convulsions and loss of consciousness.|
|Aluminum||Exposure to high levels of aluminum may result in respiratory and neurological problems.|
But will yoga help eradicate these and other toxic things we take in, like alcohol, sugar (my personal fave), and medications?
After several hours searching Google, the Butler University libraries, and EBSCO, I can’t say that it will with any level of certainty. But my hunch is that it does. Any type of physical activity improves circulation and oxygen intake, which kick-starts countless vital processes within the body. Proper breathing in yoga has shown to improve diffusion capacity of the lungs (that’s a good thing), increase oxygen intake by as much as 500%, and have a calming effect on the nervous system. Yoga also aids in digestive elimination–that much I know from experience—which removes things like fats and bacteria. And it produces sweat, which is 99% water, but does contain small amounts of salt and urea, all of which are good things to eliminate. Here’s the way I’m going to look at it:
Toxins are good things to get rid of. Yoga can’t hurt, and may even help in this process. As Guruji would say, “Practice and all is coming!”
If anyone out there has any information to share on this subject, I’d love to hear it.