Can You Sweat Out Toxins with Hot Yoga?
Yoga is a cleansing practice in several ways with benefits for the mind as well as the body. Regardless of the temperature of the practice room, holding the postures and breathing with awareness brings stillness and relaxation to the mind, and allows the body to release toxins through the sweat, the breath, the squeezing of organs and tissues, and through the excretory system.
Studios that call themselves "Hot Yoga" usually keep a temperature of 28 degrees Celsius up to 40 degrees for Bikram studios. Although the practice of yoga at any temperature releases toxins from the body from the twisting, folding and inverting of the body that is part of the yoga practice, a hot yoga practice accelerates release of toxins through the sweat.
Some like it hot...
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Hot yoga releases toxins with the sweat
The skin is one on the largest organs in the body, with millions of sweat pores. The main purpose of perspiration is to regulate body temperature and cool the body down, but the water in sweat also contains solutes that include urea, lactate and minerals. Urea, a nitrogen compound CO(NH2)2, is released primarily through the urine to rid the body of excess nitrogen. Lactate is a by-product of exercise and anaerobic respiration, and is produced in the muscles when they are working hard. If the excess lactate is left in the muscle cells, it produces stiffnes and soreness that may be an aftermath of a unaccustomed bout of physical exertion. By releasing these solutes in the sweat, the body helps to maintain is balanced body chemistry to promote the best conditions for body functions.
A hot yoga practice that induces heavy sweating increases this form of cleansing. It also requires the practitioner to replace the lost fluid by drinking water before, during and after the practice to keep hydrated. Signs of dehydration include dizziness, muscle cramps and headache, so if you experience these symptoms during your hot yoga class, you need to take a break and drink water.
Human Skin Diagram
Hot yoga releases toxins with the breath
Yoga is rooted in the breath, in full deep inhalations and long slow exhalations that completely empty the lungs. Each exhalation releases waste gases from the body, especially carbon dioxide, a by-product of cellular metabolism, as well as nitrogen and trace gases such as argon.
The full diaphragmatic breath tones and massages the organs of the abdominal cavity, such as the liver, intestines, digestive and reproductive organs, and promotes release of cellular toxins from these organs not only through the breath but also through the body's excretory system.
Hot yoga releases toxins with twists, back bends and forward folds
In addition to cleansing the body through the sweat and the breath, the postures themselves and their sequence act to stimulate release of toxins from the body. This process takes place regardless of the temperature of the practice room or studio.
Twists are powerful cleansing poses, for as they twist the spine and organs, they wring them out like a wet sponge, releasing metabolic waste from deep levels of tissue and squeezing fresh synovial fluid out of the synovial membrane in the joints and spine. Sometimes after periods of inactivity the spaces between the bones in these synovial joints traps bubbles of waste gases, usually carbon dioxide. During the asana twists, this gas bubble pops with a cracking sound, the gas is released into the blood stream to be flushed away, and the synovial membrane squeezes fresh synovial fluid into the joint cavity.
Have you ever heard your back crack when you hold Ardha Matsyendrasana, or lie on your back in reclining Two Knees Twist? That's the carbon dioxide bubble popping as your body refreshes synovial fluid in the spine, the hips, the knees, or the fingers.
Most yoga practices sequence postures by pairing a forward fold and a backbend, with a twist of some kind between each sequence of forward-backward bend. This repetition of pose and counterpose increases the cleansing effect of the yoga, for folding the body forward stretches the back body and squeezes the front body, while folding the body backward stretches the organs and tissues of the front body and squeezes those of the back. Picture this as you practice yoga next time.
Releasing Toxins with Twists
Sun Salutations: Folding Forward and Bending Back with the Breath
For example, in the Sun Salutations practice the classical sequence is a series of 12 postures:
- Stand erect in Mountain Pose, body straight
- Inhale, reach up and bend backwards
- Exhale to Forward Fold
- Inhale, step to Lunge, right leg back, and back bend
- Hold the breath, left leg back to Plank, body straight
- Exhale to low push up, Chaturanga Dandasana, body straight
- Inhale to Cobra or Upward Facing Dog, a back bend
- Exhale, lift hips up and back to Downward Facing dog, a forward fold
- Inhale, Step right leg forward to lunge and back bend
- Exhale, step left leg forward to standing forward fold, a forward bend
- Inhale, reach out and up to standing, bend backward
- Exhale to Mountain Pose, stand erect
- Repeat the sequence leading with the left leg
As the practitioner's body warms up, the breath deepens, the muscles warm and stretch and the joints open. This allows each repetition of the Sun Salutation sequence to move deeper into the forward fold and back bend, increasing the detoxifying effect. Usually Sun Salutations are performed at the beginning of the yoga practice, in sets of three to six pairs. Some practices, like Ashtanga and Vinyasa Flow, repeat a form of the sequence frequently during the practice to maintain the internal body heat.
Sun Salutations Sequence
Hot yoga releases toxins with inversions
Inversions are another group of asanas, or yoga postures, that release toxins regardless of the temperature of the room. Because we live on earth, our bodies are constantly affected by gravity, which pulls everything down. Consequently, toxins and metabolic wastes pool in the lower parts of the organs and in the lower limbs and feet. Turning the body upside down reverses this effect, moving large molecules of waste back into the bloodstream where the heart can pump them to be filtered out through the kidneys and liver and excreted. Postures like plough, shoulder stand, reverse pose, headstand, and legs up the wall are powerful cleansing yoga poses that capitalize on the benefits of reversing the body's relationship with gravity.
Releasing Toxins with Inversions
Guided Relaxation in Svasana
Yoga releases toxins with Svasana
Svasana, or final relaxation, is one of the best postures for releasing toxins from the body after the yoga practice. In fact, Svasana is the single most important part of the yoga class. It should not be omitted nor rushed. In many very hot yoga classes, because of the heavy sweating that makes the mat slippery or the covering towel wet by the end of the class, I have noticed that the final relaxation is often abbreviated, left as an option for students, or omitted completely. In my view this practice denies the students the most valuable part of yoga.
During the seven to twelve minutes of lying on the back in Svasana, the mind approaches stillness through Pratyahara, or removing the mind from the senses. The eyes are closed, the body is still, the breath is deep and even, the whole being is relaxed. The brain waves shift to a theta state of relaxation and meditation. After about five minutes, the brain switches from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the system the body uses to send blood and nutrition to organs that heal, nourish, and create new cells. During this process, the immune system is strengthened, the liver and kidney filter wastes, excess adrenalin and stress hormones are metabolized and removed from the cells, blood and organs, and cell division takes place. During Svasana, the energetic effects of the yoga practice filter down from the subtle, high-vibrational frequency energetic sheaths, or koshas, into the physical body, which is the densest sheath.
Upon rising from Svasana, students frequently feel deep stillness and peace. The class often does not want to talk. At the end of final relaxation, the detoxifying effects of the practice are apparent by the number of people who need to go to the bathroom to urinate, releasing toxins the kidneys have filtered out of the blood.