With the turn of each calendar year, one often reads or hears about ways to detoxify mind and body for a fresh start into the New Year. When our Gregorian calendar marks the occasion, Winter has already set in; thus, the most physiologically opportune time for ridding the system of debris has passed. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, Fall carries the energy of elimination. Therefore, during the autumnal months, our bodies naturally gravitate toward and align with the ability to shed stagnant or toxic waste; the processes of elimination are at their peak.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, the best time to begin working with a season’s particular strengths is about six weeks before the official onset of that season. As we enter September, the time is ripe for the addition of this routine into your daily wellness or fitness regime; the moves will spark the body’s eliminatory energies, thus preparing it to operate optimally throughout the next few months. Further, I think I will always feel the familiar flutters of anticipation that used to accompany the beginning of the school year; for me, September rings the tone of the New Year almost more strongly than January 1.
I recently had a quick conversation with an acquaintance about the end of Summer. I offered that I tend to feel a sense of relief as the heat wanes and the frenzy of activities that come with the mid-year months slows. She, on the other hand, feels (as many others do) a sense of almost-sadness: Not only does she thrive on the outdoor activities, she bemoans the sense that “everything begins to die.” And she is right: The leaves take on their sunset-themed spectrum, and then they drop; other plants follow suit, wilting and browning into the earth. This is nature’s process of elimination, clearing the way for a detritus-free hibernation and a new beginning in the Spring.
And such is the theme of the following routine. Each movement or posture corresponds with the TCM organ systems of clearing and elimination: primarily, Lungs and Large Intestine. As the meridian points for these systems run through the pectoral muscles (lung); nose and mouth (LI); and inner and outer arms (Lung and LI, respectively). Additionally, I provide some moves that ignite general circulatory power. Additionally, the Liver is given a good workout, so that its blood-cleaning powers run at full force. Finally, because the digestive system not only sorts out which materials must be absorbed or expelled; it contributes to overall health and disease resistance. When the Stomach is sluggish, the other organ systems are not able to operate in top form.
An additional component to this routine is comprised of purifying home remedies. Each option may be utilized before or after the routine, and each will enhance the benefits of the full practice. Further, these are handy ideas to add to your arsenal of self-care techniques for any time that you feel the need to rid your body or mind of accumulated toxins or unwieldy loads of stress. I will address these suggestions after I outline the routine.
Start standing: Begin to shake the arms, one at a time, spending 30-60 seconds on each.. Allow the hands to flop freely from the wrists. You may find that if you lean slightly to either side, that shoulder will release into a “dangle.” Continue shaking, moving from the arms to the legs, first one, then the other. After you have finished the legs, shake the whole body: Be sure that you feel movement in the torso and head; you may even be able to shake the cheeks. Continue the full-body shake for another 1-2 minutes.
Now that you have stimulated the overall circulation of qi, you can begin to wake up the lymph system. First, still standing, lightly, rapidly slap up and down both arms; bend over and do the same up and down the front, back, and sides of both legs. Rise up, and slap your torso all around, as best you can; be sure to include tapping of the skull. Then, cup your hands, and thump the cupped palms into each armpit for about 30 seconds each.
Still standing, begin to bounce: Your feet are about hip width, and it is if you are starting to sit about 1/4 way down and up from a chair; as you rapidly bounce up and down, swing your arms forward and back, just naturally letting them keep time with the bounce. These movements help to enliven the lymph nodes found in the armpits and groin. Bounce actively for 1-2 minutes.
The next move continues with a similar stance; however, the feet move a few inches wider, and you deepen the squat-like movement. First, extend your arms to the sides at shoulder level. As you squat, keeping the weight in the heels, twist your torso to the right. The right arm remains straight as it moves to the right and back; the left arm bends at the elbow, bringing a light fist to thump the chest wall near the inner shoulder. Inhale to come center as you stand, then quickly twist to the left, with the right fist now thumping the left pectoral. Find a steady, smooth rhythm: Inhale as you stand in the center, exhale as you squat, twist, and punch. Continue for 1 minute.
Remain standing, and begin torso circles. With hands on the waist or hips, circle the entire torso as one, clockwise. After about a minute, start circling to the left. Continue the counter-clockwise rotation for another minute. This “master” kundalini exercise is renowned for its liver-cleaning abilities.
For your last standing position, bring your legs about 4 feet apart. Again with arms to the sides at shoulder level, twist to the right, and bring your left hand down to the right foot (or knee or ankle—whatever you can reach). Inhale to rise up, passing through center, and then twist to the left, the right hand finding its way to a lower-leg or foot touch. Repeat 8 times per side, for a total of 16: Inhale up, exhale twist and down. After these repetitions, twist down to the right leg, the right arm long and up into the air. Stay here and breathe deeply for 30-60 seconds; check that your head and neck release down, and that your shoulders relax. Then, inhale up through center, and repeat the sustained stretch on the opposite side.
Now you may come onto all fours for about a minute of spinal flexes in Cat/Cow. Then, shift your body back into Baby Pose, buttocks on the heels, forehead on the floor. To add a digestion-enhancing component to this soothing posture, place your fists between your lower belly and groin; leave them there as you breathe deeply for 1-2 minutes. The gentle pump of your body as you breathe creates a massage-like pressure between the fists and intestines.
Next, sit up and move your buttocks onto the floor, knees bent in front of you, feet on the floor. Place your hands behind you, slightly wider than your shoulders. Lean back about 30 degrees, and extend the legs straight up, about 60 degrees off of the floor. Breathe deeply here for 1 minute. If you need to modify at any point, do one leg at a time, 45 seconds per side.
The next part of this stomach strengthener, you may leave your hands on the floor, or extend the arms forward from the shoulder, parallel to the ground. Bend your knees, and bring your torso and bent legs as close together as you can, balancing on your bottom. Now, hover the feet a few inches above the floor, and begin Breath of Fire (evenly paced “panting,” but through the nose); continue for 1 minute.
Now you may roll down onto your back. Extend the arms and legs straight up into the air, forming a U shape with your body. Remain here, and breathe deeply for 1-2 minutes; be sure that the legs extend straight up from the hips, and the arms up from the shoulders. Eyes are closed, gazing at the Third Eye. This position gives the lymph system a helping hand, so that its flow does not have to fight gravity to reach the primary nodes in the neck, armpits, and groin.
Still on your back, bring your arms down to rest by your sides. Legs remain aloft, but you begin to quickly kick your buttocks, alternating each side with rapid breathing; exhale with each butt kick; inhale as that leg goes back up straight, and quickly exhale as the opposite leg kicks its respective “cheek.” Inhale leg up, exhale kick the bottom. Continue for 1 minute.
Then, roll onto your left side; you may rest your head on the floor or in your hand, resting on your elbow. Bring the right leg straight up, and clasp the big toe with the first two fingers and thumb of the right hand, placing firm pressure on the big toneil with the thumb. Of course, if your can not keep the leg straight, hold the ankle or behind the knee. Breathe deeply in through the now, and out through O-shaped lips. This breath should be steady and powerful. Continue for 1 minute.
Now roll onto your belly, moving into Sphinx pose: forearms on the floor, neck long, shoulders relaxed, upper spine in a gentle extension. Let your buttocks relax, close your eyes, and gaze at the Third Eye. This Yin-style version lightly stretches the abdominal muscles, and helps the spine find its natural curves: Remain, and breathe steadily, easily for 2-3 minutes.
After you ease your way out of the extended hold of Sphinx, you may need to shake out or rest in Baby Pose for a short time. Eventually, come onto your back, knees bent, feet on the floor. Let both knees drop to either side, and breathe deeply for about 5 breaths; switch to the other side. While this version of Spinal Twist focuses on releasing through the lower back and side waist, the next variation emphasizes the upper spine.
Remaining on your back, bring your knees into your chest. Drop the bundle of your legs to one side, bringing them to rest just under that armpit; the arms are extended to the sides at shoulder level. Remain in this posture for 1- 2 minutes: Breathe deeply, and with each exhale, make the sound, “Tsss,” which helps to balance the Liver. Repeat on the other side for another 1-2 minutes.
Now you are ready for svasana: Allow yourself at least 5-10 minutes for this posture, more if it feels right and you have time. For this practice, as you begin the rest pose, bring your fingers into Detox Mudra: Touch the thumb tips to the inner side of their ring fingers, at the base of the fingers. Arms rest on the floor, several inches away from the body, palms up. Hold the mudra for at least 2-3 minutes, and then release it, or continue with the mudra for your entire svasana.
After you come out of Corpse Pose, the following water concoction is a wonderful way to complete your practice. I am someone who truly enjoys water, so I do not typically add flavoring of any kind: This drink, however, is tasty for those who do not like plain water, and it is deeply cleansing for anyone’s digestive system. Essentially, I combine different variations of “detox” water into one. First, wash 2-3 stalks of celery; cut into about 8 sticks. Next, cut 4-6 cucumber slices, about 1/4-inch thick. (If you choose not to peel the cake, be sure to wash it thoroughly.) Place the veggies in a bowl of at least 16 ounces of water, at least enough to cover them. I also like to add a few sprigs of parsley, as well as some of the celery leaves into the soak. Ideally, you would let the mixture sit in the ‘fridge for a few hours or overnight; in a pinch, you can simply add a smaller portion of the combo directly into a large glass of cold water (if you don’t mind sipping around the vegetables).
Two other ways to aid this detoxification routine come in the form of epsom salts. Again, you may use this suggestion either pre- or post-practice, or as a relaxing purifier anytime. If you enjoy a bath, add at least 2 cups of salts directly into the tub; eucalyptus, lemongrass, rosemary, and/or any mint essential oil enhance the effect. If you are not fond of tub time, add 1/2-1 cup of salts (with or without oils) into a foot bath; soak your feet in warm water for 5-10 minutes.
Finally, you may already know that dry brushing is a wonderful way to aid circulation and exfoliate the skin (another organ of elimination). Remember to always brush toward the heart, and use swift, strong strokes of your brush. If you do not enjoy the feeling of dry brushing (or do not have a brush for the purpose), you can create a simple exfoliant and apply with your hands, still moving the strokes in the heart-centric direction. Place some epsom salts in a bowl, and add a bit of oil: jojoba, grapeseed, almond, etc.—just enough to form a scrub that will stay together as you exfoliate. Whether you dry brush or use a homemade exfoliant, rinse off completely with cool or lukewarm water: You will feel deeply cleansed and revitalized.