Wring Out the Old

More Cleansing Practices for Springtime

By JiJi Russell

The peepers peeped. Springtime arrived.

Last month, the snow was still melting when my “spring cleaning” article introduced practices of deep breathing and appropriate seasonal eating (see http://tinyurl.com/mshwzfo). This month, we’ll explore several yoga poses, a more advanced breathing technique, and a meditation appropriate to the season of detoxification.

Yoga poses, or “asanas,” can be used for everything from calming anxiety to helping ease back pain—yes, the integrative power of yoga runs deep.

Purifying the System

Any yoga pose that puts pressure on the digestive organs can help cleanse and detoxify those organs. Backward bends, forward bends, and twists each fit the cleansing criteria, as they compress and/or stretch the tissues of the stomach, intestines, liver, and gall bladder. When combined with a yogic-style of breathing, the poses offer even greater oxygenation to the cells of the abdominal organs and systems, which helps purify digestive and eliminatory systems overall.

With this month’s spring cleaning focus on yoga poses and an advanced breathing technique, let’s introduce one of the simpler, yet powerful, yoga poses that you can combine with deep breathing.

Knees-to-chest pose 

You can use the seated version if you prefer not to lie down on the floor or ground.

1) Lie down on your back, and stretch your body from fingers to toes. Take a minute to feel yourself relax into the floor, or better yet, into the springtime earth, beneath you.

2) Bend your knees one at a time, and tuck them in toward your stomach and chest. If your shoulders and/or head rise off the floor, place a folded blanket, or a pillow, underneath them. You should feel no strain in the neck, chest, or shoulders.

3) Keep your knees bent, and place your right hand on your right knee “cupping” the knee; keep  your left hand on your left knee (see photo A). Tune into your breath, and recall the deep breathing (see March Observer).

4) Next time you begin to inhale, gently guide your knees away from your belly and chest by extending your arms (see photo B). Leave the hands on your knees the whole time.

5) As you exhale, slowly guide the knees and thighs back toward your belly and chest.

6) Keep up this pattern of breathing and subtle movement so that the pace of your breath matches the pace of your leg movement. Be slow and deliberate.

When you inhale, your belly expands, gently “pushing away” your thighs. As you exhale, the belly and chest flatten out, allowing space for the thighs to return. The hands remain on the knees the whole time.

This is a rhythmic breathing and movement technique that can help to cleanse the internal organs while offering the mental refreshment that comes with deep, conscious breathing. Repeat the technique for three to five minutes, then relax.

Seated knees-to-chest pose

1) Sitting tall in a chair, place your hands on your thighs. If this makes you slump over at all, place a pillow or book on your thighs, with your hands on top of your prop.

2) Next time you begin to inhale, gently press your hands into your thighs and sit taller, allowing the belly to expand as you breathe in.

3) As you exhale, slowly bow forward from the hips, bending your arms as your belly and chest come down toward your legs or pillow.

4) With your next inhalation, slowly rise up again to seated. Repeat instructions 2 and 3 so that the movement of your upper body fits the rhythm of your breathing. (Inhale, sit tall; exhale, bow forward.)

Repeat the technique for three to five minutes, then relax. As with the standard knees to chest pose above, this seated version can help to massage and cleanse the internal organs and offer greater mental clarity.

Reclining twist

Find a pillow or blanket to place beside you on the right you as you come to the floor. Begin by lying on your back, as you did with the knees to chest pose. Stretch yourself out from fingers to toes.

1) Bend your knees one at a time, and tuck them in toward your stomach and chest.

2) Slowly drop the knees, together, over to the right side. They can land on your pillow or blanket, or the floor.

3) Find a comfortable position for your arms. They can stretch out to the sides like a “T”, or they can reach up beyond your head, resting on the floor. They can also bend at the elbow so that your hands cradle the back of your head. Whatever is comfortable for you is the “right” way to place your arms.

4) Make sure there is no tension in your shoulders, neck, or back. What small movements can you make to find greater comfort? Fidget around until you figure out your placement.

5) Once you get settled, take some deep breaths, and feel how your chest and belly, though twisted and compressed, can fill up with your in breath, and release the fullness as you exhale.

Hold for six or more full breaths before you slowly extend your legs and roll to your back. After a moment of rest, repeat on the other side.

The Breath of Champions

One of the secrets of the yoga practice is the power one can unleash with a regular “pranayama” or breathwork practice.

Do this practice on an empty stomach. Take a wide stance, knees bent, hands pressing on the thighs, looking down at the abdomen. Exhaling, pull the abdomen in and up, hold the breath without becoming tense, and then pump the tummy in and out as you hold (without actually inhaling and exhaling while you pump).

When you need to inhale, cease pumping, take a normal breath, exhale, and continue. Start with just a couple of pumpings, then build up to as many as 10 per round.

Have a Seat

Taking a mere three to five minutes to meditate each day can help to clear mental clutter, refresh your focus, and relieve stress. Here is a simple way to sit, breathe, and inquire for a moment as you reach for greater purity and health this spring.

Use the Deep Breathing technique (see March Observer) throughout the meditation. In lieu of the full deep breathing technique, simply breathe as deeply and fully as you can throughout the next three to five minutes, concentrating on smoothing out each inhalation and exhalation.

1) Come to a comfortable seated position. This can take any form, including sitting in a chair, on a sofa, etc. Make sure you have a few pillows on hand so that you can place them under knees, thighs, feet, or any other body part, to make yourself feel more supported and comfortable.

2) Exhale all your breath out and “sink” into your seat. Feel yourself become more heavy and committed to the spot where you sit. Relax your facial muscles, your shoulders, your hips, and any other areas you might discover tension or “holding on.”

4) As you inhale, dynamically reach your spine upward into the back of your skull. Feel your breath fill your whole lung capacity.

5) As you exhale, let out an audible sigh.

6) Repeat this inhale-exhale pattern for about five breaths.

7) Next: Ask yourself what you could “let go” to become more healthy and bright this season. Ask several times, noting the different answers you “hear.” When you find one that rings true for you, let this word accompany each exhalation you make, as you mentally say, “I release ________.”

8) Ask yourself what this release might bring to you or offer you. Again, ask several times and note the answers you hear. When you find one that feels right, let this word accompany each inhalation you make, as you mentally say, “I invite _______.”

Allow this release and invitation to serve as your own personalized mantra for three to five minutes, which sounds like so little time but can truly refresh you when you need a break.

As April and May bring forth their ephemeral gifts of nature, take some time for yourself to reflect on your own ability to become more pure and filled with light this season.

JiJi Russell, a yoga instructor and Integrative Nutrition health coach, manages the corporate wellness program for American Public University System in Charles Town, W.Va. Reach her at holisticpath.jbr@gmail.com.