Stretching isn’t just about your muscular system; sometimes it’s about your internal organs as well. During guest yoga instructor Brenda Powell’s recent visit to The Ranch, we asked her what stretches add flexibility to the body and have some detoxing benefits. Brenda explained that one of yoga’s initial goals was purification and detoxification of the body through breath and movement. She says breathing through movement is equally as important as the actual muscular stretches; the combination helps students connect inward, while exhaling helps to release and clear our emotions. She coaches her students to consciously breath through movement, and exhaling during twists to detoxify. Breath moves energy, exhaling the stale and making room for fresh new energy, nutrients and light.
Standing Half Moon
The Standing half-moon is an excellent posture as you’re twisting or leaning to the side; you are accessing your kidneys, liver, spleen, and gallbladder. And they’re being wrung out on each side. This pose is a great detoxifier in a standing position to get some deep work to the internal organs. It’s important to remember to breathe through these stretches.
When you’re doing a forward fold, you’re dumping out, so you’re just clearing and cleansing energy. We’re dumping out what no longer serves us, dumping out old stagnant energy. The two halves of yoga are yin and yang. In yin we’re emptying that sludgy energy that no longer helps us. We’re dumping it right out of the crown of our head. Then as we come up and breathe, we’re bringing in a new fresh light, the yang. We’re really flushing and energizing our lymphatic system in a forward fold. Feet together in a forward fold is essential.
Forward Fold With Blocks
If you don’t have the range of motion in your low back, try putting a hand on a block at any level, from flat to high, this helps support your low back. Now we’re freer to drop our heads, which is a significant part of the pose. It’s a good thing to shake your head out a few times as well to loosen up the neck and let your body trust you. When your body trusts you, then you’re freer to drop out toxic energy and rinse the lymphatic system.
You should only bend as far as you’re comfortable. If you feel like your body is tightening up and resisting, back up a little bit, take a breath and maybe try it two or three times in a little bit, come up a little bit, breathe a little deeper, come up a little bit and then try it again. Use a blok to invite restoration. The goal is not to push, it’s restorative. That’s an integral part of the cleansing process.
Forward Fold Wide Stance
In wide-angle stance, as we come down, we’re accessing through the hips, the lower back, we get into the kidneys again, and then back into the lymphatic system. You’re rinsing your lymph nodes as you come into these forward folds.
Twisting is an integral part of yoga. Whenever we compress. It’s like wringing out a washcloth. We’re squeezing the toxins out, and then when we open it back up, it’s refreshing, and oxygenated blood comes into that area.
Knees to Chest
With both legs bent, you want knees and feet together, not crossed. Crossing mixes up the energy, so you want your feet parallel. The goal is to grab your opposite elbows. Some of you may not be able to do that. If that’s the case, you can take your right hand on your left wrist and your left hand on your right wrist. Most people can at least get their or forearms or elbows. Watch that your shoulders don’t come up. You want to be able to really press the backside of the shoulder down into the floor, and your chin will lightly tuck down your chest. Everyone will have a little bit of curve to their cervical spine. There’s going to be some space, but you don’t want there to be a lot of space. So the more you tuck your chin, the flatter that’s going to be. So all of those are components to this, and we’re working in the transverse colon.
Single-Leg Knee to Chest
Twisting and knees to the chest are about compression and release. Draw one knee into the chest, keep your elbows are down, chin is tucked into our throat, and extended the other leg and press flat into the floor. You want to think about every part of your back pressing down. Depending on your anatomy, your lower back should be against the floor or only slightly off the floor.
If you have a large behind or a tight lower back, you might to be a little arched. If it feels more comfortable, and you want the support, roll up a blanket or a pillow and put it there to have something to press into so you can relax. You want to grab your knee with your hands. A modification is to hook your elbow with your hands. If your elbows come up, you want to keep them down. On the right side, we’re working up the ascending colon. When we switch to the left side, we’re compressing and detoxifying the descending colon. When we bring both legs into our chest we’re working the transverse colon.
Reclining Spinal Twist
This is a great sequence, even for lower back pain people. It’s a great way to warm up your spine in the morning. You want to start with your knees bent residing over your hips like you’re draping your feet over a footstool. Your arms are outstretched, and then as you roll your knees to the right, just let them come down. Then you’ll take your right hand on top of the left knee for a little bit more compression and twist and look over to your opposite side. It feels really good. You can keep both arms stretched out on the ground, or a more advanced move is to reach up with the arm on the side your legs are rotated and grab your knee. Pay attention to your shoulders and keep them on the ground.
Interestingly, this pose works the kidneys, and it also opens up the fascia in between the rib spaces and detoxes the abdomen. So, it’s a really good one for the whole digestive area again and rings out tissues. We store a lot of toxins in our tissues. Don’t be surprised if emotional stuff comes up, as your hips are the seat of your emotions. I call it twisting the issues out of the tissues. It clears up emotional space as well. And it just feels really, really good.
The bridge pose is excellent for overall digestion and opens your lumbar spine. You can be flat, with no blocks, medium, one block, or high if you want to really open things up. I like the medium height of one block. There’s this little flat space at your sacrum and your low back area that you know it when you’re on it, you know when you’re not on it, and just feel for the flat of your low back. You can stay either with feet on the ground, or, for more of an inversion, take the legs up so you’re increasing circulation. When the feet are above the heart, you’re improving circulation, you’re flushing all lymph nodes out, and you’ll get an increase in circulation whenever you do it. Your cells are communicating at a faster rate, and the faster they’re communicating the healthier. It’s one more reason why yoga is so beneficial because it creates communication in the cells.
Learn more about the yoga offerings at The Ranch.