If you Google the words “detox” and “yoga,” the hits on how certain yoga moves can help you rid your body of toxins go on for pages. (These range from books promising the best yoga moves for detoxification to blogs that use clinical terms that aren’t based on science.) Or maybe you’ve heard your yoga instructor claim that certain twists or poses “purify the body us’ or are ‘good for detoxification’.
It was Yoga has been scientifically proven to be beneficial: It does wonders for our mental health and general well-being, it’s good for cardiovascular health, and it can even play a role in weight loss.
But there is no scientific evidence to support the idea that individual yoga maneuvers detoxify. Jonathan Crane, a physiologist and exercise coach based in New York, says such claims are inaccurate and hyperbolic. “I think we’ve gotten past the hyperbole,” adds Crane. “There are several layers of bullshit to be perfectly honest.”
The Detox Myth
Research shows that this particular myth was born out of what has been called the “squeeze and soak” theory pioneered by the internationally renowned yogi B. K. S. Iyengar, who founded his the yoga style of the same name in the 60s. He also promotes the idea that twists can cleanse and that certain movements that press on the internal organs can aid in detoxification. Essentially, Iyengar compares what happens inside your body during a twist to dirty water being squeezed out of a sponge to make room for clean water.
But our bodies don’t need extra push to do what they already do. To better understand why, we need a better understanding of the clinical definition of detoxification—and a quick lesson in physiology.
According to National Cancer Institute, detoxification can refer to “the process of removing toxins, poisons, or other harmful substances from the body.” Fortunately, we are born with organs designed to do this job: kidney and liver. The kidneys clean the blood, removing excess fluid, chemicals and waste from our blood before it is excreted in our urine. The liver also plays a key role in filtering and removing toxic substances. When both organs are healthy, they work in tandem to detoxify materials that are not meant to be in the body.
Couldn’t these organs use a little pressure?
There is no research to show that these organs need outside help to do their job. In other words, neither the kidneys nor the liver require twisting, squeezing, pressing, or bending to be more effective at cleansing. “Perhaps this twist plays with your abdominal cavity in such a way that it presses on your liver.” But so what,” Kane says. “The proposal [is] that will now increase blood flow. […] There is nothing that I know of that a liver with more blood flow is a more efficient, detoxifying organ; that he does his job better.’
Kane calls the use of the word detox in training circles “casual language.” In other words, it is not used in a clinical or medical way and therefore should not be heard or interpreted as such. “I do a little yoga here and there, and I just roll my eyes every time I hear stuff like that,” Kane says.
However, all the twisting and bending you do during your yoga practice is still good for you. Twisting can help promote range of motion in the spine, Kane says. And twisting helps you move your spine in ways that are often overlooked. “An argument can be made that ‘active’ twisting helps strengthen your obliques, and they help with the mobility of your spine,” Kane adds.
So until science catches up with every yogi and yoga instructor who misuses the word “detox,” consider rolling your eyes and remember that the physical part of your routine—not the verbal part—is the key part of your practice .