I just finished a project researching neurotoxins and their impact on our health. Have you ever gone down that rabbit hole? Once I hopped in, I couldn’t stop tripping over websites and articles and research studies detailing how much toxins mess with our bodies – plastics, pesticides, perfume. It’s everywhere.
I wondered, if all these toxins are coming into our bodies, are we able to get them out? Or, if once we use a wipe, or insect repellent, or detergent, are they in for good?
In class, our instructors talk about how practicing in the hot room helps release toxins. Which toxins? How much? Does sweating help balance the barrage of toxins? To find out more, I went back to work, this time searching out just how the effort we put into class works to rid our bodies of all that yuck. Lucky for us, the authors of Toxin Toxout gave me a hand with making sense of the science.
Breath, exercise and sweat
Sound familiar? Turns out the three core components of natural detox are rooted in breath, exercise and sweat. In Bikram, during the beginning and ending breathing exercises, we’re first preparing our bodies for class and then eliminating all the muck we stirred up during. With every breath you take, you bring in fresh oxygen and help push it throughout your body while your lungs filter out the nasty stuff, like fumes, allergens and chemicals. When your breath is shallow, it brings less clean oxygen in the lungs, preventing it from reaching all your tissues. Breathing calmly and deeply is the best way to use your lungs to detoxify; no more skimping on Pranayama or Kapalbhati in Vajrasana!
But first you have to get those nasty chemicals moving in your body, and you achieve this with the exercise part of Bikram. Exercise breaks down fat, which in turn breaks down toxic chemicals. When you work to break down fat, toxic chemicals are eliminated into your bloodstream, which in turn get eliminated via your breath and sweat. Even better, the most toxic chemicals that like to hide in fat deposits are no match for the triple punch of exercise, sweating and breathing.
And then there’s the staple of hot yoga – sweat. Heat in the studio increases heart rate, and thereby blood circulation in your body, including your liver, which is the most powerful detox organ you’re hauling around. This increases the quantity of blood circulating throughout your body, carrying those chemicals along for the ride, and finally releasing them in your breath and sweat. And bonus, sweat has a reputation for being good at eliminating heavy metals, like lead and mercury, from our systems. Good riddance.
You may have heard rumblings from people claiming hot yoga doesn’t do what it claims in terms of eliminating toxins. If you look closely, you’ll see they’re right about what they’re asserting, but they’re wrong in a fundamental way – those of us practicing hot yoga in an authentic way aren’t claiming what the naysayers think we are. We’re aware that sweat is one of three ways the body rids itself of toxins – and know it’s the smallest percent, compared to the other two, by a long shot. We also know sweat’s primary purpose is to cool us off (thank GOD!), and that we lose valuable electrolytes in our sweat, so we prepare for that by hydrating and replenishing.
In other words, if the only reason you’re coming to hot yoga is you want to party like its 1999 and then sweat it out the next day and think you’re all good, that’s not how it works. In short, toxins do come in, and we can get some of them out. We’re pretty sure not all toxins are eliminated, and science isn’t yet agreeing on how to measure or qualify most of the data. But some can be, and we do know toxins leave our bodies when stuff leaves our bodies – I’ll let you imagine the other ways I’m politely not mentioning. Practicing Bikram swings with three heavy hitters – deep breathing, exercise and sweat. The results may not be measurable just yet, but you and I both know how good it feels to breathe, sweat and move. I don’t need a data chart to understand that.