HJ: Perhaps more than any other system of medicine, Ayurveda has long recognized the many benefits of whole body detoxification. The ancient yogis developed a system of detoxification known as Panchkarma — the ‘five actions’ for cleansing and rejuvenating the body. This treatment was designed to purify the physical vessel and hence allow for higher healing of the mind and spirit, which, as we know, are all intimately related. Ayurveda also gave rise in many respects to what we know today as Yoga, which developed with the overall emergence of Hindu culture and philosophy.
Yoga — particularly Hatha Yoga — majorly detoxifies the body at a core, fundamental level. Hatha yoga also works on an energetic and spiritual level to rebalance and harmonize our mind-body-spirit triad and many of the yogic techniques for detoxification in some way stem from variations on asanas (postures) and pranayamic breathing techniques. Essentially, the Swami’s and Yogi’s of ancient (and modern) times had a very advanced system of initiating and facilitating detoxification, which has been meticulously preserved and passed down from generation to generation as it appears in its current form.
Many of the seemingly modern techniques for detoxification in this day and age are actually variations on ancient Ayurvedic practices. This article delves into a few of the core practices of this school of thought.
It’s Never Too Early to Detoxify
By Swami Satyasangananda Saraswati | Yoga Mag
Are you a person who works late into the night, occasionally waking up feeling groggy and tired, wishing you could sleep some more? Or a person who has no set time or habits for eating, performing little or no exercise and simply having no outlet for relaxation either at work or at home? If you are, then read on because chances are that this lifestyle is soon going to lead you to a doctor (if it hasn’t already) with a condition that may alarm and jolt you out of your senses. For the stress and strain of this sort of living ultimately leads you to experience any one of a whole gamut of degenerative diseases such as chronic fatigue, hypertension, arthritis, diabetes, defects in the immune system, allergy, stroke, paralysis, arteriosclerosis, along with a range of heart ailments that perhaps you never even knew existed.
You do not have to be very astute or aware to realize where you are heading, because although problems may only show up later in life, the signs and signals of their onset begin in the early years. This happens due to several factors some of which could be physical as well as dietary, others mental and emotional as well as hereditary or genetic. These causes contribute to the secretion of hormones that are sometimes detrimental to the body on account of their tendency to leave behind toxins that accumulate and gradually begin to form layers or coats around the lysosomes within the cells which constitute your flesh, blood, bones and marrow.
Lysosomes are small structures inside cells that help to flush out its waste products, similar to the action of a toilet in you home. When traces of toxic substances block the lysosomal membrane, the function of the lysosome will be blocked too, as a result of which toxins remain in the body and begin to coat the cells layer after layer. This contributes to the development of many chronic degenerative diseases, as in the course of time the cell functions are severely impaired. If left unattended later this situation is aggravated, with disease setting in when it gets out of hand. Unfortunately this is the case with most of us who live in urban areas on account of the fast developing pace of life which leaves us with little stimulus or opportunity to correct the accumulation of toxins, if any, which develop over the years.
Accumulation of toxins in turn activates the formation of free radicals, which are now considered to be the main cause of decay, degeneration and premature ageing. The free radical theory that has overtaken the germ theory of the last century attributes the decay and destruction of vital cells to the formation of free radicals. A free radical is a molecule that has gone berserk or haywire because it has an unpaired electron or an electron with no partner. Normally, negative electrons within a molecule pair off with positive electrons, forming a ring or circuit. But sometimes a molecule falls out of balance by acquiring an unpaired electron. It is this unbalanced molecule that turns into a free radical. In order to complete itself, it then begins to attack other molecules which hold all the electrons it needs, causing severe damage to the tissues and inner lining of cells and arteries.
In short, a free radical is like a rogue or rascal that has entered your house either forcefully or through your negligence, and begins to devour everything in it. Once this process starts it causes havoc if it is not checked quickly as free radicals act rapidly, wasting little or no time in satisfying their needs. What is more alarming is that once a free radical enters your system it sets off a chain reaction, giving birth to more of its kind.
In fact we will have to accept that accumulation of toxins within the body is something that we cannot escape from given the type of food we eat, the kind of life we live, the quality of air we breathe and the contaminated water that is available for us to drink, in addition to the complex emotions which we face day in and day out. Therefore, instead of focusing on how to reduce the toxins we should draw our attention on how to develop the art of eliminating these toxins as and when they accumulate within us, so that they do not become a permanent part of our constitution. In other words our emphasis should be on how to detoxify.
Detoxification is in fact the answer to all our problems, whether physical mental or emotional. We will have to accept that thoughts and feelings also contribute to the accumulation of toxins within us. It is not food alone that does this. Therefore, whichever method we decide on to detoxify, we should first of all examine whether it has the capacity to reach the toxins created by all areas of our existence. Moreover, it should be a method that will eliminate and not suppress the toxins from showing up. In addition, it should be a process where detoxification takes place in a natural and balanced manner without causing further disturbance to the different systems of the physical body, and thereby creating a situation where other diseases may set in. And last but not least, the method chosen should be able to reach the cause of the problem and root it out so that the accumulation of excessive toxins does not get out of hand. No doubt diet and lifestyle contribute enormously towards achieving this, and there are ample instructions on these topics in all the glossies available at the news-stand, but in order to gain total control over the process of detoxification one will have to turn to the therapies which can rapidly get to the core of the problem.
In this connection I recall a recent discussion I had about the different processes of detoxification with the reputed Dr S.S. Sibia, MD (Ludhiana, Punjab), who is presently treating degenerative diseases such as those mentioned above through a therapy known as chelation.
Dr Sibia, who is a pioneer in the field of chelation in India, explains that this system involves intravenous infusion of a chelating substance known as ethylenediaminetetraacetate. This system is fast gaining popularity in other parts of the world where the clinical data available reports several astounding recoveries of patients that had been written off and left to wait for the final farewell.
Suppose it was pouring rain and you had to go outside, what would you do to protect yourself? Stop the rain? That would be impossible. So, in order to shield yourself you would either use an umbrella or simply defer your trip outside. Dr Sibia, while comparing chelation therapy to this example, explained that chelation was a similar shield of protection against the effects of stresses and strains which one cannot and should not stop or avoid. Stress, he said, was necessary for growth and evolution and one should not avoid it or else we would become vegetables. But while undergoing stress we can shield ourselves from its ill effects on our bodies, through chelation.
The word chelation (pronounced kay-lay-shun) is derived from a Greek word chele, which means ‘claw’, and is used for a process whereby the toxins or free radicals in the system are hunted out and enclosed or grasped within a molecular structure so they are deprived of contact with other molecules. This not only prevents them from attacking other cells, but also in the course of their isolation the free radicals are corrected, and the cells damaged by their invasion repaired by the liquid which is infused into the vein. The chelated toxins, which sometimes could be composed of useful enzymes and minerals that were not assimilated, are reabsorbed through the chelating agent by those parts of the body that may require those enzymes, and elimination of waste toxins, if any, is carried out through the urinary system.
Chelation is a process of nature. If you understand it correctly you will begin to see that all of nature is chelating, and in fact this process is happening within us naturally when our bodies function normally. Tears, sneezing, mucus, sweat, menstrual blood, urine and faeces are all nature’s ways of detoxification. But sometimes this process is overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of the impurities that enter the body either through the food we eat, the thoughts we think or the environment we choose to live in and the lifestyle we subject ourselves to. Then nature’s way of detoxification fails and deterioration and degeneration take over. It is when this balance is disturbed and the accumulation of toxins is more rapid and intense than their elimination that we have to interfere through artificial means.
It is important to understand that the very basic actions of your body such as breathing, digesting, circulation and excretion are all forms of chelation. In fact the lymphatic system or recycle bin which nature has endowed you with is the most efficient chelating system one can ever conceive. It is when these systems fail due to negligence and improper care that we have to look outside for therapies that can rectify our condition.
Hatha yoga and detoxification
This is the role that hatha yoga fulfils through the practices of asana, pranayama, mudra and bandha. On discussing chelation therapy with Dr Sibia, I realized that certain kriyas such as tadan kriya, pranayamas such as brahmari, kapalbhati and ujjayi, mudras such as ashwini, shambhavi and nasikagra, and the three bandhas, jalandhara, uddiyana and moola, create conditions in the body for chelation or detoxification to be enhanced in a soothing and measured way.
Let us examine the practice of tadan kriya. In this practice you are asked to sit cross-legged and, after raising your body a few inches of the grounds on both hands, to strike your buttocks on the ground forcefully. This action is repeated several times. Of course if the ground is too hard you may keep a soft cushion or rug so as to avoid injury. Try to imagine what happens in this act. First of all, through the jolt they receive, the muscles release lactic acid, which is a chelating agent. Second, this rapid movement stimulates the lymphatic system. Thirdly, there is an optimal oxygenation for the entire network of blood vessels and muscle fibres. There is a clearing up, a rearrangement, and subsequently, through continued practice, renovation takes place inside. This is why you will find that in the course of time through the practice of tadan kriya your body becomes lighter and lighter till such a time that it defies the laws of gravity and begins to levitate. In fact tadan kriya is practised just for this purpose, to assist in meditation. Detoxification is only a side effect, albeit a very valuable one!
Brahmari pranayama, when practised in slow resonance, creates a vibration in the heart, which you can feel if you hold your hand close to the chest. This vibration mobilizes the movement of cells and creates the momentum to rejuvenate a sluggish metabolism. Kapalbhati pranayama forces oxygenated blood into the brain thus clearing out impurities in the nerves and arteries, and recharging the cerebral system with new life.
It occurred to both of us that if yoga and chelation therapy were combined they would prove to be an extremely effective and potent method for eradicating degenerative processes that develop in man and severely afflict him, affecting his entire life. Chelation therapy cleans from the cells an accumulation of unwanted waste, which may be impairing the lysosome function. Because the liquid which is infused into the system is an amino acid, it does not just float in the bloodstream but it also profuses through the tissues, the capillary bed and in the tissue fluids, pulling out toxic metals from the trillions of cells in the body. As it is introduced directly into the bloodstream, it acts quickly and is therefore extremely useful in advanced conditions, which can then be maintained, improved, stabilized and rejuvenated through the practices of yoga.
Increasing blood flow to the heart
To my utter surprise, another important therapy that Dr Sibia introduced me to specifically for heart ailments, known as the external counter pulsation, also achieved through a state of the art machine exactly the same effect as padmasana, supta vajrasana and siddhasana. External counter pulsation is the new non-surgical therapy for angina patients that increases blood flow to the heart by dilating coronary blood vessels, opening dormant collaterals and creating new blood vessels. It is performed lying on a bed wearing a series of pressure cuffs around the legs which inflate and deflate electronically synchronizing with the heart beat, thus moving the blood upwards from the legs to the heart at the precise moment when the heart is resting. This causes an increase in the diastolic pressure and coronary perfusion pressure as well as an increase in coronary flow, venous return and cardiac output. When he invited me to try the machine on myself I felt as if several expert masseurs were massaging my legs, and this was so relaxing that I even drifted off to sleep in fifteen minutes. It was the very same pressure that built up in the thighs during padmasana when the heels press on them and push the blood upwards to the heart.
Purifying the nadis
Pushing fresh oxygenated blood up to the heart or removing accumulated toxins from the body are mechanical processes that are indeed very vital for proper functioning, but beyond that there is an electrical process which also needs to be detoxified side by side. The human body is in fact generating electricity all the time just as it is done in the power station. This electricity then flows to all parts of the body through nadis. Nadi means flow and in this case refers to a flow of energy or electrical impulse. There are 72,000 nadis in the body, some of which are adrishya or unseen. If these nadis become toxic, the electrical impulses will cease to reach their destination and the various physical activities will be affected as the commands from the brain will not reach the organ.
Therefore, apart from physical detoxification of cells, nerves, tissues, arteries and veins, the nadis too have to be purified. This is where yoga can greatly help chelation therapy, as it is the only natural science known to man which can detoxify impurities on all levels, including the physical and pranic or electrical dimension. Our bodies have an amazing inbuilt backup system, which has the capacity to restore and rejuvenate health within the body whenever it is disturbed. If left to itself, this system can easily repair any damage that is done. But sometimes when the damage is too extensive, this system needs a bit of help from outside through natural therapies such as walking, diet, yoga, chelation or external counter pulsation to enhance and accentuate the detoxification process.
In this the twenty-first century, the age of information technology, as man becomes more aware, it is important that he should use all the knowledge available to play a greater role in deciding what sort of therapy he would like to adopt. This decision should not be arbitrary. This is only possible if he is well informed and has a certain trust and confidence in the natural processes of the body, which respond better to the natural therapies.