What are 'toxins' and how do we eliminate them?

We hear a lot about ‘toxins’ but what exactly are they, where do they come from and how can we eliminate them safely, according to our body type? 

Mirjam, toxin, elimination, reclined Baddha Konasana

In the first of his interviews for our Seasonal Cleanse with Ayurveda & Yoga programme, John Immel, Ayurvedic expert and founder of JoyfulBelly.com sheds light on ‘toxins’ - a word we hear a lot about but perhaps don’t understand fully. Here's a brief summary of John’s enlightening lecture on the subject (members can click below to watch it in full).

John Immel lecture 1 - what is a toxin?

What is a toxin?

The word ‘toxin’ often has negative connotations, but from an Ayurvedic perspective the word refers to anything that our body is unable to digest or get rid of. This includes the natural, biological waste from cells and internal processes in the body, and also waste and bacteria from foods we haven't been able to digest properly. A toxin for one person might not be 'toxic' for another - in other words, you might find it easy to process certain foods, your friend might find it more difficult. Usually, our bodies eliminate these waste products perfectly efficiently, but sometimes toxins can build up and we start to see symptoms of them.

Ayurveda looks to support the body to eliminate these toxins naturally. The main organs involved being the digestive tract, liver, skin and kidneys. In addition, the lymphatic and circulatory systems also have a role to play. Ayurveda considers particular organ weaknesses in our individual constitution so that we can ensure we support them to do their job properly. 

 

Is toxin the right word?

Unfortunately, the food and lifestyle industry has leaped on the word ‘toxin’ and it’s often used to refer to something negative and unnatural like added chemicals and pollutants - something to avoid or “get rid of”. However, as we said before these toxins are often leftover organic waste from natural processes in the body, or foods that don't suit us. These foods and waste can then end up hanging around in our digestive systems causing us problems. For this reason, it might be more helpful to think of toxins simply as ‘residues’ instead. 

It’s important to note that what’s toxic for one person might not be toxic for another - for this reason, it might be more helpful to think of toxins simply as ‘residues’ instead. 

Where do toxins come from and how do they manifest?

John states that these toxins or residues can arise from three sources - environmental, cellular waste products and from bacteria in our digestive tract. The physical symptoms include:

  • Gas and bloating - (a sign of fermentation in your gut)
  • Excessive coating on the back of the tongue
  • Bad breath
  • Foul smelling sweat

This can make us feel anxious and scattered, tired and lethargic. Our skin may lack glow, our teeth and eyes ‘grey’. This general lacklustre appearance indicates that the white tissues of the body (which should be a clear translucent fluid) are ‘discoloured’; that our lymphatic system isn’t clear.

How can we eliminate toxins safely?

Some general tips include:

  • taking regular cardiovascular exercise to build up a bit of sweat helps to eliminate toxins through the circulatory pathways.
  • dry brushing massage every day to move the lymphatic system
  • drinking plenty of fluids helps to flush out lymphatic system and move toxins through the kidney system
  • eating foods that you can digest completely before the food turns into gas.
  • choosing fibre-rich foods that encourage healthy elimination
  • eating a diet that is appropriate for our body type so we don’t create stress on any one organ in our system (See more on this in John's second interview) 

When should we cleanse?

Cleansing is particularly beneficial during Spring and Autumn - the seasons of change. When the temperature increases as we move towards summer, it’s helpful to release congestion. In the Autumn, we’re aiming to release dryness. 

For more on this topic, read Ayurvedic Springtime routines

Why choose an Ayurvedic cleanse?

One of the problems with cleansing is that there’s no ‘one-size fits all’. If done aggressively without proper knowledge of what best supports your body type, it can actually be counter-productive. You could create further imbalance and weakness, thereby increasing rather than releasing toxins.

Whereas Ayurveda acknowledges that our bodies and constitutions may have different weaknesses and needs. Ayurveda offers profound and simple concepts to enable us to support our bodies to do what they’re designed to do - naturally. This is covered in John's second and third interviews.

In the next interview, John looks at doshas or body types. Before watching, it’s useful to take this quiz to find out your dominant dosha.

Read more in this series:

Learn more about Ayurveda

This is taken from the Seasonal Cleanse with Ayurveda and Yoga programme. A two-week programme available to all EkhartYoga members with talks on Ayurveda, a 5 day cleanse and 7 yoga classes tailored to your dosha.

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