Movement to Support Detoxification

Jun 01, 2023

Movement plays a vital role in our body’s natural detoxification functions. Understanding the various ways in which we clear out toxins from all cells and tissues (making space for nutrients to come in) illustrates how a sedentary lifestyle can leave us feeling sluggish, stagnant and somewhat ‘stewing in our own juices’.

The factors that affect your detoxification capacity

If you are making change to your nutritional habits for the new year, then it is vital that you bring in movement habits and patterns that allow these adjustments to fully rid yourself of the waste that builds up.  Every day our bodies are bombarded with toxins from both outside (exotoxins) – the polluted environment, medications, alcohol, cigarette smoke, car exhaust emissions and toxins from within the body (endotoxins) – the by-products of nutrient breakdown, hormones and bacterial waste products from the intestines.

The liver is not the only organ of detoxification, each cell in your body is cleaning its own house every nanosecond you are alive. All systems and parts of the body depend to some extent on the detoxifying function of the liver and it is a misunderstanding that we only need to support our liver if we drink alcohol. We live in an industrialised, polluted society so liver support is a good insurance policy to support complete health. If we are stressed, we are running all systems at a higher rate and it is the liver that must deal with the breakdown products of increased energy production.

Wastes from cells will make their way to the liver to be processed and finally ejected, so all parts of the journey need support; including via the circulation, skin and lymph glands that exercise supports. Eventually, toxins are chemically broken down in the liver and then their waste products eliminated through the kidneys and colon.

The lungs also play their part, filtering the air we breathe before the oxygen is absorbed and directed to cells, organs and muscles. Skin is our largest organ and the second most important for detoxification after the liver, which is why when the liver is struggling, we may see effects as skin issues or dullness, as well as possible bloating, digestive issues, food intolerances or headaches. Sweating is one of the processes of detoxifying waste products. So increased breathing rate and sweating via exercise supports efficient detoxification.

Research has shown that exercise supports detoxification by increasing stores of the body’s major antioxidant enzyme glutathione peroxidase. This is produced in the liver, is involved in liver detox pathways and protects cells from damage, as well as other physiological processes including transport and metabolism. It has shown to plays roles in DNA synthesis and repair, protein synthesis, prostaglandin synthesis, amino acid transport, and enzyme activation, so can influence every body system, especially the immune system, the nervous system, the gastrointestinal system, and the lungs.  In one study, exercise training was shown to significantly increase glutathione peroxidase by 50–70% to protect cells (European Journal of Drug Metabolism and Pharmacokinetics 1991;16:59–68).

In fact, all liver functions have shown to increase with exercise as gene expression changes as a defensive response to this ‘good’ stress. So not just detoxification, but also metabolism and signals for fat storage and efficient energy usage in the body (Obesity 2012;14(8):1294-1302).

When making nutritional or other changes that ‘detox’ it is vital to support liver function and allow it to process any backlog coming through from cells via the bloodstream. When the liver is overloaded from too much too soon, stress or compromised function, this is usually a sign that phase 2 liver detoxification needs support. When toxins cannot move through these secondary pathways to be broken down and then excreted via the bile and then the bowel, they can back up into the portal vein, the main bloodstream delivery into the liver. They can then go back into the bloodstream, often more toxic than when they went in as they are now partially broken down, or detoxified.

This is when the negative symptoms of a ‘detox’ are experienced, often as fatigue, headaches, irritability, skin break-outs or other inflammatory flare-ups. It used to be believed that such a ‘healing crisis’ was a good sign of increased detoxification, but we can now recognise that overloading the system in such a way is potentially harmful as toxic metabolites contact tissues and cells. Helping the process with mindful movement, hydration, nutritional and herbal liver support and rest can ease the burden on the body.

We are designed for continual movement and without a certain level of spontaneous activity, many bodily functions struggle to come to their full capacity. Movement manipulates our lymphatic system, the network of lymphatic fluid (lymph, see fig.1) delivers foreign and toxic agents to lymphatic nodes in the groin, chest, neck and other sites, where they are killed and destroyed. Unlike the blood, with the heart as pump, lymph can't move unless we do - sedentary habits mean stagnation of lymphatic fluid with compromised detoxification and immunity.

Meditation on movement

This is an example of a kriya (meaning action, effort) – a cleansing practice used in the Kundalini yoga system to move energy through the body, detoxify and clarify – including out through the skin. The continual movement through the arms and shoulders whilst lifting upright helps lymphatic drainage at the collarbones. You can build up to continuing the motion for three minutes; gradually so you don’t add tension to your shoulders. This is a helpful practice for detox programmes as provides an alternate deep sensation when cravings for foods or substances arise.

  • Sit in easily upright position, on a chair is good for many or at least on one block (two is best) to raise hips easily above knees and lift up through the pelvis. Spend a few moments settling into your breath and releasing your shoulders, moving into them if you need.
  • Bring your fingertips onto your shoulders and lift your elbows in towards your ears on an inhalation.
  • Open your elbows out and extend your arms (just above shoulder height) on the exhalation.
  • Feel the motion supported by your belly and side ribs rather than lifting the shoulders.
  • Keep this motion following the breath, allowing the exhale right to its end point and stopping to rest if you feel agitation.
  • Breathe fully into long releasing outbreaths to ensure relaxed face and jaw throughout – the exhalation naturally releases toxins and waste products such as carbon dioxide, but can be shortened by the stress response or habits of shallow breathing.

Sequence for fascial fluidity

Keeping fluidity or dehydration through the connecting tissues of the fascia – the web that holds the hold body in suspension – allows proper removal of what are often termed ‘toxins’, but are the bi-products of respiration, energy production within each cell. This sequence adds pulsing micro-movements within larger held positions to nourish fascia and optimise flow through points where interruptions prevent full detoxification. This also incorporates twisting motions; twists are often said to ‘wring out toxins’, with some truth as they pull and compress onto opposite sides of spiral fascial lines (connective tissue) across the torso as we move each way. This innervates organs, glands and tissues that all play roles within detoxification, repair and exchange of nutrients; as well as rerouting the flow of bodily fluids.


  • Start on all-fours to simply explore movement through the shoulders and hips, pelvis and abdomen. Move in any way that feels right and let yourself fully breathe to respond to areas where tension may be held.
  • With open palms, tuck your toes under and lift the knees to raise up your bottom. As you press back and up from the hands, bend the knees to move into the lower back and hips, creating ‘figure-of-eight’ movements through the hips and shoulders.
  • Bring the knees back down, and exhale the left knee in towards the chest and head in to meet it; fully rounding the back to curl in.
  • As you inhale, lengthen the left leg out behind you, flexing (opposite of pointing) the foot. Lengthen all the way from the crown of the head to that foot, gathering in the lower ribs to support where the top and bottom body meet. Follow these motions for 10-20 repetitions, guided by the rhythm of your breath.
  • Come to a downwards-facing dog, with hips lifted high – keeping open in the chest and rooting down to the ground through the base of the index finger. Drop the knees and move the right leg in the previous motion.
  • From downwards-facing dog, step the left foot between the hands (or come through all-fours) so that the foot is parallel to the outside of your mat, feet hip-width apart. Raise the torso and arms to come into a low lunge, opening the arms as wide as you need to soften the shoulders and lift the chest.
  • Place the right hand on the ground (or raised on blocks) underneath that shoulder and here you have the option to tuck under the toes off the left foot and lift that knee off the ground. You can then rotate your belly to come into a twist to either raise the left arm or bring the left hand onto the back of the pelvis.
  • You then have the option to come into a deeper twist, bringing the right elbow over the inside of the left knees and hands together at the heart. Open the chest so elbows and shoulders can drop.
  • Come back to downwards-facing dog before moving to the other side.
  • Step your feet inwards your hands to curl up slowly to standing. Holding your gaze on one spot, raise your left knee in towards your chest as you raise the right arm to the ceiling.
  • Step the left leg back into a high lunge and move between lifting the leg and stepping back 10 times.
  • Then after stepping back into the lunge, when you bring up the left knee, rotate at the belly to twist and hold the left knee with the right hand as you swing the left arm out behind you. Release the arms back and rotate back to the centre and step back; moving between these two motions 10 times. Move to the other side and then stand quietly to let your breath relax, fully breathing out as you need.



Turning our whole world upside-down not only gives us a new perspective, but also increases lymphatic flow from the lower body up, effortlessly through gravity, for easier movement of toxins for elimination. Supported versions also add an extra calming dimension as they fully allow the heart and nervous system to come to rest – the parasympathetic nervous system tone where repair, healing and detoxification can occur. Any tension held in the diaphragm can also release, helping breath patterns and the downward motion that allows full elimination of toxins via bowel movements.

The version shown here - a bridge pose over a bolster, or stack of folded towels with legs on a chair fully inverts the body and is a helpful respite if you are feeling the effects of detoxification, particularly headaches, insomnia or agitation. Stay for 5-10 minutes at the end of a physical practice or simply when you need.

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