An Interview with Satya Greenstone, E-RYT 500, C-IAYT
Have you ever wondered how Yoga helps with detox? We sat down with Satya Greenstone, a primary teacher trainer at Satchidananda Ashram-Yogaville and a longtime disciple of Sri Swami Satchidananda, to learn more about detoxing the body and mind with yogic practices.
Yogaville: What is detox?
Satya: Detox is the act of getting rid of toxins, or getting rid of anything that’s not necessary and useful. Detox could be in any area of your life. You can think of it in terms of your house—decluttering, or getting rid of anything that’s not necessary or that you’re not using. And you can think of it in terms of the body—getting rid of anything that’s accumulated in the body that’s not useful for day-to-day healthy living. And mentally—getting rid of anything in the mind that’s not useful and is cluttering up clear thinking and focus. So those are all different areas that we think about in regard to detox.
This particular retreat that I’ll be leading at Yogaville, Yoga for Detox, is mainly looking at the physical and mental lightening up of the whole system. I like to offer this program right at the beginning of spring—sometimes it’s right on the spring equinox—because it’s very easy during the winter months to hibernate and accumulate a little extra! But when spring arrives and everything starts blooming, we often feel like we want to get rid of that excess and feel light for spring and summer. So it’s the perfect time of year to practice yoga for detox.
When I first started giving this program, I thought of it mainly as a physical detox. Yogaville is a perfect place for that because we come away from the everyday distractions of life. You can lighten the diet—no matter what diet you come in with—and eat a little cleaner. It is easy with the ashram providing 3 organic, vegetarian meals per day.
Then we practice the physical, Hatha Yoga. The asanas (postures) also help with detox of the physical body by squeezing and clearing out any accumulation from the muscles, vital organs and glands, returning the body to a state of balance.
Interestingly, I found that over the past few years when people have come to the workshop, they want to detox from media, which is really something I hadn’t thought much about. Media detox has become an important thing for participants. They come for a weekend and unplug from their jobs, from their obligations, from constantly having to answer the phone and respond to crisis. Many come specifically to detox from media. The modern workplace asks one to take the work home and to be available 24/7. Even to move up in whatever position they’re in, many people have to be available all the time. People can easily get run down, physically and mentally, because there’s this demand to always be available and on call. And to be available, you have to be up-to-date—that means with email, text, Facebook, Twitter, etc. This type of work is very competitive, too, so you have to be on the cutting edge of media at all times to keep your position or move ahead. The interest in media detox is an important element I found with people coming from the DC and northern VA areas especially.
Yogaville: How does Yoga help specifically with detox of the body and mind?
Satya: Well, the body is a great place to start. There are two things happening in the body that cause us to get into a more overloaded state or condition of excess. The body can become overloaded by taking in too much food in quantity, taking it in at the wrong time or in the wrong condition, such as when the body is stressed, angry or depressed. In these states, the body is unable to process food and it goes undigested. This undigested food stagnates in the systems and leads to toxins. This applies to more than just eating food—it is possible to overload the other senses also. Too much input, visually, auditory, mental, any excess can cause the mind to become stressed. So everything that’s coming into the system needs some type of regulation so as not to cause an imbalanced state.
Another aspect is elimination. So even if you come to Yogaville and you stop that input—you have a great diet, you breathe fresh air, you disconnect from media, everything—what about what’s already in the body and in the mind?
What has the body accumulated over the past months (that’s in a good case!), the past winter, the past years, or over the whole lifetime? That’s really where the yogic practices, especially asanas and pranayama, are so effective—at ridding the body of toxins. That’s what asanas are really meant to do. Each asana focuses on a particular area of the body and squeezes the toxins out of that area to be released into the blood stream. It’s a beautiful practice. It does happen some in exercise—any exercise that heats up the system and causes sweating. But asanas have the benefit of focusing on releasing the toxins from the deeper, internal vital organs and the endocrine glands. So that helps return the body to a more balanced state.
The other more subtle detox practice of Hatha Yoga is pranayama (breathing practices). On a physical level, with increased oxygen you can burn up the toxins out of the blood system. But on a more subtle level, the breath and the mind are inner-connected so that as you calm and regulate the breath, the mind calms down too.
The practices of concentration and meditation are to rid the mind of excess thoughts that are lingering, repetitive and unnecessary. These more subtle practices can lead one to a refreshed perspective of life, especially worries and anxieties that have accumulated in the mind.
Yogaville: Can Yoga help with detox of bad habits and/or addictions?
Satya: Yes, I think Yoga can have a very positive effect on habits, addictions, and lifestyle because Yoga practices help make us more conscious. For instance, the way we arrange our living environment is reflective of the condition of the mind. I know Gurudev used to say that he could just walk into your room and tell the condition of your mind. He often would say that is the way you can recognize a yogi. Yoga is not about standing on your head, it’s how you open a door or the condition of your desk. A yogi is conscious of everything they do and say. That is Yoga in action. You can also apply this understanding on a more subtle, universal level. If you see the divine consciousness in everything, then everything has energy and life to it, and we develop a respect for it.
What is the sign of a healthy person? If I asked someone this question, they would automatically think of the body. So what is the sign of a healthy person?
From Sri Gurudev, Swami Satchidananda: “Happy everywhere. Peaceful everywhere. Doesn’t cause harm. Hates none.” He lists all of these conditions which we would consider psychological and emotional. He doesn’t say anything about the body. We think health is being free from disease. Health is really a positive state of balance: complete balance of the physical system, the breath, the glands, the secretions of the body, the environment, the mind. “ A healthy person emits of loving, pure vibration. Universal love.”
We can use this image to evaluate where we are at personally and recognize imbalance in our own systems. So what is causing the imbalance? Toxins. Rid the body and mind of toxins, and we have balance. In a way, we could define a toxin as anything that disturbs the natural balance.
Yogaville: Is there a particular practice that you would recommend to someone who was interested in a spring detox but who couldn’t make it to your program?
Satya: I think the most essential practice would be deep breathing. It’s so easy. Anyone can do it anywhere. Simply breathe deeper whenever you think about it. Deep breathing will oxygenate the system, which burns out toxins, and it will calm the mind. A long, slow exhale creates a relaxation response throughout the system. It’s scientifically proven.
And everybody eats, so eating a cleaner diet is another great place to start. Those who love sweets might be attracted to a sugary foods, but a cleaner alternative would be fruit. It’s still sweet, but lighter for the system and easy to digest. Likewise, at any meal we have choices to make. We can gradually make a habit of more healthy choices.
So, breathe deeper, eat cleaner, and—if you’re inclined—find a mantra and start chanting. Mantra also has a cleansing effect and chanting will change the station of the mind!
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti.
Join Satya Greenstone to detoxify the body and mind with yogic practices during Yoga for Detox: Spring Cleaning for Body and Mind on March 22–24.