Another skull-and-crossbones post! This time we’re talking about toxins – you likely keep hearing about how you sweat many of them out during each 90-minute Bikram Yoga class. But what’s happening during this process – and what exactly is coming out of your body? You’re about to find out … and it ain’t pretty!

Toxins Vs. Toxics

First thing’s first: for the sake of science, let’s clarify the difference between a toxin, which is a poisonous substance produced naturally by a living cell or organism like an animal, insect or plant, and a toxic or toxicant, which is made by humans or introduced into the environment by our activity. We tend to use these terms interchangeably, but there is (as far as the English language is concerned) a distinction.

Now that we’ve set the record straight (thanks Oxford Dictionary!), here’s a PARTIAL list of poisons (toxins AND their man-made counterparts) that commonly permeate our daily lives:

  • Food additives: Substances (both natural and artificial) added to food to preserve its flavour or enhance its taste and appearance. Among the worst offenders: MSG, food colouring, aspartame, sodium nitrate/nitrite (used to preserve processed meats), potassium bromate (added to bread to make it “fluffier”) and BHA/BHT (used to prevent food from changing colour or flavour as it gets older).
  • Pesticide residues: Pesticides that may remain on/in food (including meat, poultry, fish, vegetable oils, nuts, various fruits and vegetables) after they’ve been applied to crops. Exposure can occur through consumption or by being in close contact to pesticide-treated farms or lawns. Many of these residues accumulate in our bodies, potentially building up to harmful levels.
  • Environmental pollutants: These originate from man-made sources (cars, factories, power plants and even some building materials and cleaning solvents) and, less often, natural sources (volcanic eruptions and forest fires). Chemical pollutants include benzene (found in gasoline), perchloroethylene (emitted from some dry-cleaning facilities), methylene chloride (used as an industrial solvent and paint stripper) and asbestos. Health-wise they’re known or suspected to have serious health effects, such as cancer.
  • Bad bacteria: 99% of bacteria is actually good for you; it’s the small percentage of disease-causing bac that causes us trouble. Among the conditions perpetuated by harmful bacteria: strep throat, typhoid fever, pneumonia, syphilis, cholera, food-borne illness and tuberculoses.
  • Viruses: Viruses, which consist of genetic materials (DNA or RNA), are capable of latching onto cells and getting inside them. When one of these “attacks” your body, it causes an infection that can result in a range of conditions, from the flu to hepatitis.

How Do Toxins/Toxics Enter Our Bodies?

No matter how you slice it, toxins/toxics can harm your body and cause illness. And while most of us don’t intentionally pump ourselves full of poison, these substances have sneaky ways of entering our systems. You may ingest additives, pesticide residues and harmful bacteria and viruses through the foods you eat and beverages you drink; the air you breathe can also contain toxins (think of smog on a hot summer day). Items you keep in your home may emit toxicants (some carpeting, furnishings and electronics) – and don’t forget about the chemical-based products you may use to clean them!

There are four mains “routes of absorption” that allow toxins/toxics into the body:

  1. Absorption through the skin via dermal contact.
  2. Absorption through the respiratory track via inhalation.
  3. Absorption through the digestive tract via ingestion.
  4. Injection directly into the blood stream via, for example, needles.

Take Out the Trash

Your body, in a healthy state, was made to eliminate impurities. Breathing removes carbon dioxide from your lungs while your liver and kidneys filter your blood supply. Your lymphatic system moves toxins/toxics and excess fluids out of the body, as do your sweat glands. Bikram Yoga serves as the perfect catalyst – not only to aid in the removal of toxins/toxics, but also to help keep your body in prime waste-busting form.


Some toxins/toxics and waste products in the blood are able to diffuse into the sweat glands. As a result, when the body excretes sweat in the hot room, some of this junk is excreted as well.


Bikram Yoga requires good hydration habits; as a regular practitioner, you’ll be guzzling a lot of water. Drinking enough H2O can boost and strengthen your liver and kidneys and cool your body temperature to remove disease-causing microorganisms.


With many of the 26 postures in the series working to strengthen the various organs and systems of the body, regular stints in the hot room can help ensure your bod is able to rid itself of waste and fight infection on a regular basis.

Bikram’s Best Bets

From your improving your respiratory system to massaging your organs, all 26 postures are, arguably, good for boosting your body’s capacity to remove waste. The following poses, however, are tops for targeting specific parts in the elimination equation:

  • Eagle Pose: Supplies fresh blood to the kidneys, which filter your blood by removing wastes and diverting them to the urinary bladder.
  • Cobra Pose: Improves the functioning of the liver, which plays a major role in detoxification.
  • Bow Pose: Improves the functioning of the liver and kidneys.
  • Head to Knee With Stretching Pose: Excellent for the immune and lymphatic systems, increasing circulation to the liver.
  • : Pushes out every ounce of carbon dioxide, replacing it with life-giving oxygen.

Are You Too Toxic?

Reflecting on the following basic questions can help you begin to guage your own potential level of toxicity:
  • Do you use sugar substitutes or eat foods that contain sugar substitutes or sweeteners?
  • Do you eat non-organic fruits, vegetables, grains, meats or dairy foods?
  • Do you live or work in an area that has painted walls or ceilings and/or carpeting?
  • Do you use chemical-based cosmetics, hair colourings, aftershaves, deodorants, lotions or perfumes?
  • Do you eat foods packaged in plastic wrap?
  • Do you eat fat-free foods or snacks made with fat substitutes?
  • Do you breathe polluted air?

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