Most of us don’t pay much attention to our kidneys until something goes wrong, but behind the scenes these bean-shaped organs that sit beneath our rib cage play a critical role in keeping our bodies healthy. They flush out toxins, filter blood, and produce three hormones: one to keep blood pressure in check, one to stimulate red blood cells, and one to maintain strong bones. Luckily, we can support these renal workhorses by making good diet and lifestyle choices and, of course, doing yoga.
Stay hydrated. The kidneys detoxify the body by filtering the blood and secreting the wastes through the urine. Steven Lamm, MD, an internist and a faculty member at New York University School of Medicine, recommends drinking enough water “so that the urine is relatively clear, a good indication that you’re hydrating a sufficient amount.” Don’t overdo your liquid intake—too much water actually forces the kidneys to work overtime to filter the excess.
Eat kidney-friendly foods. The kidneys excrete wastes but they can’t always eliminate all toxins. Too much protein can increase the burden on the kidneys, so opt for a low-protein diet and mind your blood sugar and insulin levels. Also, says Dr. Lamm, “anything that causes high blood pressure—like a high sodium diet—isn’t good for the kidneys.”
Supplement with herbs. Diuretic herbs like stinging nettle and uva ursi have anti-inflammatory properties that aid in flushing out the kidneys and urinary tract. Parsley is a natural diuretic that is particularly effective when taken as a tea. Simply bring to a boil 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley in 2 cups of water and steep for 15 minutes. Strain the parsley and drink the tea.
Obey your natural urges. As simple as it sounds, responding to your body’s natural urges is an underestimated but key aspect of good health. Honoring your body’s desire to sleep, hydrate, urinate, yawn, or sneeze connects you to your physical needs. Holly Lucille, ND, RN (aka Dr. Holly), an expert in the field of natural medicine and author of Creating and Maintaining Balance: A Woman’s Guide to Safe, Natural Hormone Health, agrees. “Listen to your body,” she says, “It’s a great communicator. If you feel the urge to void, do so as soon as possible.”
Minimize your use of pain relievers. Using NSAIDS, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like Advil or Motrin or acetaminophens like Tylenol or Excedrin on a regular basis can damage your kidneys. Ideally, it’s best to avoid these drugs, says Dr. Holly. She recommends turmeric instead, which she calls “one of the most effective natural pain relievers.” Try Curamin (Terry Naturals) or Turmeric Force (New Chapter). Anyone who takes pain medication, says Dr. Holly, “should consider supplementing with milk thistle, which is a liver-protecting tonic.”
The kidneys and urinary tract are governed by the third chakra—the manipura—located at the navel region. Glowing good health, courage, enthusiasm, vitality, and self-esteem are hallmarks of strong kidneys and a balanced navel chakra.
Twists like janu shirshasana (head to knee pose) help keep your kidneys healthy by using what B.K.S. Iyengar calls a “squeezing and soaking” action. When we twist, we wring out the kidneys, getting rid of all the stale, toxic blood; as we release the pose, a fresh supply of oxygenated blood floods the area. Kapalabhati breathing, with its forced exhales and passive inhales, stimulates the kidneys through the pulsating movement of the navel.
Keep your feet warm. Traditional Chinese Medicine teaches that the kidney meridian (yong quan, which means “gushing or bubbling spring”) begins on the bottom of your feet. From there, the chi (life force) rises up from the earth and moves up the inside of the leg and into the lower abdomen. Massage warm sesame oil into the yong quan pressure point (the indentation just below the big toe) on the soles of your feet and cover them with your favorite fuzzy slippers!
Kidneys do more than flush toxins and regulate metabolism. According to David Scrimgeour, LAc, an acupuncturist and Traditional Chinese Medicine specialist in Boulder, Colorado, kidneys govern willpower and motivation. When your kidney chi is weak you may feel:
Susceptible to anxiety
Unable to get anything done
Unable to remember things
Burned out and depleted
To strengthen your kidneys, get plenty of rest, choose activities that nourish and inspire you, journal before bed, and bundle up and take walks in nature as often as possible.