Yogic Cleansing 

Shatkarmas or Kriyas are purification techniques used to  attain physical and mental purification and balance.  We already covered the practices of Jala Neti and Trataka in May’s Ashi box, so this post aims to provide more information on the other shatkarmas for those that are interested. I’ve adapted the information from Asana, Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha by Swami Satyananda Saraswati. These practices can be quite strong and should only be done with the guidance of a teacher (please note the disclaimer at the bottom of the page). This post is not comprehensive and doesn’t include instructions to practice these shatkarmas, but rather describes what the practices involve. These techniques are commonly practiced in India and a student in an Indian yoga program would likely practice most of these techniques. 

There are 6 standard Shatkarmas, or purification practices. They are as follows: Neti (Cleansing and purifying the nasal passages using Jala Neti and Sutra Neti); Dhauti (Internal cleansing); Nauli (Massaging and strengthening the abdominal organs); Basti (Washing and toning the large intestine); Kapalbhati (Breathing technique for purifying the frontal region of the brain); and Trataka (Intense gazing at one point to develop the power of concentration).

Neti: There are two neti practices, the jala neti, which we already covered, and the sutra neti. The sutra neti involves passing a length of cotton thread or a thin rubber catheter through the nose and pulling it out through the mouth, then gently pulling it backwards and forwards. This practice helps remove mucus and pollution from the nasal passages and sinuses, allowing air to flow without obstruction. It also helps prevent and manage respiratory tract diseases.

Dhauti: There are a few different methods, but the basic practice involves drinking warm salt water followed by a specific set of asanas in order to clear out the bowels. The body should be prepared beforehand,  and a specific diet should be followed after the practice. An entire day should be set aside for this practice, as well as the preparation time the night before, and a special diet should also be followed for at least a month after performing this kriya. The second method involves quickly drinking a number of glasses of warm salt water to induce vomiting. These practices can alleviate digestive problems and tone the digestive organ; strengthen the immune system, reduce excessive mucus and purify the blood. These techniques also help to release pent-up emotions and emotional blocks or feelings of heaviness in the heart. Additionally, it recharges the entire pranic body.

Nauli: Nauli is abdominal massaging using the bandhas to contract the abdominal muscles. As the practitioner becomes more advanced in the practice they are able to isolate and contract the central section, the left section, the right section, and then perform abdominal rotation or churning. This practice massages and tones the entire abdominal area, including the muscles, nerves, intestines, reproductive, urinary, and excretory organs. It stimulates appetite, digestion, assimilation, absorption and excretion. This is a strong practice and is not suitable for everyone, and should only be done under the guidance of a qualified teacher.   

Basti: Basti is a yogic enema, and can be done either by drawing water into the bowels and then expelling it, or by sucking air into the bowels and then expelling it. The benefit of this practice is cleansing and purifying the colon.   

Kapalbhati: This is a pranayama technique to cleanse the front of the brain. To practice, sit in a comfortable meditation position. Keep the head and spine straight with the hands resting on the knees. Close the eyes and relax. Exhale rapidly through both nostrils with a forceful contraction of the abdominal muscles. The following inhalation should take place passively by allowing the abdominal muscles to relax. Inhalation should be a spontaneous recoil, involving no effort. After completing 10 rapid breaths in succession, inhale and exhale deeply. Allow the breath to return to normal. This is one round, practice up to 5 rounds. The breathing should be from the abdomen, the shoulders and face remain relaxed. This should be practiced on an empty stomach and not before sleep. Don’t practice if you suffer from heart disease, high blood pressure, vertigo, epilepsy, stroke, hernia or gastric ulcer. It’s not recommended during pregnancy. Kapalbhati cleanses the lungs and is a good practice for respiratory disorders. It balances and strengthens the nervous system and tones the digestive organs. It energizes the mind for mental work and removes sleepiness.

There are two additional Kapalbhati techniques, which utilize either sniffing salt water through the nose and expelling it through the mouth to cleanse the sinuses or taking a mouthful of salt water and instead of swallowing it, pushing it up and expelling it through the nose for mucus cleansing. Before practicing either of these last two techniques, one should be proficient at Jala Neti.  

Trataka: We covered this intense gazing practice in the May Ashi Box.  

DISCLAIMER: Please check with your health care professional before starting any exercise or yoga program. The information provided within is intended to be used under professional instruction and guidance. It is not a substitute for medical care and attention. Please use common sense and walk the middle path as you develop your spiritual practice. We are not responsible for the consequences of the exercises and practices. The same applies to all the other material provided here, it is provided as is with no warranties or guarantees. We are not responsible for, and will not compensate in any way, for loss or damage related directly or indirectly to the information in these documents or the contents of the boxes. 


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