What does Hatha Yoga say about the six cleansing techniques?
Hatha Yoga has put immense emphasis on cleansing techniques as a part of yoga practice to achieve higher levels of health and liberation.
“When fat or mucus is excessive, the shatkarmas or six cleansing techniques should be practised before (pranayama). Others, in whom the doshas (i.e. phlegm, wind and bile) are balanced, need not do them.”
-Hatha Yoga Pradipika (2:21)
Shat means 'six' and karma means 'action', and the shatkarmas consist of six groups of purification practices. The aim of hatha practice is to achieve harmony between the two major pranic flows, ida and pingala, thereby attaining physical and mental purification and balance. The shatkarmas are used specifically to balance the three doshas - Vata, Pitta and Kapha. According to both Ayurveda and Hatha yoga, an imbalance in the doshas will result in illnesses and diseases. These powerful practices also purify the body of toxins and ensure a safe and successful progression along one’s path to self-discovery.
What are the six shat karmas?
Although only six in number, there are many practices below each one that can be done. Here are a few such practices under the six main Shat Karmas. To learn the right techniques and perform the actions in a safe manner, it is always recommended to do this under the guidance of a teacher.
It is the process of cleansing the nasal passage. This consists of Jala Neti and Sutra Neti.
A Neti Pot should be used for this practice. It is done by allowing warm, saline water to pass through the nose. The practitioner has to allow the water to seamlessly pass through. Jala Neti can be practiced for week if you are suffering from sinusitis, colds, insensitivity to smell, nosebleed, headache, eye strain or eye infections, ( do it when its about to set in and not during these conditions) otherwise it is best to practice only once a fortnight.
Sutra means ‘thread’ and the practice consists of passing a length of thread through the nose and gently pushing it so that it passes down into the throat. When it reaches the back of the throat, it should be pulled out through the mouth. One must slowly and gently pull the thread backwards and forwards 30-50 times.
Neti has a profound impact on the body and mind. It removes mucus and pollution from the
nasal passages and sinuses, allowing air to flow without obstruction. It also stimulates the various nerve endings in the nose, improving the sense of smell and the overall health of the individual. A balance is brought about between the right and left nostrils and subsequently, the left and right brain hemispheres, inducing a state of harmony and balance throughout the body and mind.
Consists of different techniques divided into antar dhauti (internal cleansing), sirsha dhauti (head cleansing) and hrid dhauti (thoracic cleansing). There are four practices we have listed here which clean the entire alimentary canal from the mouth to the anus (there are several others also under Dhauti).
Shankhaprakshalana (varisara dhauti) and laghoo shankhaprakshalana
They are the cleansing of the intestines. The process includes first drinking two glasses( about 600-700ml) and performing a series of five specific asanas. 16 glasses are consumed in total and evacuated through the bowels. Once clear water starts coming through, one will know that the stomach and intestines are perfectly clean. Forty-five minutes after completing the practice of shankhaprakshalana, the popular Indian dish, Kichidi should be consumed with ghee (no salt should be added).
Laghoo shankhaprakshalana is the shorter version of this where one drinks only six glasses of water. After every two glasses, the same series of 5 asanas should be done.
Agnisar kriya (vahnisara dhauti)
Activates the digestive fire. The practice involves moving the ‘fire’ in the body. Vahni and agni mean ‘fire.’ Sar is ‘essence.’ On a physical level, the practice involves conscious movement of the abdominal muscles and organs, and this creates internal heat. The practice is very useful as preparation for kapalbhati and bhastrika pranayama.
Kunjal (vaman dhauti)
Cleanses the stomach with water. Vaman means vomit. The practice is done on an empty stomach, where the practitioner drinks 5-6 glasses(1.5-2L) of warm, saline water and vomits it out afterwards.
Cleanses the intestines with air. This is performed by breathing in slowly through the mouth while sitting in a particular position. The air is swallowed into the stomach and the abdomen is expanded. Then the air should be passed through the large intestine.
There are many precautions and practice notes to be followed when doing these karmas. Thus, it is an absolute must that all these practices are done only under the guidance of a teacher. The main benefits of Dhauti practices are the removal of toxins, mucus, leftover food particles that are usually stuck on the inner lining of the intestines and to stimulate better digestion, thus, enabling better gut health.
It is a practice to massage and strengthen the abdominal organs. The practice involves contracting and isolating the rectus abdominis muscles. When the rectus abdominis muscles are rotated from left to right (anticlockwise), it is called Dakshina Nauli. When they are rotated from right to left (clockwise), that is Vama Nauli. When the muscles are pulled together and the middle group of muscles protrude, it is Madhyama Nauli.
Nauli tones the abdominal muscles, nerves, intestines, reproductive, excretory and urinary organs. When the abdominal muscles are stimulated, not only are they toned, but all the internal organs are massaged. It generates heat in the body, stimulates digestion, assimilation and absorption. It balances the endocrine system and helps control the production of sex hormones. Nauli is especially useful for alleviating constipation, indigestion, nervous diarrhea, acidity, hormonal imbalances, sexual and urinary disorders, laziness, dullness, lack of energy and emotional disturbances. It also controls one’s appetite and sensual desires and strengthens willpower. However, Nauli cannot be practiced by everyone. Those who are suffering from heart disease, hypertension, hernia, gastric or duodenal ulcers, or who are recovering from some internal injury or abdominal surgery, should not attempt this.
It Is a technique that washes and tones the large intestine. Basti is divided into Jala (water) Basti and Sthala (dry) Basti. In jala basti you suck water into the large intestine through the anus and then expel it. In sthala basti you suck air into the large intestine.
These are not practices that can be at home on our own. While the benefits are tremendous, doing them incorrectly can cause harm. Basti completely washes the bowel and removes excess bacteria, old stool, threadworms and heat from the lower intestines. It cures digestive disorders and is particularly useful for removing constipation, stimulating sluggish digestion, controlling nervous diarrhea and strengthening the solar plexus. Anyone suffering from abdominal problems, recent surgeries, heart problems or high blood pressure should avoid the practice.
It means ‘frontal lobe cleansing’. It invigorates the entire brain and awakens the dormant centers which are responsible for subtle perception. In this practice, exhalation is active and inhalation is passive. In normal breathing, inhalation is active and exhalation is passive. There are different ways to do Kapal Bhati and this must also be learnt from a teacher.
Kapalbhati expels more carbon dioxide and other waste gases from the cells and lungs than normal breathing, thereby increasing oxygen supply to the brain. It’s a very powerful practice to detoxify the body, remove blockages in the nadis and improve energy in the mind and body. It also removes lethargy, laziness and invigorates the mind.
However, anyone suffering from abdominal ailments or recent surgeries, menstruating or high blood pressure and heart problems should avoid the practice.
Watch this video to see our teacher, Swati, doing the practice.
Trataka means to gaze steadily. There are two forms of the practice, one is bahiranga or external trataka and the other is antaranga or internal trataka. Bahiranga is simpler to practice because you just have to gaze at an object or symbol (the most suitable is a candle flame). However, antaranga trataka involves clear and stable inner visualization of an object.
Trataka can be done at any time, but it is more effective on an empty stomach. If one wants to go deeper into the mind, trataka should be done late at night before going to bed, or and before meditation.
Trataka is therapeutic for depression, insomnia, allergies, stress and anxiety, postural problems, poor concentration and memory. Its most important effect is on ajna chakra and the brain. The purpose is to make the mind completely focused. The result is a ‘blanking out’ of visual perception, and thus, the central nervous system begins to function in isolation. It unlocks inherent energies of the mind and channelizes the dormant consciousness. It brings about strong willpower, improved memory and concentration ability. Physiologically, trataka relieves eye ailments such as eye strain and headache, myopia, astigmatism and even early stages of cataract. The eyes become clear and bright, allowing us to see reality beyond appearances.
The benefits and impact of the Shat Karmas are so immense that they have the ability to take away disorders, diseases and illness of the mind and body, both physically and psychologically. However, the practices are deep, sometimes complex and have to be done in the right way under the guidance of a teacher and maybe even a doctor, depending on the practice.
Have you done any of these practices before? Tell us about your experience!