Just like a house stands strongly on its foundation, the same way, in the yogic journey, our body and mind need a firm foundation. This becomes the base of yoga sadhana. The base we are talking about is cleansing the internal system of organs. In the yogic tradition, this cleansing is termed Shatkarma or Shat kriyas.
Kriya yoga is all about spiritual growth. Through meditation, it helps to create awareness and self-consciousness. It can accelerate a person’s pace toward meeting their higher self. Kriya yoga means ‘yoga of action’. Discipline comes first and foremost in this yogic cleansing technique.
Shat kriya only assists you to find the true connection with your divine self. Discipline will help you attain it. Munis and Yogis suggest 6 kriyas techniques to clean out the internal toxins. Read further to know what kriya yoga is and its six processes of cleansing the system from within.
What are Shat Kriyas?
In Sanskrit, Shat means ‘six,’ and Kriya translates to ‘activities,’ literally meaning six activities.
According to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the six yogic cleansing practices are:
- Neti – Nasal Cleansing
- Kapalbathi – Sinus Cleansing
- Nauli – Abdominal Massaging
- Dhauti – Internal Cleansing
- Basti – Yogic enema
- Trataka – Concentrated Gazing
Each Kriya targets a specific body part and removes toxins such as mucus, gas, acid, urine, sweat, and stool.
Apart from purging the body of unwanted waste, these yogic cleansing exercises also banish impurities from the mind. The result is a total mind-body cleanse with many short- and long-term health benefits.
Benefits of Shat Kriyas
There are several medically proven health benefits of Kriya yoga. Here are a few of them:
- Research has shown that Kriya yoga can do wonders for people with hypertension. It has lowered the diastolic blood pressure levels, serum urea, and plasma MDA, associated with oxidative stress, in people who have regularly practiced Kriya yoga.
- Kriya yoga techniques help patients with anxiety and depression issues greatly. The breathing practice grounds their mind and slows them down from spiraling. With constant practice, it has significantly shaped the lives of people for good by providing them with a calming effect.
- It provides a positive impact on the mood of patients with mental illness. Practicing shat kriya yoga is advantageous for one’s overall health also.
- For people suffering from stress, shatkriyas help them gain a higher stress threshold. Hence, people who have to tackle stressful situations every day can practice shat kriyas in yoga to cope better with any pressure.
Shat Karma yoga is undoubtedly the best practice that one can take up to help oneself feel better and do better in one’s life. However, the only thing that must be considered is choosing the right Guru. They must be qualified and have great experience in this field to help others. Anyone can practice Kriya yoga techniques to lead a healthier lifestyle.
Why Shatkarma Yoga?
- Purification techniques are excellent immunity boosters.
- Balances the Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.
- Kriyas are essential preparations before any Asana, Pranayama, Mudra & Bandha, or meditation.
- Cleansing the vital organs ensures the body & mind is healthy, calm & disease-free.
Purpose of Shatkriyas
Though Shatkarma is known as a cleansing technique or shuddhi kriyas, its significance in yoga sadhana is not to be taken lightly.
The purpose of Shatkarma is:
- To bring balance to tri-dosh Vata, Pitta & Kapha.
- Bring balance to mind & body processes.
- Balance prana flow in Ida and Pingala Nadi. From there, to stimulate the flow through Sushumna Nadi.
- To remove/ excrete toxins from our body.
- To cleanse our body from the inside & keep our body healthy.
- Providing strength to our internal systems like blood circulation, digestion, respiratory system & immunity.
6 Kriyas for Complete Purification
1. Dhauti Kriya
In Sanskrit, Dhauti means ‘washing.’ Water is consumed to total capacity in this process, so the impurities from the food pipe are flushed out by vomiting.
Dhauti Kriya helps the internal organs to work efficiently and removes excess mucus from the stomach.
Moreover, consistent practice of Kriyas balances the body’s Kapha, Pitta & Vata doshas.
Some standard dhauti practices include:
Vamana Dhauti –Consuming a large quantity of lukewarm water and then vomiting it to expel impurities from the food pipe.
Vastra Dhauti – A clean muslin cloth soaked in lukewarm water is swallowed and held in the stomach for a few minutes. Then, it’s pulled out from the mouth, bringing impurities from the intestinal tract.
Other techniques are Danta dhauti (teeth washing), Jihva Dhauti (tongue scraping), and Karna Dhauti (ear cleansing).
How to practice?
- Dip a long sterilized cotton cloth in water and place one end on your tongue.
- Drink some water and slowly swallow the tip, guiding the cloth down your throat and into your stomach.
- After a few minutes, gently remove the cloth, taking another sip of water if needed.
Benefits: Dhauti can clean the digestive tract of lingering food particles and extra mucus. It also helps remove problems of gas, acidity, and indigestion.
Contraindications: It should not be practiced in case of an internal injury, digestive tract problem, or stomach sensitivity, such as an ulcer.
2. Basti Kriya
It is a technique that involves replenishing the body internally by cleansing the large intestines. Basti means “To Hold” and refers to the urinary bladder. It is practiced by sucking in water or air through the anus.
This technique helps treat disorders related to digestion, elimination, and flatulence. Jala Basti is one of the most common types of basti.
Jala Basti – Traditionally, this was practiced squatting in a river. “Jala” means water. In this cleansing technique, water is used to clean the bowels.
The process involves taking a tub of water until the navel and sitting over it in Utkatasana.
- Lean forward, resting the hands on the knees.
- Suck the water via the anus into the large intestines.
- Exhale & perform Uddiyana bandha & Nauli kriya (abdominal cleanse) to create a vacuum-like suction. It draws the water into the lower abdomen & contracts the abdominal muscles.
- Stand up, holding the water inside the bowel for between 5 and 30 minutes.
- Exhale & expel the water through the anus.
- The above steps complete one full round. You can repeat it until the bowels are thoroughly cleansed.
How to practice?
- Using an enema kit, fill the bag with clean water and insert the tip into your anus, keeping the water upright.
- Bend forward slightly and release your belly. This creates a vacuum that pulls the water into your internal system.
- Lie down and hold the water in for as long as possible. When you can no longer bear the pressure, you may release your bowels.
Benefits: Basti helps with indigestion, gastric troubles, and other issues related to the large intestine. It can be conducive for those with a sedentary lifestyle and digestive problems. The enema is one of the primary therapies used in Ayurveda and is even known by medical science as an enema.
Contraindications: Acute diarrhea, Hemorrhoids or rectal polyps, etc, are some extreme cases, as sometimes shortness of breath is also mentioned as a contraindication for the practice of Basti.
3. Neti Kriya
It is imperative to clear the nasal cavities of accumulated impurities, as they are the pathway to ‘Prana’ or vital energy. This kriya is done using a clean neti pot.
Neti is of 2 types –
a. Jala Neti – Jala (water) is used as a cleaning tool to remove the impurities from the nostrils. With a neti pot, water is poured in through one nostril; then, under the gravity effect, it is expelled out through the other nostril.
Water that comes out from other nostrils removes impurities from nasal pathways.
b. Sutra Neti – Here, a rubber thread (sutra) is used to massage the nasal pathways and open any blockages.
How to practice?
- Prepare the water by adding natural salt and warming the water. The salt concentration and the water temperature should be the same as your tears.
- Fill the Neti pot with water and position the spout in one nostril. Lean forward and tilt your head towards the opposite side. Breathe through your mouth and take several deep breaths to stimulate the water’s flow.
- Complete the cleanse with a one-minute inversion, either a headstand or a shoulder stand, to dry up the sinuses.
Benefits: A clean nasal passage is a boon in the city’s air. Plus, you can breathe fuller with each breath when your nasal passage is clean. This takes care of colds, flu, etc.
Contraindications: The salt in the water is contraindicated for heart patients. This practice is also contraindicated in case of cold or flu. Sutra neti is not recommended when you have a stuffed nose, sensitive mucus, or some issue with the central bone of the nose.
4. Trataka Kriya
Trataka Kriya is one of the easiest and most effective eye-cleansing techniques that involve steady & continuous gazing at any external or internal unmoving point. An illuminated candle at eye level works best.
Consistent and correct practice increases concentration power and purifies the mind from fluctuating thought patterns.
- Internal Trataka is when the focus is rested on the Third eye (located between eyebrows). This helps to awaken the third eye or the 6th chakra – Ajna chakra.
- External Trataka is continuously gazing at an external object over time, such as the illuminated candle at eye level.
How to practice?
- Sit comfortably seated with your hands resting on your knees.
- Light the candle and place it at eye level, about an arm’s length away.
- Concentrate on the tip of the wick and hold your gaze until your eyes tear.
Benefits: Improves eyesight and concentration.
Contraindications: Not recommended for people suffering from depression. Low BP people are also asked to avoid it.
5. Nauli Kriya
An abdominal cleansing kriya involves moving the lower abdominal muscles to stimulate the digestive fire.
It is a necessary kriya that maintains movement in all body muscles. Nauli practice provides a massaging effect & purifies the spleen, urinary bladder, liver, pancreas, gall bladder, and intestines.
When all these internal organs regularly move, the digestive system and appetite improve. It is done standing with the feet apart & knees bent.
- Madhya Nauli – When left and right, both sides & muscles are concentrated at the center.
- Vama Nauli – When both ab muscles are aligned to the left side from the center wall.
- Dakshina Nauli – When both ab muscles are aligned to the right side from the center wall.
How to practice?
- In a standing position, bend your knees and place your palms on your upper thighs.
- Take a deep breath and exhale firmly through the nose. When your lungs are empty, suck the navel back towards your spine, revealing your rib cage.
- Release the abdomen and continue the contraction and expansion until you need to breathe.
Benefits: Nauli strengthens the muscle structure of and around the abdominal area. As an additional effect, Nauli also helps in regulating blood pressure. Hatha Pradipika mentions Nauli to be very beneficial for the digestive system & related issues with indigestion.
Contraindications: Don’t practice Nauli if you have any sensitivity or issues in your abdominal area. This is a vital practice and requires the presence of an experienced teacher to learn appropriately.
6. Kapalbhati Kriya
It is the last of the six kriyas that work on improving the brain’s functioning.
Kapalabhati translates to “Skull Shining.” Often referred to as a pranayama technique, it is a cleansing kriya to improve respiratory health, energize the body & keep the mind alert.
In Kapalabhati, the abdominal wall rapidly draws in and out with breathing. The inhale is passive & the exhale is active, unlike the typical breathing technique. This kriya is performed seated in a legged position.
How to practice?
- In a comfortable seated or standing position, place your palms on your thighs and tilt your head slightly to look down at the earth.
- Give three short but powerful exhales through your nostrils, pushing any moisture out.
- Repeat this breathing technique with your head turned left and right.
Benefits: Kapalabhati involves active exhalation followed by passive inhalation, which helps clean the respiratory system and improve lung capacity.
Contraindications: Not to be done by epilepsy patients, asthma patients, and high BP patients.
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In many ways, Shat Kriyas is the ultimate mind-body cleanse. However, with all cleanses, the Shat Karma yoga should be practiced with caution and careful consideration. When performed correctly, these Hatha purification exercises can cleanse your internal body and help you connect to yoga beyond the physical practice of asanas.
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