YOGA HYGIENE: SHAT KRIYAS
A preparation for Hatha Yoga practice is to make the body clean. The body is the tool and our first subject in experiencing how everything is connected. By “cleaning the tool” we make it more sensitive and thus have clearer observations. We also keep “the lab” up and running without any difficulties. I really enjoy these practices. They are pleasant with experience and develop self love because you are really taking care of yourself. There are endless variations of Kriyas but the Hatha Yoga Pradipika details six cleansing practices, the Shat Kriyas. It should also be noted that these are not only physical cleansings. The awareness used for the shat kriyas reveals how the bodies automatic cleansing responses; defecation, urination, sweating, crying, coughing, sneezing, etc., are triggered by our lifestyle and how they are related to emotional states and societal behaviors. In some ways these relationships are obvious. In other ways, ones not so easily put into words, let’s say many of us can understand much more about ourselves. Your own experiential understanding will go the farthest. Best to practice!
If you’ve never done any of these Kriyas, first learn them from a physically present teacher. They are detailed here only for refinement of technique and knowledge.
Kapalabhati – Impulse Breathing
Typically best practiced in the seated Asana such as Vajrasana or Sukhasana. It can also be practiced standing with feet apart, hands on bent knees and arms straight as a preperation for Uddiyana. This is a cleansing technique for the lungs. The name translates as ‘head polishing’ as the practice energizes the brain’s frontal lobe and psychic energy centers. It also stimulates digestive and abdominal strength, assists movement through the GI tract, and flushes the blood stream with oxygen. The breath is pumped out in rapid, short blasts followed by passive inhales from the release of the abdomen and diaphragm. Work the action in the lower abdomen with as little movement elsewhere as possible. Let your face be calm and comfortable. Not to be done after meals or when there is stomach pain.
Nauli Kriya – Abdominal Churning
Nauli Kriya is the final practice in a series which follows from Uddiyana, which is practiced in the standing position that I mentioned before. Uddiyana occurs when the lungs are emptied, breath paused, and the abdomen is pulled upwards. It is a physical and also energetic lifting to bring energy to the higher energy centers in the chest, throat, and brain. Before breathing again the abdomen should be pushed down and out to release the vacuum Uddiyana creates. There will be the feeling of a small exhale that makes it comfortable to breath in again. During Uddiyana different techniques can be used to stimulate the organs and develop muscular control and circulation. The first is Agnisara which is performed by rhythmically lifting and releasing the uddiyana action. When this is mastered begin practicing by only contracting and releasing the vertical rectus abdominis muscle. When this is mastered practice rolling it from side to side by turning the hips and eventually stirring it in waves across the front and back. This is the Nauli Kriya technique, said to cure all diseases. Also, obviously not to be done after eating or if there is stomach pain.
Dhauti – Stomach Purge
Dhauti is performed in various ways to clean the actual stomach organ. It is good for cases of over acidity or food poisoning but personally if you are taking care of yourself by diet and other practices you probably won’t need to do this unless for curiousity sake. I never have, personally. One way to perform Dhauti is by saline solution which is ingested in large volumes until vomiting. Another way is to slowly swallow the end of a long cloth, letting it soak up the digestive fluids and then pull it back out again.
Jala and Sutra Neti – Nasal Flush
Neti is a practice which cleans the sinuses superficially and also stimulates the body to purge other toxins from the lymph system. Jala neti is done with a water pot which is poured through one nostril and out the other by tilting the head to the side and slightly up. Breath slowly through the mouth as the water moves through. It’s great to do before pranayama practices. The water should be in a lukewarm saline solution. It is important to get all the water out afterwards by doing kapalabhati and turning the head from side to side as you exhale. A few times a week is usually enough but it’s perfectly fine to do everyday, especially if you live in a polluted city or in a dry winter climate. Sutra Neti is performed with a clean waxed string which is inserted through the nose and out through the mouth. Gently pull the string back and forth for 10-20 seconds for each nostril.
Trataka – Vision Clarity
Trataka is a practice of focusing the eyes to a point, typically a candle’s flame, without blinking until the eyes become wet and cleansed. Close the eyes and let them rest for as long as you gazed at the flame while you imagine the flame between the eyebrows. The candle should be about 3-4 feet away and at eye height. You can also gaze to the tip of the nose or towards the third eye. Make the movement slow and without strain. Using internal images is also a practice of Trataka. Visualize a geometric shape or diety between the eyebrows with steady focus. This is to increase the powers of perception, strengthen the physical eyes and also learn control in a world full of things calling our attention.
Vasti – Colon Cleansing
This practice is unusual like most of these Kriyas but unusually beneficial as well, especially for the people with the complicated concoction of a modern diet. Vasti refers to the lower potions of the torso. The traditional means of practice are by sucking water, or even air, right through the anus into the colon. The water or air is then expelled again, carrying flushed waste matter. Practicing it this way requires excellent control to say the least…An easier method is through inserting a tube which carries water or coffee. Many diseases are a result of toxicity from the colon and intestine being picked up by surrounding tissue. Unhealthy food or bad combinations trigger the intestines to produce mucus to protect the body from soaking up toxins. If this occurs regularly the mucus can turn into a kind of plaque which is hard to shed unless by fasting and colon cleansing.
There are many practical and empowering yogic cleansing techniques you can come and learn from us at Vikasa Yoga. Hope to see you soon!
So fresh and so cleanly,
About our Author
George Anthony is a yoga teacher and modern mystic that travels the world training teachers, likes diving into self expanding experiences, and loves to share good energy with all people. He’s the director of Sajeeva Yoga School, musician, artist, novice acrobat, acroyogi, cook, handstand master, and philosopher. Join the vibes!