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Shatkarma: Six Techniques to Cleanse Body & Mind

Health is not just the absence of diseases. It is a holistic state of being where the mind is happy, stress-free, and light; the body is healthy and disease-free; the ego is pure and uninhibited; and the breath is quiver-free.

Unfortunately, when examined on these parameters, we often find ourselves wanting, and most of it can be blamed on the overconsumption of unhealthy, unfavorable food, an unsustainable lifestyle, excessive stress and anxiety, exposure to pollutants and contaminants in food and products we use on a day to day basis. Here’s where yoga—not just as a set of physical postures, but a deep and vast system of knowledge of the body and mind and its purification—offers help.

One of the oldest and most prolific treatises on the science of yoga is the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. It continues to be relevant, effective, and sought after even today as a body of knowledge on everything yoga. The Pradipika outlines Shatkarma (Shat kriyas) or six purification procedures designed to cleanse the body and mind. ‘Shat’ in Sanskrit means six, and ‘karma’ translates to action or technique. The six techniques that make up Shatkarma are neti, dhauti, nauli, basti, kapalbhati, and trataka. Let’s delve more into these.

Neti (Nasal Cleanse)

Neti is a technique that involves cleansing the nasal passages using a neti pot, a small pot with a spout filled with warm saline water. Neti is an excellent technique to relieve symptoms of nasal or pollen allergies, conditions like rhinosinusitis, perpetual sinus inflammations, running nose, nasal blockages, irritated nasal cavity, recovering from nasal surgeries, or even asthma or any other respiratory condition for that matter. Some of the benefits of neti cleansing include

  • Balancing the autonomic nervous system and activating the parasympathetic nervous system responsible for rest and relaxation
  • Protecting the upper respiratory functions
  • Treating sinuses and nasal inflammation
  • Reducing headaches and migraines caused by sinus blockages
  • Relief from chronic allergy symptoms.

Here’s everything you need to know about neti.

Dhauti (Digestive Cleanse)

Dhauti involves the cleansing of the digestive tract. This is done by drinking saltwater and then inducing vomiting through yogasanas. This technique is helpful for people who suffer from digestive problems or constipation. There are various types of dhauti; the most popular one is the Shankha Prakshalana or Varisara Dhauti.

To perform Shankha Prakshalana, the participant drinks a large quantity of lukewarm saline water. The amount of water is determined by the individual’s body weight and constitution.
After drinking the water, a series of yoga asanas are performed to help the water move through the digestive system. The asanas help massage the abdominal organs and facilitating the release of toxins.

After performing the asanas, the water is expelled from the body. Repeat the process until the water coming out of the body is clear.

Dhauti should be done under the supervision of a yoga expert. It should not be done by everyone, especially if you have severe digestive disorders or are pregnant. Practice on an empty stomach, preferably in the morning.

Nauli (Abdominal Stimulation)

Nauli is a technique that involves the massage and stimulation of the abdominal muscles. It is typically performed on an empty stomach and is often incorporated into pranayama or yogic breathing exercises.

Nauli is often practiced as part of a larger yoga routine. Some of its benefits include

  • Improved digestion
  • Constipation relief
  • Reduced bloating
  • Weight loss
  • Stronger core muscles and reduced backache
  • Calms mind and reduced stress and anxiety levels.

To perform nauli, sit in a comfortable seated position with your legs crossed. Exhale all of the air from your lungs and hold your breath. Next, contract the abdominal muscles and pull inwards, creating a circular motion. Do this by isolating the rectus abdominal muscles and rotating them in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction.
Once the circular motion has been completed a few times, release the abdominal muscles and inhale deeply.

It is vital to approach this practice with caution and guidance from a qualified yoga instructor, as it can be challenging and potentially harmful if done improperly.

Basti (Colon Cleansing)

This special technique involves cleansing the colon using warm water or herbal decoctions. It is useful for people with constipation, bloating, or other digestive problems. Introducing herbal oils or medicated decoctions into the rectum as part of an overall panchakarma cleanse helps to clear out the toxins from the colon, which, if not removed, can lead to the formation of ama and impede the proper functioning of the major organs in the body and slow down metabolism. Some of its benefits include

  • Better digestion
  • Bolstered immunity
  • Pain relief
  • Hormonal balance
  • Clearer skin
  • Better respiratory health.

Learn more basti treatments and how basti is done.

Kapalbhati (Rapid Abdominal Breathing)

Another popular yogic import, kapalbhati is a rapid breathing practice where one fills in and empties the lungs in rapid succession by pulling in and effortlessly releasing the stomach muscles. ‘kapalbhati’ comes from two Sanskrit words: ‘kapal’ or the skull, and ‘bhati’ meaning shining or illuminating and is often called the skull-shining breath.

Read Kapalbhati Pranayama— Breathe Your Way to Better Weight Loss

This powerful breathing exercise involves forceful out breaths through the nose, while the inhales are passive. It strengthens the respiratory system, improves digestion, and boosts metabolism. It also helps strengthen the abdominal muscles, which can lead to a flatter stomach, and produces a calming effect on the mind, reducing stress and anxiety. Practicing kapalbhati regularly can help increase mental clarity and focus.

Trataka (Eye Gazing)

Trataka—which in Sankrit means ‘to gaze’—involves gazing at a fixed point or object, which could be a candle flame or a point on the wall. The aim here is to improve concentration and focus.

Trataka practice is good for eye health and helps deal with problems like myopia, hypermetropia, or astigmatism. It can help you focus better, bolster memory, and calm the mind. Trataka is also said to stimulate the third eye chakra, which is believed to be responsible for intuition and psychic abilities.

To practice Trataka, sit in a cross-legged position with eyes fixed on a particular point or object —a flame, symbol, or simply a point on the wall. Stare without blinking or moving the eyeballs for a given period of time. You may tend to have watery eyes in the beginning of the practice or feel some type of strain; with time and practice it gets better.

All of these approaches feed both the body and mind in healthy ways, and if practiced regularly,  make room for the radiant health, light and wisdom to emerge and illuminate our lives.

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