“Trataka, Neti, Dhauti, Nauli, Basti and Kapalbhati these are known as shatkarma (or six cleansing processes).”
Purity of body encourages purity of the mind. Yoga has developed six cleansing techniques or “Shat Kriyas” for purification of the physical body. Through these simple exercises, nature is assisted in the elimination of waste products and mucus. Many mental and physical ailments may be alleviated through the practice of kriyas.
Shatkarmas or Six Cleansing Techniques
When fat or mucus is excessive, the shatkarmas or six cleansing technique should be practiced before (pranayama). Others, in whom the doshas (i.e., phlegm, wind and bile) are balanced, need not do them. [Hatha Yoga Pradipika]
Hatha yoga, as described in the early yoga Upanishads, was made up of the shatkarmas and is a very precise and systematic science. Shat means ‘six’ and karma means ‘action’. The shatkarmas consist of six groups of purification practices.
The aim of Hatha yoga and also the shatkarmas is to create harmony between the two major pranic flows, ida & pingala, thereby attaining physical and mental purification, and balance.
The shatkarmas are also used to balance the three doshas or humours in the body: Kapha – mucus; pitta – bile; and vata – wind. According to Ayurveda & Hatha yoga, an imbalance of the doshas will result in illness. These practices are also used before pranayama and the other higher yoga practices (i.e. more spiritual practices) in order to purify the body of toxins and to ensure steady and successful progression along the spiritual path.
These powerful techniques should never be learned from books or taught by inexperienced people. According to the tradition only those instructed by a guru may teach others.
The six shatkarmas are as follows:-
- Neti: A process of cleansing and purifying the nasal passages.
- Dhauti (internal cleaning) : A series of cleaning in the three main groups : Anthar dhauti or internal cleaning, Sirha dhauti or head cleaning (traditionally called dantha dhauti) & hrid dhauti or thoracic cleaning.
- Nauli: A method of massaging and strengthening the abdominal organs.
- Basti: Techniques for washing and toning the large intestine.
- Kapalbhathi : A breathing technique for purifying the frontal region of the brain.
- Trataka: The practice of intense gazing at one point or object which develops the power of concentration.
The effects of shatkarmas can be summed up in one word – ‘purification’. When the different systems of the body have been purified, the overall result is that energy can flow through the body freely. One’s capacity to work, think, digest, taste, feel, experience etc. increases and greater awareness develops. It is no wonder that the greatest yogis, who have achieved perfection and know the real extent of human capacity, regard the shatkarmas with great esteem.