Because of industrialization of economy and exploitation of natural resources either by ignorance or by choice, we have made the water, air and soil contaminated around us. No matter how much hygiene or cleanliness we practice but the food we eat and the air we breathe is no longer as pure and fresh as used to be ages back. The things have changed so fast that earth, water and air that have been source of life to men have been converted to threat to human health. We have to combat impurities as these can also lead to bad health or diseased state. Moreover while persuading the path of yoga we might encounter obstacles due to impurities present in our body and mind which can stop our progression.
Shatkarmas are the yogic practices for internal cleansing and purification of the body. The word shatkarma is consisting of two words, “shat” meaning six and “karma” meaning action. Thus shatkarmas consist of six different practices that work on removing toxins from our respiratory and digestive system which are main root cause of majority of diseases. It helps in purification of frontal lobes which promotes good concentration and creativity, also prevents many disorders related to our sense organ like nose, ear, eye and skin.
These six practices further have different techniques that were earlier taught by the word of mouth from guru to disciple but today with the availability of information we can easily read and know about them. But precaution should always be taken while performing them by merely reading as they can do harm too and the guidance of a guru or teacher should be preferred. Yogic texts say “Gurupdisht Margenah yogmeiv samabhayseit” (yoga should be practiced under the guidance of competent master) for risk free practice. Moreover practices of shatkarmas should be combined with other practices of hatha yoga to get the maximum benefit.
Advantages of shatkarmas
- Shatkarma techniques have a very positive effect on energy levels of body and mind that keeps us fresh and active for a prolonged period. Thus by practicing shatkarmas, a person enhances his or her ability to think, feel and work.
- For better results of pranayama and stable asanas, shatkarmas are included in yoga regime and are performed generally before all other practices.
- As shatkarmas purifies the body therefore they help in preservation of good health by keeping a lot of diseases at arm’s length.
- Shatkarmas are wonderful preventive medicine that helps to protect us from different diseases and cure a lot of disorders faster such as sinusitis, migraine, asthma, dust and pollen allergies, food allergies, halitosis, constipation, dysentery, kidney stones, skin disease and acnes, sexual dysfunction insomnia and anxiety disorders etc.
Shatkarma techniques at a glimpse
Neti: (Nasal cleansing technique)
Our nostrils are not only the passage for air flow but also they work at removing the impurities present in the form of dust particles or small insects. They ensure that pure and in right quantity air should reaches to our lungs for absorption of oxygen and proper functionality of organs. If our nostrils are unclean or blocked, they will cause irregular breathing and filtration mechanism might not function properly.
“Neti” are the techniques for the purification of our nostrils. This practice cleans our nostrils and helps to maintain the balance of airflow, especially which is required during many yoga practices like pranayama. Neti are mainly of two types i.e. Sutra neti (done with cotton thread ) and Jala neti (done with water).
- In jala neti we pour lukewarm salted water into one nostril with the help of neti pot and allow it to flow out from the opposite nostril then repeat the same process vice versa. In second discipline intake from both nostrils and flow out from mouth and thirdly pour lukewarm salted water from mouth and allow it to flow out from nostrils.
- In sutra neti we insert a rolled string of cotton thread through the nasal passage by allowing it to come down to the back of throat (oropharynx). Then the string is hold between the fingers and drawn out gently giving a massage experience in the nostrils. To make the practice easy some teachers may advise to replace cotton neti with rubber catheter in the beginning.
Neti have a beneficial effects on the organs related to head, it cleanses mucus and promotes blood circulation. It helps to overcome the problems like sinusitis, migraine, common cold and provides a preventive measure too. Sutra neti also clears away dried up mucus deposits, foreign bodies from nose and activates the tear ducts which relieves eyes by naturally cleaning them. These techniques needs some practice and should be done under the guidance of a Guru or a Yoga teacher. These can be practiced either daily of on alternate days.
Dhauti: (Digestive system cleansing technique)
Ayurveda states “Sarv roga malashrehya” (all diseases find their origin in mala i.e. impurities). Majorly diseases have root causes related to stomach. Dhauti are the techniques meant for cleaning our digestive system and relieving from the conditions like food allergies, constipation, acidity, indigestion, halitosis (bad breath), menstrual cramps, acne and asthma etc. This shatkarma promotes normal functioning of the intestines and alleviates feeling of nausea in case of hyperacidity or when one has eaten something wrong. It also prevents from the formation of kidney stones and urinary infections.
There are mainly three types of Dhauti that are popular in today's practices: “Jala Dhauti” popularly known as Kunjal kriya done with lukewarm water, “Vastra Dhauti” done with cotton cloth nearly 3 meters long and 10 centimetres wide and Vaarisaar antar dhauti with a combination of lukewarm water and prescribed asanas to clean the food pipe, stomach, small and large intestines and the anus within one and a half an hour. This shatkarma should be done empty stomach so morning time is preferred for practicing it. These can be practiced either once or twice per week depending on expert’s / master’s advice. The food one chooses to eat after this practice should be light and with minimum spices as the lining of digestive tract may get erode which needs to be re-established.
Basti: (Colon cleansing technique)
Basti is one of important and difficult shatkarma. As Dhauti cleanse the upper digestive tract, basti is used to cleanse the lower digestive tract therefore known as colon cleansing technique. Earlier yogis used to practice basti by standing into flowing river in half squatting position and using a hollow reed to take in the water through anus. Thus the water was taken into lower digestive tract and expelled out back into the river. In modern times use of ‘enema’ technique produces the same results.
Basti cleans the colon by giving the scrubbing effect and removing the accumulated waste from the intestines. Basti removes extra heat from the system especially when it is generated during advanced yoga practices. It strengthens the abdominal muscles, increases appetite and helps in relieving constipation and other stomach ailments. Basti can be practiced once a month or as per requirement during the times of seasonal changes and should be performed empty stomach.
Nauli: (Abdominal and intestines massaging technique)
It is said in yogic practices that every muscle of body should be given its natural movement at least once in a day as it brings our energy back into flow and releases the blockages if any. Flow of energy is like flowing water, if it comes to standstill, it will get contaminated.
Nauli is one of the best techniques which strengthen and tones the abdominal muscles. It gives a soothing effect by deep massaging the intestine and lower abdominal muscles as we contract, roll and rotate them in nauli. It regulates the blood pressure, increases the efficiency of pancreas, promotes sexual vitality, activates the function of liver and reduces obesity. Nauli regulates entire digestive system and helps in internal cleansing of toxins and waste products.
Before starting the practice of nauli, a yoga practitioner should have practiced to perform Agnisara kriya and Uddiyana bandha for few weeks. Nauli can be practiced or performed everyday and should be done empty stomach.
Kapalbhati: (Frontal lobes and lungs cleansing technique)
Kapalbhati is also a type of shatkarma technique though some people have started calling it a type of pranayama perhaps because it appears a respiratory exercise. The meaning of word kapalbhati is derived from language Sanskrit and is made up of two words, “Kapal” meaning skull and “bhati” meaning to shine. Therefore kapalbhati is just a technique for the purification of frontal lobes. It has effects on cleansing of lungs and toning up of naval centre too. As frontal lobes are the part of our brain which are responsible for the creative thinking and complex problem solving so the practice of kapalbhati gives refreshing effect and fills the practitioner with energy. Kapalbhati makes facial muscles and nerves relaxed; it increases the capacity of lungs and also makes them strong. It deeply massages the abdominal muscles, reduces fat, throws out carbon dioxide from body in large quantities and purifies the blood. Traditionally yogis have believed it as anti aging technique and spiritually it helps in awakening Manipur and Agyaa chakra too. Kapalbhati is practiced in two styles that have to be learnt under expert guidance.
In kapalbhati we expel our breath through nose by a strong rhythmic contraction of abdominal muscles. Only exhalation process is forceful and strong by contracting abdominal muscles while inhalation being passive. This process is repeated for a number of times to constitute one round of kapalbhati. Our lungs acts as bellows of blacksmith and gives the same effect. The whole process of breathing is done through abdominal muscles by minimizing the movement of chest and emphasizing on exhalation. A beginner can do 10-50 repetition of rapid breathing in one round by increasing the repetition gradually with time. Initially three rounds of kapalbhati can be done which can be increased to maximum of ten rounds with practice.
Trataka: (Eye cleansing and concentration technique)
Trataka means to gaze at a particular object without winking the eyes. The modern version of this technique is usually recommended to be performed with a lit candle or bright lamp placed at the level of chest at honourable distance. The flame should be still while performing this technique. A yoga practitioner concentrates initially for few seconds on the tip of flame and then tries to see the image with closed eyes till it fades away. Gradually the time is increased and it is recommended in a ratio of 1:4. That means if you concentrates for one minute with opened eyes then try to concentrate for four minutes with closed eyes.
Trataka can also be performed by gazing at black point on white paper or betel, symbol of “om” or with objects like crystal ball. Practice of trataka activates the tear glands which cleanses the eyes, strengthens the eye muscles and improves vision. It helps in developing better memory by improving concentration, enhances the ability to visualize, reduces oscillating tendencies of mind and increases willpower. Trataka can be performed at any time but best recommended is the dawn or dusk after the practice of asanas and pranayama. For higher gains yogis go for deeper practices of trataka. A sadhak learns to concentrate on moon, running water, his own shadow and even sun for different results.