Shat means "six" and kriya means "cleansing". Yogic kriya remove the waste materials of our internal organs which are not expelled normally. Therefore, the aims of Hatha Yoga and of the Shatkriyas are to cleanse the internal organs and thereby create harmony between the major pranic flows, Ida and pingala, and attaining physical and mental purification and balance.
Our bodies are constantly throwing off waste materials through various cleansing mechanisms: lungs, kidneys, sweat glands, bowels. The purpose of these yogic cleansing exercises, known as 'kriyas', is to assist nature in removing waste products. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika prescribes the six kriyas (Shat kriyas) are flabby and phlegmatic in nature.
The six kriyas are:
1. Neti - Nasal cleaning
2. Nauli - Abdominal churning
3. Dhauti - Upper digestive tract cleaning
4. Basti - Colon cleansing
5. Kapalabhati - Cleansing of lungs and bronchial tubes
6. Tratak - Steady gazing
All kriyas are especially beneficial during fasting. They speed up the detoxification process tremendously. Fasting with kriyas is nature's cure for many diseases caused by toxins in the body.
1. Neti: nasal cleansing
Neti is used to cleanse the entire area above the chest. Classically there are two types, jal (water) neti and vastra or sutra (string) neti. Jal neti is especially designed to clean out irritants in the nose and upper pharynx and to rehydrate and moisten the delicate goblet and ciliated cells of the nasal passageway, while sutra neti is a great stimulant of the nerves in the sinus, nose, ears, eyes, and throat greatly relieving congestion and stagnant mucous conditions of the sinus, eyes, ears, throat, and head. Sutra neti being more stimulating is best done in the daytime or morning. It works on the ajna and crown chakras and is beneficial for success in pranayama.
Neti is a safe and simple practice and apart from anyone who has recently undergone surgical interventions in either the sinuses or middle ear it can be practiced freely.
Jala neti: water cleansing
Add a teaspoon of sea salt to a glass of lukewarm water and stir well. With the use of a neti pot, pour the water into one nostril, keeping the head back. Then raise the head and blow the excess water out of the nostril. Repeat with the other nostril. The process is repeated 2-3 times with each nostril. It is important not to inhale while pouring the water into the nostril. To be practiced daily.
An alternative method is to raise the head and allow salt water to flow down into the throat and out of the mouth. Do not try to inhale the water, as it brings an unpleasant sensation. Just allow it to flow to the mouth naturally, by keeping the head raised, and then spit it out. A small quantity of water may remain in the nasal passage, which should be blown out immediately. Jala neti may be practiced daily. If you feel a head cold conning on, or already have a blocked nose, you may do it two to three times per day.
Sutra neti: thread cleansing
Dip the string or catheter into lukewarm salt water. Insert the catheter into the right nostril. When you feel it on the back of the tongue, slowly and carefully draw the catheter out through the mouth using the index finger and thumb. Repeat with left nostril. This can be practiced twice weekly.
2. nauli: abdominal churning
"With the head bent down, one should turn the intestines of the abdomen to the right and left with the slow motion of a small eddy in the river. This is called nauli by the siddhas. This nauli, the crown of Hatha Yoga practices, drives away the dullness of the gastric fire, increases the digestive power, produces a pleasing sensation and destroys all diseases and disorders of the humours."
- Hatha Yoga Pradipika, chapter 2, vs 32-33
Uddiyana bandha and nauli are the best exercises for strengthening the abdominal muscles that assist in the elimination of waste products. Moreover, the manipulation of these muscles increases circulation.
1) Uddiyana bandha
Both uddiyana bandha and nauli strengthen the abdominal muscles and remove sluggishness of the stomach, intestines and liver.
In a standing position, place the hands firmly on the thighs, legs apart and bend slightly forward. Forcefully exhale. Draw the navel and intestines upwards, so that the abdomen rests against the back of the body high in the thoracic cavity. Hold the abdomen in the raised position as long as possible, without inhaling. This can be repeated five to eight times with brief intervals to rest. It may be practiced daily.
2) agni sara - see dhauti
Holding uddiyana bandha, contract the left and right sides of the abdomen. This brings the abdominal muscles into a vertical line. After mastering the central nauli, the next step is to master the side-to-side churning abdomen.
This should not be practiced by pregnant women or if a person is having abdominal cramps or pain.
3. Dhauti: upper digestive tract cleansing
This is called dhauti, and removes asthma, splenetic diseases, leprosy and other diseases brought on by phlegm."
- Hatha Yoga Pradipika, chapter 2, vs. 25
wind purification: plavini
Close the epiglottis and, with a push, swallow a column of air into the stomach. Repeat the process until the stomach is filled with air. Then slowly, belch the air out along with the foul gases from the stomach.
water purification: kunjar kriya or vamana dhauti
Drink four to eight glasses of lukewarm salt water. Press the stomach with the left hand. Put the fingers of the right hand to the back of the throat and vomit the water back. May be done once per week always on an empty stomach
Fire purification: agni sara
Practice uddiyana bandha. Without inhaling, relax the abdominal muscles and draw them in
again in quick succession. Do 5-10 pumping in this manner. This is one round. Practice 3-5 rounds daily.
These exercises (with the exception of Agni Sara) should not be practiced if you have, or have ever had, an eating disorder.
cloth purification: vastra dhauti
Take a fine piece of gauze two -three inches wide and fifteen feet long. Dip it into tepid salt water. Place one end of the cloth into the mouth and begin to chew. Begin to swallow the cloth little by little. In order to get the cloth moving, some water can be drunk along with the cloth. On the first day swallow only one foot of the length, retain it for a few minutes, and then take it out slowly. Thus, little by little, the whole cloth can be swallowed. Retain it in the stomach for two minutes. Keeping the position, if you can, practice nauli. Then withdraw the gauze slowly and carefully. When the kriya is over, drink some milk or warm water with honey to lubricate the throat. This kriya can be practiced once a week in the early morning on an empty stomach.
4. BASTI: COLON CLEANSING
“By the power of basti, splenetic diseases, dropsy and other diseases arising from an excess of wind, bile and phlegm are removed, This basti when duly practiced, refines the bodily constitution, indriyas (sense organs), and the antahkarana (inner instrument). It makes the body bright and increases the digestive power. It destroys all the defects in constitution.
-Hatha Yoga Pradipika, chapter 2, vs 27-28
Basti is done by creating a vacuum in the intestines by which water is drawn into the lower colon. Sitting in a tub of water and practicing nauli creates the vacuum by which water is drawn into the large intestine. To keep the sphincter muscles open, a small tube (about four inches in length) is inserted into the rectum. As soon as the water is drawn in, the tube should be removed, and then with a few abdominal churnings, the water is expelled from the large intestines.
This practice strengthens the abdominal muscles, cures urinary and digestive disorders and chronic constipation. Basti may be practiced once a week. An enema can be taken instead of the classical basti, but not too often (maximum one - two times per month) as enemas tend to weaken rather than strengthen the colon.
5. KAPALABHATI – CLEANSING OF LUNGS AND BRONCHIAL TUBES
One of the six kriyas, kapalabhati is usually practiced with pranayama. It is an exercise for the purification of the nasal passages, bronchial tubes and lungs. Kapalabhati is the best exercise to stimulate every tissue in the body. During and after practice, you may experience a particular joy, especially in the spinal centers. When the vital nerve current is stimulated through this exercise, the entire spine will be like a live wire and one can experience the movement of nerve current.
Great quantities of carbon dioxide gas are eliminated. Intake of oxygen makes the blood richer and renews the body tissues. Moreover, the constant movement of the diaphragm acts as a stimulant to stomach, liver and pancreas.
"Look (without winking the eyelids) at a minute object with your mind concentrated till the tears come into the eyes. This is called trataka by the gurus. By trataka, all diseases of the eye and sloth are removed. So it should be carefully preserved secretly as a golden casket."
- Hatha Yoga Pradipika, chapter 2, vs 31-32
Tratak, steady gazing at a particular point or object without blinking, develops powers of concentration and strengthens the eyes. It is very useful for students of all paths of yoga.
Place a candle at eye-level, 3-4 feet from the body. Sit erect with body relaxed. For one minute, gaze at the candle flame without blinking. Then close the eyes, relax the eye muscle and visualize the flame between the eyebrows for a minute. Repeat the practice; gradually increase the period from one to three minutes, spending equal time relaxing the eyes. This exercise stimulates the nerve centers, develops good concentration and strengthens the eyes.
Advanced students start concentrating by directing and turning the half-closed eye towards the space between the eyebrows (Ajna Chakra). By this practice, the olfactory and optic nerves are stimulated. In turn, the autonomic and central nervous systems are awakened. Done slowly without strain, this exercise has a soothing effect on the cranial nerves and enables the mind to become one-pointed. In the beginning, practice only for one or two minutes. Caution is advised so that the eye muscles are not strained or damaged.
Sit in a comfortable position with body relaxed and gaze at the tip of the nose for 1 -2 minutes. Avoid too much strain. If pain or tiredness is felt, close and relax the eyes. Repeat a few times. This strengthens the eye muscles and increases the power of concentration.
Don't do sutra neti if you have an upper respiratory infection, as it may help to spread it.
Q1. What are the 6 kriyas?
Q2. What are the 2 forms of neti? What are their benefits, and how often should they be practiced?
Q3. Which kriyas should you practice regularly, and how often