Body purification for achieving our goal of self realization
Our body is an instrument for self-realization. So we must treat it like a temple. Thus, for it to perform at a very high level, we must keep it clean, strong and healthy. If the body breaks down, then we will not reach our goal of “Atma-Sakshatkara” (Self-Realization). Thus, body purification or body cleansing techniques are very important to help us achieve our goal.
There are 3 humours in the body: kapha (mucus), pitta (bile) and vata (wind). In yoga and ayurveda we call them “tridosha”. A balanced proportions of these 3 facilitates body functions. However, if there is an excess of one and a shortage of another, then ailments develop due to overheating or scarcity of heat in the body.
Shatkarma (Body purification techniques)
Before proceeding with any meditation practices, we must remove any imbalances in the body. First of all, we must reduce excess body fat and mucus blocking the respiratory tract. Then we must eliminate gas in the intestines and stomach.
Our ancestors specifically designed 6 particular practices for this purpose. They named it the shatkarma (purificatory or cleansing techniques). Shat means ‘six’ and karma means “action”. These techniques regulate the productions of the doshas (humours).
The body purification techniques (shatkarma) are indeed very powerful practices. It is not possible to learn shatkarma from books or from inexperienced people. These purification techniques are very sacred. Thus, only a master can personally teach and instruct a practitioner how to perform them and how often, according to individual need.
The shatkarma specifically increase the vital capacity of the practitioner. The ancient yogis did not design the shatkarma for therapy alone, but to create harmony in the body and mind and to prepare one for further practices. As they bring about smooth and perfect functioning of the bodily systems, such practices allow the mind to become free from turbulence and disturbances and thus be better able to concentrate and to move towards dhyana – “contemplation, reflection” and “profound, abstract meditation“.
The effects of shatkarma 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. Consequently one’s capacity to work, think, digest, taste, feel, experience, etc. increases, and greater awareness develops. Therefore, it is no wonder that the yogis who have achieved perfection and know the real extent of human capacity, regard the shatkarma with great esteem.
Classification of shatkarma (body purification)
On the whole, there are 6 main groups of shatkarma (yogic cleansers) and they are as follows:
- Neti: nasal cleansing.
- Dhauti: cleansing of the digestive tract.
- Nauli: abdominal massage.
- Basti: colon cleaning.
- Kapalbhati: purification and vitalization of the frontal lobes.
- Trataka: blinkless gazing.
Although only 6 in number, each has a variety of practises.
Neti: Nasal Cleansing
Neti allows mainly to clean the air passageways in the head. It has 4 practices:
- Jala (water) neti, passing warm saline water through the nose.
- Sutra (thread) neti, passing a soft thread through the nose.
- Ghrita (ghee) neti, passing clarified butter through the nose.
- Dugdha (milk) neti, passing milk through the nose.
Dhauti: cleansing of the digestive tract
Dhauti consists of a series of simple practices which clean various organs and regions of the head. It consists of 4 parts:
- Antar (internal) dhauti.
- vatsara dhauti, expelling air through the anus.
- varisara dhauti, evacuating a large quantity of water through the bowels.
- vahnisara dhauti, rapid expansion/contraction of the abdomen.
- bahiskrita dhauti, washing the rectum in the hands.
- Hrid (cardiac) dhauti.
- danda dhauti, inserting a soft banana stem into the stomach.
- vastra dhauti, swallowing a long thin strip of cloth.
- vaman dhauti, regurgitating the contents of the stomach.
- Danta dhauti is concerned with cleaning the teeth and gums.
- Moola shodhana has 2 practices. We can either insert a turmeric root or the middle finger into the anus.
Nauli: abdominal massage
Nauli is a yogic technique of massaging the entire abdomen and stomach by contracting and rolling the abdominal muscles. It has 3 practices:
- Dakshina nauli: the muscles are isolated and churned to the right.
- Vama nauli: the muscles are isolated and churned to the left.
- Madhyama nauli: the muscles are isolated and churned to the middle.
Basti: colon cleaning
Basti consists of cleansing the colon by sucking in air or water through the anus. It is thus divided into 2 parts:
- Jala (water) basti: It consists of sucking water into the large intestine through the anus and then expelling it.
- Sthala (dry) basti: It consists of sucking air into the large intestine.
Kapalbhati: purification and vitalization of the frontal lobes
Kapalbhati menas ‘frontal brain bellowing’. It has 3 practices:
- Vatkrama kapalbhati: rapid and forceful inhalation and exhalation, except that exhalation is active while inhalation is passive, the opposite of normal breathing.
- Vyutkrama kapalbhati: sucking water in through the nose and finally expelling it through the mouth.
- Sheetkrama kapalbhati: water is taken through the mouse and eventually expelled through the nose.
Trataka: blinkless gazing
Trataka involves gazing at a point or object without blinking the eyes. Therefore it is a method of focusing the eyes and in turn the mind on one point to the exclusion of all others. It has 2 practices:
- Antar (internal) .
- Bahir (external) .
Although these six fundamental cleansing techniques are the most important aspects of hatha yoga, unfortunately few people are now proficient in the shatkarma. However, nowadays asana (postures) and pranayama (breath control) are more widely known.
However, if practised properly, the benefits are huge. They have manifold, wondrous results and are held in high esteem by eminent yogis.