Shatkarma: yoga cleansing techniques

To most of us in the West, the ancient yoga cleansing techniques seem alien and a little scary. But they are an important part of the yoga tradition. Fitness First yoga expert Ashok Naik talks us through the six main forms.


But first, a word of warning: we strongly recommend trying these techniques only under the supervision of an experienced teacher.


The Sanskrit word shatkarma means internal purification. These cleansing processes purify the body so that pranayama (breathing) and meditation may be pursued without discomfort, fatigue or interruption.


Essentialy there are six cleansing processes:




shatkarma cleansing

The ancient nasal cleansing practice of neti has gained scientific credence recently (see our story here). The process of neti cleans the nasal passages, the pharynx, and the sinus cavities.


There are two types of neti: Sutra (comprising a fine thread) and Jal (water).


In Sutra neti the practitioner keeps hold of one end of the thread while passing the other up through one nostril at a time and pulling it out through the mouth. A rubber catheter can be used to start with.


In jal neti the practitioner uses a neti pot - he or she uses a small vessel with a spout to pour water into one nostril. The water then pours out of the other nostril or the mouth.




Dhauti means washing or cleansing, and refers to a process that purifies the entire alimentary canal, including the mouth, the food pipe, the stomach, the intestines, and the rectum. There are 11 types of Dhauti that cleanse 7 specific parts of the alimentary canal.


But the most popular and easy to learn are Vastra and Vaman. Vastra Dhauti removes phlegm, bile, and other impurities from the stomach.


The practitioner swallows a piece of cloth that is about three inches wide and 20 feet in length: dip the cloth in lukewarm water. Insert one end in to the mouth.


Begin to swallow little by little, taking care to do so gradually without chewing the cloth. If it sticks inside the food pipe and will move no further, sip a little water to lubricate the passageway.


Continue swallowing until nearly the entire length of cloth is swallowed. Be sure to leave a small portion of the cloth outside of the mouth. Retain the cloth in the stomach for about 5 minutes.


During this time apply Nauli Kriya, explained at the later stage. Remove the cloth by pulling out very slowly. Phlegm, bile and other impurities will be absorbed by the cloth and there by removed from the body.




Basti means a natural method of cleansing the large intestine. There are two types, Jal (water) and Sthal (ground) or Shushka (dry) Basti.


In Jal Basti a practitioner sits in a tub filled with waist high water and draws water through rectum and into the colon.


He creates a vacuum in the rectum and lower colon through Uddiyan Bandh (stomach lock) and Nauli. After sufficient water is drawn in he expels the water through anal canal. In medical method enema is used.

Please note that only advance practitioner uses ‘Sthal' or ‘Shushka' Basti.



Nauli Kriya


nauli kriyaIn this practice, the rectus abdominal muscles are strongly involved.


In Nauli the abdomen is drawn in, projecting the rectus abdomen muscles forward and expanding and contracting them in such a way as to resemble the waves of the sea.


The technique provides a powerful message to the intestines and digestive organs, and is held to increase the ‘bodily fire'.


Nauli is a somewhat difficult yoga exercise to perform. It requires adequate control of the abdominal muscles, especially the rectus abdominals.




This is a cleansing technique that many yoga practitioners are familiar with - especially those following the Sivananda style.


In Sanskrit Kapal means ‘skull' and Bhati means 'shining'. So Kapalabhati it also known as ‘shining skull'.

The technique can be practised in either standing or sitting position. Sit on the floor in Sukhasan (cross legs) or Padmasana (lotus).


Place the hands on the knees. Keep your back straight all the time. Breath in and out rapidly without pausing between inhalation and exhalation.


The exhalations should be forceful , but the inhalations should be automatic and effortless. Contract the abdominal muscles fiercely at each exhalation. Repeat this in quick succession, performing fifteen or twenty sets at a stretch. Rhythm is more important than speed.




Tratak means ‘gazing steadily at one point without blinking'. Tratak improves mental focus and increases the supply of blood to the eyes as it cleanses and strengthens them. A popular, pleasant tratak technique is to gaze at the naked flame of a candle.


Warning: Although some of the cleansing processes appear simple. We strongly recommend that you use them only under the supervision of an experienced teacher.





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