|[ Excerpt from The Science of Yoga, page 124 ]
In the early UPANISHADS, the shat karmas of hatha yoga, also known as shat kriyas, were revealed as a very precise and systematic science for bodily purification. Shat means "six" and karma, in this sense, means “action.”
Therefore these were the "six actions," a group of six purification practices that are an essential part of the practice of hatha yoga and the process of creating harmony between the two major prana nadis, ida and pingala—thereby attaining physical and mental purification and balance. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika states:
"When fat or mucus is excessive, the Shat Karmas or six cleansing techniques should be practiced before (Pranayama). Others, in whom the Doshas (i.e. phlegm, wind, and bile) are balanced, need not do them."
So the shat karmas are also used to balance the three ayurvedic doshas, or humors in the body: kapha (mucus), pitta (bile) and vata (wind).
These practices are also used before pranayama and other higher yoga practices in order to purify the body of toxins and to ensure the safe and successful progression along the spiritual path.
The Shat Karmas are as Follows:
- Neti - The process of cleansing and purifying the nasal passages. the two types are jala neti (water) and sutra neti (thread).
- Dhauti - A series of cleansing techniques that are divided into three main groups; they are the antar dhauti (internal cleansing), sirsha dhauti (head cleansing), and hrid dhauti (thoracic cleansing). The internal cleansing techniques, which clean the entire alimentary canal from the mouth to the anus, are divided into four main practices: shankhaprakshalana, which cleanses the intestines with salt water; vahnisara dhauti (agnisar kriya), which activates the digestive fire; vamana dhauti (kunjal kriya), which cleanses the stomach with water; and vatsara dhauti, which cleanses the intestines with air.
- Nauli - A method of massaging and strengthening the abdominal organs.
- Basti - Techniques for washing and toning the large intestines.
- Kapalabhati - A breathing technique for purifying the frontal region of the brain.
- Trataka - The practice of intense gazing at one point, which cleanses the eyes and develops the power of concentration.
Some of the shat karmas require personal guidance from an experienced teacher. Though many people do experiment with these techniques based on second-hand information or instructions from books, this is not advised, as complications from insufficient understanding and improper execution can arise.
In the next article, I'll outline some basic, but also necessary daily cleansing practices that can safely be practiced by everyone...
NOTE: This yoga article is an excerpt from The Science of Yoga, an online yoga training program with streaming yoga videos and 600 pages of step-by-step yoga instruction.
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