ShatKarma – The Six Yogic cleansing

Those shatkarma which effect purification of the body are secret. They have manifold, wondrous results and are held in high esteem by eminent yogis.

Hatha Yoga Pradipika 2:23

The first step to gain mastery in Yoga is through purifying the body of toxins. Shatkarma (sometimes referred as Shatkriya) consist of six groups of purification practices. ‘Shat’ means ‘six’ and ‘Karma’ or ‘Kriya’ means ‘art’ or ‘process’. The word kriya or karma is used in Hatha Yoga in a special technical sense regarding the techniques of cleaning. The practice of shatkarma is also used to balance the internal disorders (doshas) of the body i.e. kapha – mucus, pitta– bile, and vata – wind. According to both Ayurveda and Hatha yoga, an imbalance in the doshas results in illness. The aim of Hatha Yoga and, therefore, of the shatkriyas is creating harmony within the major energy channels (ida & pingla) thereby attaining physical and mental balance.

There are many cleansing techniques for purifying different systems in our body – bathing, washing the face, brushing teeth etc; in that sense, we all practices them. But yogic cleansing refers to special Yoga techniques meant to cleanse and also heal the inner organs. Hence, these purificatory processes are both preventive and curative and so occupy a significant space in the field of Yoga Therapy.

The Shatkarmas affect and activate almost all of the vital systems in the body, especially the digestive, respiratory, circulatory and nervous systems. Every individual organ of importance, like the food pipe, stomach, colon, lungs, eyes and ears, receives equal attention. Among several Kriyas available in the Yogic lore, six major Kriyas are comprehensive. Each of these consists of a variety of practices. I am mentioning only the most common practices:

  1. Trataka for eyes – practice of intense gazing at one point or object which develops the power of concentration
  2. Neti for cleansing upper nasal tract i.e from throat to nostrils
  3. Kapalbhati for lower respiratory tract from nostrils to lungs – a breathing technique for purifying the frontal region of the brain
  4. Dhouti series of cleansing techniques for digestive track. Some of them are:
    • Varisara – cleansing of the intestines
    • Vahnisara (agnisara) for activating the digestive fire
    • Vaman  – cleansing stomach with water
    • Vatasara – cleansing intestines with air
  5. Nauli technique of massaging and strengthening the abdominal muscles and viscera
  6. Basti a technique for washing and toning the large intestine i.e lower Gastric Intestine (GIT)
Therapeutic benefits of these practices are:-
Neti(1a,b) – Removes cold, hypersensitivity, headache, sinusitis, bronchitis
Dhouti(2a,b,c,4a,b) Good for flatulence and dyspepsia (indigestion), Cures asthma and bronchitis
Basti(3) Keeps health of abdominal organs by removing all impurities, cures chronic constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disorder, mal-absorption syndrome, dyspepsia and piles.
Nauli(4c) – Panacea for many abdominal and stomach ailments including constipation, piles, gastritis, indigestion and diabetes, alleviate depression, dullness and lethargy
Trataka(5)Errors of refraction get corrected, strengthens the ability of the lens to adjust better to distances
Kapalbhati(6a,b,c)Nice massage to all abdominal organs. People with digestive problems are highly benefited. It cleanses the lungs and also entire respiratory tract. It is good for asthmatics and for other respiratory disorder

The effects of the 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 without blockages. One’s capacity to work, think, digest, taste, feel, experience, etc., increases and greater awareness develops preparing the practitioner for successful progression along the Yogic path.