The Shatkarmas: Yogic Cleansing
The Shatkarmas purify the body and eliminate all toxins, enabling the yogi to progress on the spiritual path without obstacles.
The Shatkarmas or the six actions are purification practices which belong to Hatha Yoga. Their aim is to create balance between Ida and Pingala, the mental and vital energies, and to cleanse the nadis, the pathways of prana. They ensure the body is absolutely cleansed and stimulate most of the body’s vital systems; particularly the digestive, cardiovascular and nervous systems.
Once the body is purified, the yogi commences pranayama in order to move prana through the clear and cleansed nadis. After this come the practices of concentration, meditation and activation of the chakras. The mudras and bandhas are taught as part of hatha yoga, in order to divert the flow of energy within the body.
The Shatkarmas and The Doshas
The shatkarmas balance the body by harmonizing the three doshas or humours within the body. The doshas are kapha - mucus; pitta - bile; and vata - wind. In the Yogic and Ayurvedic viewpoint, any imbalance in the doshas is the cause of illness.
The shatkarmas are known to be secret practices; they are only taught under personal guidance by qualified masters. Only a balanced proportion of the doshas will enable the bodily functions and create perfect health. Any excess or shortage in a dosha, will develop ailments due to the low heat or overheating of the body. It is incredibly challenging to understand what the perfect balance of the doshas in each person is, which is why an experienced and qualified master is necessary in order to conduct them.
The Shatkarmas and Spiritual Progression
The techniques are extremely powerful and should never be learnt from books or taught by inexperienced people. They must be performed under guidance and according to individual necessities.
They are performed before pranayama and other more advanced yoga practices to ensure the body is purified and liberated from toxins. This is the only way to ensure safe and fruitful progress on the spiritual path. If the toxins are not adequately expelled from the body, they become obstacles to the flow of prana causing important hindrances to spiritual progression.
The Yogic tradition says, one must perfect hatha yoga before beginning the practices of raja yoga.
The Shatkarmas: The Practices
1. Neti: A practice of cleansing and purging the nasal orifices. There are two practices under Neti: Jala Neti and Sutra Neti.
2. Dhauti: A group of cleansing procedures, separated into three key groups: antar dhauti: internal cleansing; shirsha dhauti: cleansing of the head and hrid dhauti: thoracic cleansing. The Antar Dhauti techniques cleanse the alimentary canal and are formed by four practices:
Shakhaprakshalana and laghoo shankhaprakshalana: cleansing of the intestines.
Agnisar Kriya: activation of the digestive fire.
Kunjal: cleansing of the stomach.
Vatsara Dhauti: cleansing the intestines with air.
3. Nauli: Strengthening of the abdominal organs.
4. Basti: A practice to wash and tone the large intestine.
5. Kapalbhati: A breathing technique which purifies the frontal lobe of the brain.
6. Trataka: A method of intense gazing which develops concentration.