Shatkarma, a significant aspect of yoga, comprises six (shat in Sanskrit) cleansing techniques (shuddhi kriyas), aimed at preparing the body for deeper yoga practices. These techniques focus on purifying various systems of the body – eyes, respiratory system, digestive system, and excretory system, similar to how a bath cleanses the skin’s surface.
Shatkarma’s yogic philosophy emphasizes internal cleansing to remove toxins, lighten the body, and enhance energy levels. This internal purification aids in more effective asana and pranayama practices.
Shatkarma in Ancient Texts: Gheranda Samhita & Hatha Pradipika
- Gheranda Samhita: Maharishi Gheranda highlights shatkarma as the first and crucial step in yoga, essential for achieving success in all other yoga practices.
धौतिर्वस्तिस्तथा नेतिर्लौलिकी त्राटकं तथा ।( घे०स 1/12 )
कपालभातिश्चैतानि षट्कर्माणि समाचरेत् ।।
- Hatha Pradipika: Swami Swatmarama, however, suggests shatkarma mainly for individuals with excess fat or Kapha, considering it optional for others.
धौतिर्बस्तिस्तथा नेति: त्राटकं नौलिकं तथा ।( ह०प्र० 2/22 )
कपालभातिश्चैतानि षट् कर्माणि प्रचक्षते ।।
The sequences of Shatkarma differ slightly between the texts, with variations in the order of the fourth and fifth practices.
The Deeper Meaning of Shatkarma in Yoga
Shatkarma is more than just physical cleansing; it’s integral to yoga sadhana. It aims to balance the tri-doshas (Vata, Pitta, Kapha), harmonize mind and body processes, stimulate prana flow in Ida and Pingala Nadi, and ultimately channel it through Sushumna Nadi. It helps remove toxins, strengthens internal systems, and maintains overall health.
Exploring the Six Shatkarmas
Each shatkarma has unique benefits and contraindications and is best learned under expert guidance.
- Trataka (Gazing Technique): Improves eyesight and concentration. Not advised for those with depression or low blood pressure.
- Neti (Nasal Cleansing): Offers a clean nasal passage, aiding in breathing and reducing colds and flu. Certain types of neti are not recommended for heart patients or during a cold or flu.
- Kapalabhati (Shining Skull Breathing): Cleanses the respiratory system and enhances lung capacity. Not suitable for epilepsy, asthma, or high blood pressure patients.
- Dhauti (Digestive System Cleansing): Clears the digestive tract, alleviating gas, acidity, and indigestion. Avoid if there are digestive tract injuries or sensitivities.
- Nauli (Abdominal Churning): Strengthens abdominal muscles and aids digestion. Not recommended for those with abdominal sensitivities or issues.
- Basti (Enema): Cleanses the large intestine, assisting in digestion and gastric problems. Not suitable for those with acute diarrhea, hemorrhoids, or during shortness of breath.
Why Learn Shatkarma?
As the first step in Niyama’s rule of Saucha, shatkarma is essential in yoga as a way of life. It prepares the body for the benefits of asana and pranayama. The best approach to learning shatkarma is under the guidance of a qualified teacher, who can tailor these practices to individual needs and capacities.
Note: “Shat Kriyas” is the Hindi translation of “shatkarma.” The two terms are often used interchangeably.
In summary, shatkarma is not just a set of practices but a foundational aspect of yoga that enhances the practitioner’s journey towards a balanced and healthy life.
Is it safe for everyone to practice Shatkarma?
Shatkarma, though are cleansing techniques in Yoga, is not universally safe for everyone.
The safety and appropriateness of practising these techniques depend on various factors such as an individual’s health condition, physical capabilities, and the presence of certain medical conditions.
Here are some important considerations:
- Health Conditions: People with specific health issues like high blood pressure, heart disease, respiratory conditions like asthma, digestive issues, or recent surgeries, especially in the abdominal area, should be cautious. Some Shatkarma practices may aggravate these conditions.
- Physical Limitations: Individuals with physical limitations or disabilities should consult with a healthcare provider or a qualified yoga therapist to understand which practices might be safe and beneficial for them.
- Pregnancy: Pregnant women should avoid most Shatkarma practices, especially those that involve abdominal pressure or could potentially affect the balance of electrolytes and fluids in the body.
- Age: Elderly individuals or very young practitioners should approach Shatkarma with caution due to the potential for strain or injury.
- Expert Guidance: Shatkarma techniques often require precise technique and understanding. They should ideally be learned and practiced under the guidance of an experienced and knowledgeable yoga teacher. Incorrect practice can lead to complications or injury.
- Individual Differences: Every individual is unique, and what might be safe for one person may not be for another. Personal health history, current health status, and individual body responses play a significant role in determining the safety of practicing Shatkarma.
- Mental Health Conditions: Certain practices in Shatkarma, like Trataka (concentrated gazing), may not be advisable for individuals with certain mental health conditions like severe depression or anxiety.