Shatkarma an overview

The word ‘Shatkarma’ is derived from the Sanskrit language; In Sanskrit, Shat means six, and karma means actions. In Shatkarma, six techniques help to detox different body parts. These six purification practices are also known as Shat kriyas, Sodhan kriyas, cleansing practices, etc. Hatha yoga practices use these six purification methods to detox so their body and mind prepare for higher practices such as asana and pranayama.

Shatkarma or yogic cleansing methods are in classical Hatha yoga texts such as ‘Hatha Pradipika,’ ‘Gheranda Samhita,’ etc. The ‘Hatha Ratnavali’ is another classical yoga text that adds two more cleansing practices, and it’s known as ‘Asthakarma.’

Swami Swatmarama mentioned Shatkarma before Pranayama practices, but in ‘Gheranda Samhita’ Maharshi Gheranda dedicates one complete chapter to Shatkarma as the first and essential path of yoga and puts shatkarma before asana practices; he makes shatkarma compulsory and according to him, without purification of the body yoga practitioners cannot achieve success in the path of the Yoga journey.

Although these purification methods are pre-practices of higher practices, for their execution, practitioners require proper skill and experience, and beginners need to learn these purification techniques under the guidance of experienced yoga teachers.

What is Shatkarma?

As we discussed earlier, there are six techniques for the purification of the body, known as Shatkarma.

1. Dhauti,
2. Basti,
3. Neti,
4. Nauli,
5. Trataka, and
6. Kapalbhati.

1. Dhauti: Dhauti is a Sanskrit word which means purification. It is one of the significant cleansing methods. In primary Hatha yoga texts, ‘Hatha Pradipika,’ this practice has two types: Dhauti or Vastra Dhauti and Gajakarni.

i. Vastra Dhauti: Vastra Dhauti is a popular Dhauti for cleansing the digestive and respiratory tract and removing toxins and excess bile. Let’s know its method in Hatha Pradipika.
Vastra Dhauti is a wet cloth with four fingers’ width (seven to eight cm), and its length is fifteen hands (one and a half meters); you need to swallow it slowly and then take it out as the guru instructs.

Vastra means cloth, and cloth should be fine cotton that must be clean, not used by anyone else, and should be performed or learned under an expert. So, for practicing Vastra Dhauti, we need to sit in Kagasana or Malasana and slowly swallow a wet cloth with a width of four fingers and a length of 12 hands and then take it out as per the teacher’s instructions.

ii. Gajakarni: Gajakarni is also a cleansing practice; according to some scholars, this cleansing practice is under Dhauti practice, but some scholars do not include this practice under shatkarma.
In Gajakarani kriya, The yogi must gain control over his nervous system through practice and bring the Apanavayu up to the throat and, with its help, vomit out the substances (undigested food and water) in the stomach.
In another popular Hatha Yoga text, ‘Gherand Samhita,’ Dhauti has four kinds: Anatar Dhauti, Danta Dhauti, Hrid Dhauti, and Mul Sodhana. These four Dhauti are further divided into sub-sections. The techniques of all Dhauti are different, and we will discuss them in later blogs.

2. Basti: Basti is an important Shatkarma to cleanse the colon region and is a very effective practice in all diseases that arise from excess wind, bile, and mucus. In Gherand Samhita, Basti has two types: Shuska Basti and Jala Basti, but in Hatha Pradipika, there is only one Basti explained, which we practice through water.

An easy alternative to doing Basti in modern times is to practice through Anema pot. Anema pot is an apparatus through which we can easily clean the colon region, but it’s not as effective as Basti.

3. Neti: Neti is a cleansing method for purifying nasal passages. Traditionally, in different yoga schools, we practice various types of Neti. However, if we look into traditional texts, such as Hatha Pradipika and Gherand Samhita, we will get only one Neti reference, ‘Sutra Neti.’

Let’s understand these other Neti’s, which are not mentioned in classical texts but are practiced in different yoga schools or traditions.

i) Jala Neti: Jala Neti, nasal wash or saline nasal irrigation, is a Nasal purification method. Many yoga schools have traditionally followed this method for centuries. This practice aims to cleanse your nasal passage using a Neti pot made from clay, metal, or plastic.

ii) Dugdha & Ghrit Neti: Dhugda and Ghrit Neti’s practice is similar to Jala Neti; the only difference is you use milk or lukewarm ghee instead of saline lukewarm water.
iii) Rubber Neti: Some also put Rubber Neti under the Neti category, and the techniques of Rubber Neti and Sutra Neti are similar. The only difference is we use rubber catheters instead of Sutra (cotton thread). Compared to Sutra Neti, Rubber Neti looks easier but can cause health issues because of rubber fumes, So I do not recommend Rubber Neti to my students.

4. Nauli: The roots of the Nauli word are from Sanskrit, Nau means boat, and Li means To cling. In Nauli kriya, abdominal muscles attach to the abdominal wall, continuously rolling like a boat on the ocean. It is an essential practice in Shatkarma, cleansing the abdominal muscles by massaging internal organs.

Some yoga instructors explain three or four types of Nauli, which may be right according to their tradition or yoga schools, but in traditional texts, such as Hatha Pradipika and Gherand Samhita, we will get only one type of Nauli, also known as Lauliki in Gherand Samhita. Still, some scholars continue their claims and deny traditional text knowledge, which is unfortunate. This practice increases digestive fire and is very beneficial in removing excess of all dosha disorders.

5. Trataka: The roots of the Trataka word are from Sanskrit, and it means ‘To Gaze.’ Through Trataka practices, you can eradicate all eye diseases and remove fatigue and lethargy from your body.

The classical Hatha yoga texts Hatha Pradipika and Gherand Samhita have only one type of Trataka, but some yoga schools or teachers divide Trataka into three parts: i. Bahya Trataka, ii. Aabhyantara Trataka and iii. Adho Trataka.

They may all be correct, but it needs to be mentioned in any significant Hatha Yoga books. Let’s understand these three Trataka techniques, which are not mentioned in classical texts but are practiced in some traditions. Let’s know the method.

i) Bahya Trataka:
1. You must Practice Trataka in a dark room, and throughout the whole practice, there should be silence.
2. Place a candle at a distance of one to two feet at the level of your eyes.
3. It is also important to note that the flame is steady, and for those with any visual problems, kindly practice under any expert’s guidance.
4. Sit in a comfortable meditative position such as Padmasana, Siddhasana, Sukhasana, Ardhapadmasana, etc. Your hands should be on the knees in Jnana Mudra or chin Mudra.
5. Your whole body should be relaxed, eyes closed, and prepare yourself for Trataka.
6. Practice body awareness for a few minutes. Then, gently open your eyes and gaze at the middle portion of the candle/diya flame.
7. Do not blink your eyes, and keep your eyes steady. Lower the eyelids if the eyes become sore, watery, or tired.
8. Gaze as long as possible, five to ten minutes, or you can also gaze longer according to your practice and comfort and then close your eyes. Try to keep your mind empty.
9. When you close your eyes, keep them fixed on the impression of the flame, and if it moves, continue gazing until the impression disappears.
10. Once you can stabilize the image in your mind, try to look towards the colors.
Keep your mind empty, and do not react towards thoughts; just be aware of the object. When thoughts are coming, let them pass and remain uninvolved.

ii) Aabhyantara Trataka
1. You must Practice Trataka in a dark room, and throughout the whole practice, there should be silence.
2. Sit in a comfortable meditative position such as Padmasana, Siddhasana, Sukhasana, Ardhapadmasana, etc. Your hands should be on the knees in Jnana Mudra or chin Mudra.
3. Your whole body should be relaxed, eyes closed, and prepare yourself for Trataka.
4. Practice body awareness for a few minutes; your eyes should be closed throughout the practice and concentrate on any symbol.
5. If you don’t have any symbol, try to visualize a flame, point of light, star, or moon.
6. Try to visualize that object clearly while your eyes should be closed.
Practice for ten to twenty minutes or according to your practice.

iii) Adho Trataka
Adho Trataka is a third type of Trataka, which we practiced with the eyes half open and half closed.

6. Kapalbhati: Kapalbhati or Bhalbhati is made from two words: Kapal or Bhal (Skull/ Forehead/ Face) & Bhati (Shining), So Kapalbhati means Shining Forehead.

In Hatha Pradipika, there is only one type of Kapalbhati, but Sage Gherand explained three kinds of Kapalbhati: 1. Vatakarma, 2. Vyutkarma, and 3. Sheetkarma.
Some yoga teachers mentioned Kapalbhati as Pranayama because of breathwork, but they need to understand that in Hatha Yoga texts, Kapalbhati is as Shatkarma. If Kapalbhati was a Pranayama, then Sage Gherand and Swami Swatmarama said it in the Pranayama section.

Why Purify the Body?

Shatkarma, or six purification methods, helps to purify our body, but some ask the question of why we need detoxification of the body.

Our lives become sedentary, and we intake lots of toxicity through our food, lifestyle, senses (touch, sound, taste, vision, smell), and various other ways; because of this, our bodies become heavily sluggish and toxic; if it continues, our life energy reduce, health declines also our body are not ready for higher yoga practices.

If we look at the yogic path, Shatkarma is an essential part of Hatha yoga practices; the process of shatkarma by six purification methods removes toxicity from the body, which makes the body clean, healthy, light & energetic. Shatkarma helps in physical and mental purification; with physical and mental cleansing, the body becomes ready for higher practice of asana and pranayama in a better way, and we can easily uplift our yogic sadhana. To understand why purification is essential and what health and therapeutic results we get through Shatkarma, kindly look into my other blog.

To understand more about Shatkarma, the proper techniques, its types, and its benefits, we need to explore Hatha yoga Classical texts and try to understand them in more detail.

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