Yogic cleansing methods in Hatha Yoga Pradipika

Shatkarma, Shatkriyas, or yogic cleansing methods, are six yogic techniques that help to detox different body parts. Hence, the practitioner’s body and mind become purified, so they prepare for higher practices such as asana and Pranayama. 

Shatkarma 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.’ 

Shatkarma in Hatha Pradipika:

‘Hatha Pradipika’ or ‘Hatha Yoga Pradipika’ is a famous Hatha Yoga text written around the fifteenth century by Swami Swatmarama.  Swami Swatmarama was a great yogi in the medieval era and a follower of the Natha Tradition.

Swami Swatmaram, in his book Hatha Pradipika, mentioned secret Hatha yoga techniques for Yoga practitioners to attain bliss. Hatha Pradipika is also known as Chaturanga Yoga because of the four limbs of Yoga: Asana, Pranayama, Mudra Bandha, and Nadanusandhana. Swami Swatmarama mentioned Shatkarma before Pranayama practices, and the references to Shatkarma are 21-38 in the second chapter.

मेदश्लेष्माधिकः पूर्वं षट्कर्माणि समाचरेत्। 
अन्यस्तु नाचरेत्तानि दोषाणां समभावतः।। 2/21।।

meda-śleṣhmādhikaḥ pūrvaṃ ṣhaṭ-karmāṇi samācharet |
anyastu nācharettāni doṣhāṇāṃ samabhāvataḥ ||

Swami Swatmarama, in verse 2/21 of his book, recommends purification methods for yoga practitioners with excess fat or mucus, and practitioners whose doshas (vata, pitta, kapha) wind, bile, and phlegm are in a balanced state should not practice shatkarma.

According to Yoga and Ayurveda, our body has three temperaments, also known as Tridoshas: Vata(wind), Pitta(bile), and Kapha(mucus). In a healthy body, these Tridoshas are in a balanced state. Still, when due to a sedentary lifestyle, your diet, or any other reasons, any dosha imbalance means excess of one dosha and shortage of another dosha, then you are not healthy, and your energy channels are blocked due to an imbalance of doshas.

In Hatha yoga, there are six techniques known as Shatkarma through which we can easily balance these doshas, but if doshas are in a balanced state, there is no need to practice Shatkarma. However, practitioners should learn these six practices to practice whenever needed.

Types of Shatkarma:

धौतिर्बस्तिस्तथा नेतिस्त्राटकं नौलिकं तथा ।
कपालभातिश्चैतानि षट् कर्माणि प्रचक्षते ।। 2/22।।

dhautirbastistathā netistrāṭakaṃ naulikaṃ tathā |
kapāla-bhātiśchaitāni ṣhaṭ-karmāṇi prachakṣhate ||

कर्मषट्कमिदं गोप्यं घटशोधनकारकम् |
विछित्रगुणसन्धायि पूज्यते योगि पुंगवैः || 2/23||

karma ṣhaṭkamidaṃ gopyaṃ ghaṭa śodhana kārakam |
vichitra-ghuṇa-sandhāya pūjyate yogi pungghavaiḥ ||

The sequence of Shatkarma or the six purification methods are Dhauti, Basti, Neti, Trataka, Nauli, and Kapalbhati.

These six purification methods, which cleanse the body, should be kept secret. They produce extraordinary attributes and tremendous results and are highly esteemed by eminent yogis.

In Hatha Yoga, Shatkarma is famous for purifying the body. Although they are six in number, they are very impactful and have a variety in all six practices. These Six Practices are Dhauti, Basti, Neti, Trataka, Nauli and Kapalabhati.

In India, we have a tradition popularly known as the Guru Shishya Tradition. When the guru checks and ensures that their students are capable and experienced enough to teach, only the guru permits them to teach others. 

Generally, it’s common for people to start learning without experience. Still, in their learning phase, they also start teaching these Shatkarmas, but because of a lack of knowledge and the need to understand practice correctly, these new learners can make serious mistakes. 

Shatkarma cleanses the body and should be kept secret because it was never designed for therapy or curing disease; it is meant to create harmony in the body and mind so that your body can be prepared for higher practices.

Through Shatkarma, the Yogi purifies all systems so energy can easily flow. All body systems work perfectly through the flow of energy and purification, so they achieve happiness and calmness, and then only the Yogi can enhance awareness. That’s why yogis who have achieved perfection regard Shatkarm in high esteem.

1. Dhauti:

Dhauti’s literal meaning in Sanskrit is purification. Dhauti is the first purification method in Hathaprapdipika, a prominent Hatha Yoga text. Hatha Pradipika explains two techniques: Dhauti and another one is Gajakarani. Let’s understand about Dhauti.

Technique of Dhauti :

चतुरङ्गुलविस्तारं हस्तपञ्चदशायतम् ।
गुरुपदिष्टमार्गेण सिक्तं वस्त्रं शनैर्ग्रसेत्।
पुनः प्रत्याहरेच्चैतदुदितं धौतिकर्म तत्।।2/24।।

chatur-angula-vistāraṃ hasta-pañcha-daśāyatam |
ghurūpadiṣhṭa-mārgheṇa siktaṃ vastraṃ śanairghraset |
punaḥ pratyāharechchaitaduditaṃ dhauti-karma tat ||

According to Hatha Pradipika, A wet cloth, width of four fingers (seven to eight cm) and length of fifteen hands (one and a half meters), is slowly swallowed and then taken out as the guru instructs and is known as Dhauti.

This practice is also known as Vastra Dhauti. 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. 

Benefits of Dhauti :

कासश्वासप्लीहकुष्टं कफरोगाश्च विंशतिः।
धौतिकर्मप्रभावेण प्रयान्तयेव न संशयः।।2/25।।

kāsa-śvāsa-plīha-kuṣhṭhaṃ kapharoghāścha viṃśatiḥ |
dhauti-karma-prabhāveṇa prayāntyeva na saṃśayaḥ ||

There is no doubt that if anyone practices Dhauti, then cough, asthma, spleen disease, leprosy, and twenty types of disease caused by excess mucus are destroyed. Dhauti cleans the digestive and respiratory tract and removes toxins and excess bile. It helps to manage cough disease, asthma, spleen, leprosy, and twenty types of diseases. The reference to the twenty diseases mentioned in Charak Samhita is

Gajakarani kriya: 

Gajakarni is also a cleansing practice; according to some scholars, this cleansing practice is under Dhauti practice, but other scholars mentioned this verse after shatkarma, and as per them, this practice is not under shatkarma.

उदरगतपदार्थमुद्वमन्ति पवनमपानमुदीर्य कण्ठनाले।
क्रमपरिचयवश्यनाडिचक्रा गजकरणीति निगद्यते हठज्ञैः।।2/26।।

Udara-ghata-padārthamudvamanti pavanamapānamudīrya kaṇṭha-nāle |
Krama-parichaya-vaśya-nāḍi-chakrā ghaja-karaṇīti nighadyate haṭhajñaiḥ ||

In Gajakarani kriya, The Yogi must gain control over his nervous system through practice, bring the Apanavayu up to the throat, and, with its help, vomit out the substances (undigested food and water) in the stomach.

2. Basti:

Basti is a second cleansing practice in Hatha Pradipika. There are two popular forms of Basti: i. Jala Basti and ii. Sthal Basti is the only one in Hatha Pradipika. Let’s understand Basti. 

The Technique of Basti :

नाभिदध्नजले पायौ न्यस्तनालोत्कटासन: ।
आधाराकुन्चनं कुर्यात्क्षालनं बस्तिकर्म तत् ।।2/ 27 ।।

nābhi-daghna-jale pāyau nyasta-nālotkaṭāsanaḥ |
ādhārākuñchanaṃ kuryātkṣhālanaṃ basti-karma tat ||

Sitting in Utkatasana, the water level is navel deep; insert a tube into the Anus and contract the Anus. This cleansing with water is called Basti karma. 

Sit in Utkatasana in a tub of water covering your navel. Let’s assume Utkatasana, where your body rests on the toes and your heels pressing against posteriors. We can practice this with or without a tube, but it’s better to have a bamboo tube. Insert a small bamboo tube into your Anus and then contract the Anus muscles. Slowly draw the water inside and then expel it outside. Contraction and Expansion of Anus is also known as Ashwini mudra.

Benefits of Basti :

गुल्म प्लीहोदरं चापि वातपित्तकफोद्भवा: ।
बस्तिकर्मप्रभावेण क्षीयण्ते सकलामया: ।।2/ 28 ।।

ghulma-plīhodaraṃ chāpi vāta-pitta-kaphodbhavāḥ |
basti-karma-prabhāveṇa kṣhīyante sakalāmayāḥ ||

धात्त्विन्द्रियान्त:करणप्रसादं दद्याच कान्तिदहनप्रदीप्तिम् ।
अशेषदोषोपचयं निहन्यादभ्यस्यमानं जलबस्तिकर्म ।। 2/29 ।।

Dhāntvidriyāntaḥ-karaṇa-prasādaṃ dadhāchcha kāntiṃ dahana-pradīptam |
aśeṣha-doṣhopachayaṃ nihanyād abhyasyamānaṃ jala-basti-karma ||

Enlargement of the glands, spleen, and all diseases arising from excess wind, bile, and mucus are eliminated from the body through the practice of Basti. 

By the practice of Jala basti, the appetite increases, the body glows, the excess doshas are destroyed, and the seven dhatu, senses, and mind are purified.

3. Neti:

Neti is a third cleansing practice in Hatha Pradipika. Traditionally, there are two types of Neti: Sutra and Jala Neti. Still, in Hatha Pradipika, Gherad Samhita, and other classical Hatha Yoga texts, only Sutra Neti is mentioned. Let’s understand more about Neti or Sutra Neti. 

Technique of Neti :

सूत्रं वितस्ति सुस्निग्धं नासानाले प्रवेशयेत् ।
मुखान्निर्गमयेच्चैषा नेति: सिद्धैर्निगद्यते ।।2/ 30 ।।

sūtraṃ vitasti-susnighdhaṃ nāsānāle praveśayet |
mukhānnirghamayechchaiṣhā netiḥ siddhairnighadyate ||

Yogis called Neti Kriya by inserting a fully lubricated cotton thread twelve fingers long through one nostril and taking it out through the mouth.

So here, Swami Swatmarama mentions lubricated cotton thread, and for lubrication, we can use ghee or oil; we need to perform this with the first active nostrils and then another nostril. We can practice Sutra Neti while sitting in Kagasana and standing.

Benefits of Neti :

कपालशोधिनी चैव दिव्यदृष्टिप्रदायिनी |
जत्रूर्ध्वजातरोगौघं नेतिराशु निहन्ति च || 2/31 ||

kapāla-śodhinī chaiva divya-dṝṣhṭi-pradāyinī |
jatrūrdhva-jāta-roghaughaṃ netirāśu nihanti cha ||

Neti cleanses the cranium region and gives extrasensory perception. It also destroys all diseases above the throat. 

4. Trataka:

Trataka is a fourth cleansing practice in Hatha Pradipika and a Tantrik meditation method. Traditionally, there is only one type of Trataka; let’s understand more about Trataka. 

Technique of Trataka :

निरीक्षेनिश्चलदृशा सूक्ष्मलक्ष्यम् समाहितः।|
अश्रुसम्पातपर्यन्तमाचार्यैस्त्राटकं स्मृतम् || 2/32 ||

nirīkṣhenniśchala-dṝśā sūkṣhma-lakṣhyaṃ samāhitaḥ |
aśru-sampāta-paryantamāchāryaistrāṭakaṃ smṝtam || 

According to Acharyas, being calm and gazing steadily at a small point mark until your eyes are filled with tears is called Trataka.

In Trataka, a person should continuously focus on any small point, dot, or flame of a candle/diya until their eyes are filled with tears. 

Benefits of Trataka :

मोचनं नेत्ररोगाणां तन्दाद्रीणां कपाटकम् |
यत्नतस्त्राटकं गोप्यं यथा हाटकपेटकम् || 2/33 ||

mochanaṃ netra-roghāṇāṃ tandādrīṇāṃ kapāṭakam |
yatnatastrāṭakaṃ ghopyaṃ yathā hāṭaka-peṭakam ||

With the practice of Trataka, you can eradicate all eye diseases and close the door of fatigue and lethargy. It should be kept secret carefully, like a box of jewelry.

5. Nauli: 

Nauli is a fifth cleansing practice in Hatha Pradipika. The roots of the Nauli word are from Sanskrit, where 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.

The technique of Nauli :

अमन्दावर्तवेगेन तुन्दं सव्यापसव्यतः |
नतांसो भ्रामयेदेषा नौलिः सिद्धैः प्रचक्ष्यते || 2/34||

amandāvarta-veghena tundaṃ savyāpasavyataḥ |
natāṃso bhrāmayedeṣhā nauliḥ siddhaiḥ prachaksyate ||

With the shoulders bent, the practitioner should move the abdominal muscles from left to right (as well as right to left) with the speed of a whirlpool; this practice is called Nauli by the accomplished Siddhas.

Benefits of Nauli :

मन्दाग्निसन्दीपनपाचनादिसन्धापिकानन्दकरी सदैव |
अशेषदोषामयशोषणी च हठक्रिया मौलिरियं च नौलिः || 2/35 ||

mandāghni-sandīpana-pāchanādi-sandhāpikānanda-karī sadaiva |
aśeṣha-doṣha-maya-śoṣhaṇī cha haṭha-kriyā mauliriyaṃ cha nauliḥ ||

Nauli’s practice increases digestive fire and removes indigestion, sluggish digestion, and all dosha disorders. Nauli is considered the best among all the cleansing practices in Hatha Yoga.

In all previous Shatkriyas, we used lukewarm water, mostly like Dhauti, Basti, and Neti, but the Nauli technique is entirely different. In this technique, the practitioner activates their digestive fire by contracting & rotating the abdomen muscles, which helps to lose and eradicate the old accumulated toxic content from the inner walls of the intestine.

I believe a digestive fire is more important than the quality and quantity of the food because if we cannot digest the food, it’s not worthwhile. If you cannot digest the food because of a weak digestive fire, then that good quality food will not digest properly; instead, it rots inside. Not properly digesting food means your body will not get appropriate nutrients but will get toxicity.

So, better Jatharagni helps to clean the intestines and increase appetite. This helps to improve the digestion and absorption of nutrients and the assimilation, transportation, and transformation of all Sapta Dhatus.

6. Kapalbhati:

Kapalbhati or Bhalbhati is a Sanskrit word, Kapal or Bhal (Skull/ Forehead/ Face) & Bhati (Shining). So, Kapalbhati means Shining Forehead. Kapalbhati is the sixth and last purification technique, which cleans the front part of the brain. In Hatha Pradipika, only one type of Kapalbhati is mentioned, but Sage Gherand explained three kinds of Kapalbhati in his book, Gherand Samhita.

Technique and benefits of Kapalbhati :

भस्त्रावल्लोहकारस्य रेचपूरौ ससंभ्रमौ ।
कपालभातिर्विख्याता कफदोषविशोषणी ।। 2/36 ।।

bhastrāvalloha-kārasya recha-pūrau sasambhramau |
kapālabhātirvikhyātā kapha-doṣha-viśoṣhaṇī ||

Like a blacksmith’s bellow, rapid inhalation and exhalation with a fast sound is known as Kapalbhati. It destroys all the disorders caused by the excess of Kapha (phlegm).

Benefits of Shatkarma:

षट्कर्मनिर्गतस्थौल्यकफदोषमलादिक: ।
प्राणायामं तत: कुर्यादनायासेन सिद्धयति ।। 2/37 ।।

ṣhaṭ-karma-nirghata-sthaulya-kapha-doṣha-malādikaḥ |
prāṇāyāmaṃ tataḥ kuryādanāyāsena siddhyati ||

Through Shatkarma practice, we can remove obesity, phlegm disorders, and other bodily defects, and after that, Pranayama should be practiced. By practicing Pranayam in this way, the seeker quickly attains success in Pranayam.

प्राणायामैरेव सर्वे प्रशुष्यन्ति मला इति |
आचार्याणां तु केषाम् चिदन्यत्कर्म न संमतम् || 2/38 ||

prāṇāyāmaireva sarve praśuṣhyanti malā iti |
āchāryāṇāṃ tu keṣhāṃchidanyatkarma na saṃmatam ||

Swami Swatmarama also stated that some Hatha yoga teachers believe that Pranayama alone removes all bodily impurities. Hence, these yoga teachers emphasized Pranayama more for removing all physical impurities, not Shatkarma.

Shatkarma practices are very beneficial, and through these practices, Yogis can achieve higher goals, purify their physical body, and prepare themselves for higher practices such as Pranayama. Some yoga gurus believe attaining higher practices is challenging without purging their bodies. If Yogi cleanses their impurities, they can quickly succeed in Pranayama, but some gurus also think you can achieve your goal through only Pranayama practices. Various gurus and yogis use different approaches. Still, if Shatkarma was not necessary, Swami Swatmarama did not mention these practices in his book, a manual of Hatha yoga practices.

So, it’s always better to purify your body before other higher practices, and then you can easily see the changes within yourself. Our lifestyle has become very toxic and sedentary in the modern world, so it’s better to learn precautions for better results. So, through purification practice, you can efficiently purify toxicity, improve your health, get better results in your yoga journey, and live a better and more efficient life. You will be one step ahead, nearer to your aim, Moksha, ultimate freedom or bliss.

1 thought on “Yogic cleansing methods in Hatha Yoga Pradipika”

  1. Greetings! Very helpful advice in this particular
    article! It is the little changes which will make the most significant changes.
    Many thanks for sharing!

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