The human body is remarkably resilient. It can withstand weeks of stress, heaps of junk food and ceaseless negative thoughts without a single crack in the system. But after time, this negativity begins to pollute your body, hampering your health and causing severe damage to your spiritual and emotional wellbeing.
The Shat Kriyas, also known as Shatkarma Kriyas, is a set of yogic cleansing practices that purify the internal body and restart the system. This ancient yogic cleanse purges the body of accumulated toxins and waste, creating a clean environment where positive thoughts flow and ordinary experiences feel electric.
Whether you’re craving a complete mind-body cleanse, or a way to delve deeper into your yoga asana practice, the Shat Kriyas is key to bringing your body back to its true and most powerful state.
Join us as we explore the six Shat Kriyas in yoga and reveal how you can safely practice each technique in the comfort of your home.
What are the 6 Kriyas in Yoga?
The Shat Kriyas or Shatkarma Kriyas are six cleansing techniques typically used in Hatha yoga to balance the three doshas and prepare the mind and body for practice.
In Sanskrit, Shat means ‘six’ and Kriya translates to ‘activities’, literally meaning six activities. According to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the six yogic cleansing practices are:
- Neti – Nasal Cleansing
- Kapalbathi – Sinus Cleansing
- Nauli – Abdominal Massaging
- Dhauti – Internal Cleansing
- Basti – Yogic enema
- Trataka – Concentrated Gazing
Each of these Kriyas targets a certain part of the body, removing toxins like mucus, gas, acid, urine, sweat, and stool.
Apart from purging the body of unwanted waste, these yogic cleansing exercises are also used to banish impurities from the mind. The result is a total mind-body cleanse with a plethora of short- and long-term health benefits.
What are the Benefits of Kriyas?
Performing the Shat Kriyas is just like servicing your vehicle once or twice a year. It’s necessary to maintain optimal functioning at work and avoid breakdowns in the middle of the grocery store.
The yogic cleansing practices help flush out the internal body, cleaning your major organs and restoring balance to the unique energies that flow within.
Research suggests that the Kriyas have positive long-term effects on the body. For example, Dhauti Kriya was found to improve respiratory functions and mitigate digestive disorders.
Trataka and Kapalbathi on the other hand both enhanced cognition, while Neti proved particularly beneficial in controlling rhinosinusitis.
As a whole, this purifying yoga cleanse can offer the following health benefits:
- Strengthens the immune system
- Improves the metabolism
- Assists with weight loss
- Reduces stress
- Promotes mind and body awareness
How to Practice the 6 Kriyas?
As a yogi, living clean is key to achieving balance both on and off the mat. There are many ways to purge and replenish your body in yoga, whether practicing detoxifying yoga poses or following a Sattvic diet. However, if you’ve ventured into yoga cleansing on a teacher training course, you would have come across a yogic cleanse that almost every practitioner turns to in their time of need, Shat Kriyas.
The Shat Kriyas are best practiced under the guidance and supervision of a professional, so if it’s your first time, consult a qualified health practitioner before attempting the techniques alone.
That said, with some experience, there are a few accessible yogic cleansing exercises that can be practiced at home.
Here is a basic step-by-step guide to the six Shat Kriyas.
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Neti – Nasal Cleansing
Neti is the cleansing of the nasal passage. There are several variations of Neti in Hatha yoga, with the most popular being Jala (water) Neti.
In Jala Neti, lukewarm saline water is poured into one nostril and passed through the other using a special Neti pot.
This cleansing yoga practice removes old mucus from the sinuses, cleaning the air passageways and improving the flow of prana throughout the body.
How to practice:
Step 1: Prepare the water by adding natural salt and warming the water. The concentration of salt and the temperature of the water should be the same as your tears.
Step 2: Fill the Neti pot with the water and position the spout in one nostril. Lean forward and tilt your head towards the opposite side. To stimulate the flow of the water, breathe through your mouth and take several deep breaths.
Step 3: Complete the cleanse with a one-minute inversion, either a headstand or a shoulderstand to dry up the sinuses.
Kapalbathi – Sinus Cleansing
After Jala Neti, it’s important that you drain and dry the sinuses completely. Kapalbathi (Skull-Shining Breath) is often practiced to clear the sinuses and remove excess water.
This technique is also used to cleanse the lungs and inject the blood stream with a healthy dose of oxygen.
How to practice:
Step 1: In either a comfortable seated or standing position, place your palms on your thighs and tilt your head slightly to look down at the earth.
Step 2: Give three short but powerful exhales through your nostrils, pushing any moisture out.
Step 3: Repeat this breathing technique with your head turned left and right.
Nauli – Abdominal Massaging
Next is Nauli Kriya. This advanced yogic cleansing technique contracts and isolates the abdominal muscles, creating a churning effect that cleanses the region.
Agni Sara is the first phase of Nauli. There are several others, but if you’re a beginner, this simple lift of the abdominal region is a good way to strengthen and purify the abdominal muscles.
How to practice:
Step 1: In a standing position, bend your knees and place your palms on your upper thighs.
Step 2: Take a deep breath in and exhale strongly through the nose. When your lungs are empty, suck the navel back towards your spine, revealing your rib cage.
Step 3: Release the abdomen and continue the contraction and expansion until you feel the need to take a breath.
Dhauti – Internal Cleansing
Dhauti Kriya is a cleansing yoga practice of the stomach that is excellent for bolstering respiratory functions.
Kunjal Kriya is one of the more popular stomach cleansing exercises, and involves the ingestion of large quantities of water to encourage the body to empty itself.
Another well-known variation of this yogic cleansing technique is Vastra Dhauti. Meaning cloth, Vastra is the process of slipping a long cotton cloth down the throat and into the stomach. The cloth scrubs the walls of the stomach and removes leftover waste stuck in your gut.
How to practice:
Step 1: Dip a long sterilized cotton cloth in water and place one end on your tongue.
Step 2: Take a drink of water and slowly swallow the tip, guiding the cloth down your throat and into your stomach.
Step 3: After a few minutes, gently remove the cloth, taking another sip of some water if needed.
Basti – Yogic Enema
In Basti, practitioners flush the colon of toxins and unwanted waste by performing a yogic enema.
As with nasal cleansing, you can perform a yogic enema yourself. This is especially beneficial for those who consume far too much processed food and need to regularly purge their bowels.
How to practice:
Step 1: Using an enema kit, fill the bag with clean water and insert the tip into your anus, keeping the water upright.
Step 2: Bend forward slightly and release your belly. This creates a vacuum that pulls the water into your internal system.
Step 3: Lie down and hold the water in for as long as you can. When you can no longer bear the pressure, you may release your bowels.
Tratak – Concentrated Gazing
Tratak aims to improve the health of your eyes. This exercise is done by focusing on a single object until your eyes begin to tear up. There are several variations of Tratak. Some favor moon gazing or dot gazing, but candle gazing is the most popular and beginner-friendly yogic purification exercise for the eyes.
How to practice:
Step 1: Sit in a comfortable seated position with your hands resting on your knees.
Step 2: Light the candle and place it at eye level, about an arm's length away.
Step 3: Focus your concentration on the tip of the wick and hold your gaze until your eyes begin to tear.
In many ways, Shat Kriyas is the ultimate mind-body cleanse. However with all cleanses, the Shat Kriyas should be practiced with caution and careful consideration. When performed correctly, these Hatha purification exercises can cleanse your internal body and help you connect to yoga beyond the physical practice of asanas.