Introduction to Shatkarma
Hata yoga, as described in the early yoga Upanishads, was made up of shatkarmas is a very precise and systematic science. Shat means ‘six’ and karma means ‘action’; the shatkarmas consist of six groups of purification practices. The aim of hatha yoga, and therefore, of the shatkarmas is to create harmony between the two major pranic flows, Ida and Pingala, there by attaining physical and mental purification and balance.
The shatkarmas are also used to balance the three doshas or humours in the body: kapha, mucus; pitta, bile; and vata, wind. According to both Ayurveda and hata yoga, an imbalance in the doshas will result in illness. These practices are also used before pranayama and other higher yoga practices in order to purify the body of toxins and to ensure safe and successful progression along the spiritual path.
The powerful techniques never be learned from books or taught by inexperienced people. According to the tradition, only those instructed by a guru may teach others. It is essential to be personally instructed as to how and when to perform the shatkarmas, according to individual limitations and needs.
The six shatkarmas are as follows:
- Neti: a process of cleansing and purifying the nasal passages. Practices include in the category are: Jala neti and sutra neti.
- Dhauti: A series of cleaning technique which are divided into three main groups: antar dhauti or internal cleaning, sirsha dhauti or head cleaning, and hrid dhauti or thoracic cleaning. The dhauti technique which are given in this section clean the entire alimentary canal from the mouth to the anus. There are four practices:
- Shankhaprakshalana (varisara dhauti) and laghoo Shankhaprakshalana, cleaning of the intestines
- Agnisarkriya (vahnisara dhauti), activating the digestive fire
- Kunjal (vaman dhauti), cleaning the intestines with air.
All of these practices require the guidance of a competent teacher.
- Nauli: A method of massaging and strengthening the abdominal organs.
- Basti: Techniques for washing and toning the large intestine.
- Kapalbhati: A breathing technique for purifying the frontal region of the brain.
- Trataka: The practice of intense gazing at one point or object which develops the power of concentration.