The Six Yogic Purification Practices
Shatkarmas—Practices for Purifying Body and Soul
The first niyama, saucha, recommends performing cleanses for the internal organs and systems of the body. The shatkarmas or shatkriyas are the six traditional yogic practices (or groups of practices) that purify both the physical and subtle bodies.
The Six Shatkarmas (Categories of Cleansing Action) Are:
Neti kriya purifies the nostrils and air passages.
The dhautis mainly aim to purify the body of phlegm and fat. This group of practices includes techniques that clean the digestive tract, the respiratory tract, the external ears, and the eyes.
According to the Gheranda Samhita, there are four kinds of dhauti: antar dhauti (internal purification), danta dhauti (teeth cleansing), hrid dhauti (purification of the chest region), and mula shodhana (rectal cleansing).
Nauli kriya purifies the abdominal region. It is also a powerful sublimation technique. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika (2:33-34) describes it in this way: “With head bent forward, slowly rotate the innards [intestines and stomach], like a whirlpool in a river, toward the right and toward the left. This, the siddhas call nauli. It removes sluggishness of the gastric fire, stimulates digestion, and leaves a very agreeable feeling, it removes all diseases. This is the greatest practice of Hatha Yoga.”
The Gheranda Samhita (1:52) proclaims nauli kriya “… the best exercise for destroying all diseases and increasing the bodily fire.”
Nauli kriya can be seen as a celebration of the life force and of Stillness. On one hand, we have the movement of the abdominal muscles, which brings dynamism and joy. On the other hand, we have the gaps between rounds, in which we rejoice in the immobility of the body, evoking the Stillness that we essentially are.
Kapalabhati, “skull brightening,” is a series of quick successive exhalations. It cleans the airways.
Trataka, “to gaze steadily,” is a yogic practice of concentrating the mind and diminishing its oscillating tendencies.
Trataka Is of Two Kinds:
- Bahir (bahiranga) trataka or external trataka: Concentration on an external object by gazing steadily, without blinking, at a small object until tears begin to flow.
- Antar (antaranga) trataka or internal trataka: Concentration on an internal object while the eyes are closed and the mind concentrates on some subtle element within. It implies a clear and stable inner visualization of an object.
The purpose of focusing the eyes on an external object is to arouse the internal vision, making it absolutely steady by stopping the movements of the eyes. Although trataka uses the sense of sight, it helps to withdraw the mind from sense objects. The focus on one object supports a detachment from the sensorial world.