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Shat Kriya – Six Yogic cleansing techniques

In Sanskrit ‘Shat’ means six and ‘Kriya’ means internal action, these are the main cleansing techniques used in hatha yoga. (Sometimes called ‘shat karmas’ also meaning the ‘six actions’ of cleansing).

The reason we have written ‘toxins’ in inverted commas throughout the article, is because there isn’t really a direct translation for the word we want to use and ‘toxins’ seems to be commonly used in this way (even though it actually means a poison from plant or animal). In yoga and Ayurveda, the word used is ama, which does not mean toxic, but can be understood as that which remains stuck in the body and prevents it from functioning optimally.

When people first hear about the ancient yoga cleansing techniques (shat kriya), they often find them somewhat intimidating or even scary. These techniques are simply different methods of cleaning areas that may get blocked up and are amazing tools to work on your body, mind, and energy, helping to bring both mental and physical clarity.

The six cleansing processes are:

  1. Kapalabhati -An active breathing technique.
  2. Neti – Cleaning the nasal cavity using salt water, or a thread
  3. Nauli – Massaging the internal organs by creating a vacuum, also read about Agnisar kriya and uddiyan bandha kriya to prepare for nauli.
  4. Trataka – Extended gazing at a fixed point usually the tip of a flame
  5. Dhauti – Washing the alimentary canal; Kunjal Kriya and Laghu Shankshprakshalan
  6. Basti – Yogic enema

All of these techniques should be practiced under the guidance or supervision of an experienced teacher.

These six techniques are used to clear out ‘toxins’ which might otherwise become stuck or stagnant. They work on removing physical ‘toxins’ coming from pollution to the consumption of food, drink, or drugs. But these techniques also clear the gathered mental and emotional ‘toxins’ coming from the thoughts and ideas in the mind.

The physical ‘toxins’ can be easily understood, and in many cases can be reduced by simply changing the diet and lifestyle. But people rarely talk about (or understand) the effect of ‘mental toxins’. They are almost impossible to measure and feel different to each person. But, it is this mental indigestion that so many people regularly experience and have no way to work with. Through increasing awareness, you can start to understand which emotions you are holding onto, and what is creating disturbances inside. Anything that is creating a disturbance is considered a ‘mental toxin’

It’s not always possible to avoid situations that create disturbances, but with time you can change your reactions so situations don’t affect you as strongly. There are a few common ways people get stuck with ‘mental toxins’ maybe next time you find yourself in one of these situations you can think about ways to clear the mind.

Unexpressed Emotions; remember a time you wanted to cry or shout, but it felt inappropriate and you had to swallow that emotion and it got stuck in your throat or chest and then somewhere in the body. A similar situation is when you feel guilty about something.

Distressing news; Imagine being fixated on some disastrous news, particularly something you cannot do anything about, you become obsessed with reading about it and are filled with anxiety or sadness every time you find out more.

Expectations; When you have certain expectations of yourself or of the world around you and those things are not or cannot be fulfilled in reality, the difference causes disturbance.

However you accumulate your mental baggage, sometimes the easiest way to work on it is by using physical cleansing techniques.

You might be wondering why you would need or want such a purified body? It is this clarity that will allow you to come to a state of ease. This is particularly useful for yoga practitioners, so that pranayama and meditation may be pursued without discomfort, fatigue, or interruption. Some of these kriyas can be added to your daily practice (neti, trataka, nauli) and others can be done once a week or as you feel necessary.

There are some similar cleansing processes used in Ayurveda (Pancha Karma – five cleansing techniques) that overlap with the Shat Kriyas. These are used for working more deeply with a specific disease (when the body is perhaps further out of balance) and are done with herbs and Ayurvedic medicine.

The Yogi’s already knew the mental, emotional and spiritual benefits of cleaning our gut. The modern science has discovered about the enteric nervous system (ENS) which is found in your gut, this is also called as the second brain. Check our article on Yoga and the ENS to have a better understanding of the reasons to do these cleansing techniques.

Find out more about these Kriya’s