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Kriyas - cleansing



We aren`t just what we eat!  We are also an amalgam of all the things that enter our body, and the result of all things that we do, or not do, to our body.  It goes without saying that the yogi should avoid any harmful drugs, nicotine, excessive alcohol etc.


In an ideal world, the body has all the systems it needs to keep the body clean and working efficiently.  In the real world we just keep placing so many strains on our systems that in the end they are unable to cope - and something will go wrong.  It is for this reason that yoga has many methods of detoxifying and cleansing the body, externally and internally.  Six methods are traditionally known as the kriyas, shat-karmas, or `six acts`, some of which, by modern western standards, are regarded with suspicion.   Some of these practices can be incorporated into most peoples` care routines, as part of a general approach to body cleanliness.  Remember that in yoga we are concerned with both external and internal health.


Briefly they are:

            Dhauti – antar dhauti =intestinal washing

                                    Using wind

                                    Kunja kriya = by water

                                    Agni-sara = `fire` cleansing

                                    Using a cloth

                                    Karna = ear cleansing

                                    Danta-dhauti = teeth cleaning

                                    Hrid-dhauti = throat cleansing

                                    Mula-sodhana = rectal cleansing

            Vasti (basti) - water or dry enema

            Neti - nasal cleansing

            Nauli - abdominal rolling

            Trataka - conscious gazing to bring tears

            Kapala bhati - skull shining



Dhauti includes dental and oral hygiene.  Teeth should be cleaned regularly, at least twice a day, using a brush in good condition.  Add a massage to the gums using a finger to rub vigorously, or a brush (taking care not to brush the gums away from the teeth).  Bacteria build up on the rough surface of the tongue towards the throat.  A tongue scraper can be used to pull forwards the yellow deposit on the tongue.  Swish the mouth with water when you have scraped a few times.  This helps to prevent bad breath, and helps to protect the throat from infection.  Clean the scraper after each use.

            `Heart cleansing` - Hrid - dhauti, includes techniques using strips of cloth, soft banana stalks and induced vomiting to affect the oesophagus and stomach.  These techniques should only be used under supervision, and when there is a need for health reasons.  By and large the body is quite capable of maintaining intestinal health by other means.

            Mula-shodhana  - rectal cleansing is said to be necessary to ensure free circulation of the apana breath which enters and leaves the base of the body.  The rectum  is cleaned using water and a stalk of turmeric, or more commonly the middle finger of the left hand.


Vasti again cleanses the rectum.  Jala-vasti draws water into the rectum while sitting in water and dilating the rectal muscles.  Sometimes a short tube is inserted into the anus through which water can be sucked up.  Alternatively a small douche can be used.   `Dry` vasti - shushka-vasti, is a form of gas-ejector, sitting in the forward stretch and contracting and dilating the anal sphincter.


Neti - again is practised in two forms.  In the first, sutra-neti, a thin rubber thread is inserted into the nostril and drawn out through the mouth.  It is used to cure disorders of phlegm.  Much more widespread is the use of jala-neti, where a weak salt solution, one`s own urine, or plain water, is poured into one nostril at a time from a container with a spout.  With the head to one side the solution runs out of the opposite nostril.  The solution can also be sniffed into the nostrils, from the palm of the hand, when it then runs into the back of the throat, to be spat out.


Agni-sara and Nauli - use the abdominal muscles to create changing pressures in the abdomen.  In Agni-sara dhauti the breath is expelled and the diaphragm used to pump the abdomen in and out to stimulate abdominal action and massage internal organs.  In Nauli, after exhalation, the oblique muscles are drawn in, leaving the rectus muscles isolated which are then alternately pulled in and relaxed, left and right.  It is said to be the `crown` of hatha yoga, stimulating the gastric fire and curing many disorders.  It can be done sitting or standing, only with an empty stomach. 


Trataka – for cleansing should not be confused with candle gazing for meditation.  Gaze at a small object, or candle flame without blinking until the tears run.  Close the eyes and rest them.  Alternatively, use an eye bath with tepid clean water.


Kapala-bhati – is a mild form of the Bhastrika (bellows) pranayama.  The inhalation is slow, followed by a vigorous exhalation.  The number of breaths can be increased up to 50 or more for advanced students.  This breath activates the liver and abdominal organs, improves digestion, clears the sinuses and leaves the head feeling clear and light, hence its English name – skull shining breath.



In addition to those however, the modern yogi can do much to preserve good health and condition through everyday attention to their lifestyle. 


A daily bath or shower is not necessary.  Vital oils are washed from the surface of the skin.  However daily washing of the problem areas, where sweat glands are active, is called for.  Try a daily air bath, being naked outside, or by an open wndow for  ten minutes.  Even better enjoy a dew bath, rolling on dew wet grass in the early morning.  In spite of all the warnings about sun and skin cancer, we must remember the difference between lying in burning sun for an hour or two, and the good practice of spending a little time each day exposing our body to the sun`s rays.  Vitamin D production is promoted, helping to prevent the development of osteo-porosis, and skin infections are often relieved.


The skin is designed to be largely self-cleaning.  Dead cells are constantly sloughing off, but some help is needed, especially when we spend most of our time in warm, stuffy rooms, dressed in artificial fibre clothing.  In those conditions the skin is unable to breath, and bacteria soon begin to multiply in warm damp spots such as the groin and underarms.  Although there is little evidence to prove otherwise, many people feel more comfortable removing body hair.  This practice goes back to the priests of the ancient world who were totally shaved before entering the temple.  Smooth skin tends to be more sensitive to stimuli, giving us greater awareness of our surroundings.  Removing hair from the groin and armpits is common practice in many parts of the world, for hygiene and health reasons.  Daily self massage, rubbing the skin towards the groin, armpits and centre chest, stimulates lymphatic flow, as well as stimulating blood flow in the skin.  In the same manner massage the scalp to keep the hair strong and healthy


Clothing for much of the time is unnecessary.  Naga (naked) yogis believe  that clothing is a barrier between us and God.  Any clothing worn through shame, false modesty, or pride is a sign that the ego is dominant in our attitude to our body.  Being naked is a wonderful experience, but when clothes must be worn, wear as little as possible, and preferably in natural fibres.  Underclothes constrict the flow of pranic energy around the root chakra, muladhara, the genitals and anus, and stifle apana breathing. Only in recent history have men worn trousers; before that, and still in many parts of the world, sarongs, lungis, kilts, or effectively nothing.


Shoes prevent our feet being in contact with the earth.  We lose the tactile sense of our feet, and of being connected to the earth.  The toes are not able to operate naturally in their functions of gripping and balance.  To begin with it may feel painful to walk over some surfaces.  If you practice every day, within a few weeks you will be able to walk over any surface, and feel pleasure in doing so.   Sharp stones, hot sand, mud, cool wet grass, frost, snow, will give you sensations as rich and varied as a delicious meal.


.The food we eat is of paramount importance, and can be studied separately.  Small regular meals seem to be the best.  Eat natural foods, with as few additives, including salt, sugar, colourings and preservatives, as possible.  The old guidance of, `If it doesn`t go bad, don`t eat it, but if it does, eat it before it has`, still seems sound.  From the point of view of cleansing the body, the right food can help to keep it clean, and where there are problems can help in detoxifying the system.. 


One of the joys of yoga is the feeling of lightness, cleanliness and freedom it gives.  Use these techniques to support your yoga exercise.


Derek Osborn                                                                                         10/2001

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