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Introduction to Shatkarma

4 Oct 2021 HYN Himalayan Yoga Academy

Introduction to Shatkarma

Through the shatkarmas, harmonization of ida and pingala, the two main flows of prana, is established, resulting in physical and mental purity and balance. The shatkarmas also balance vata, wind, pitta, bile, and kapha, mucus, the three disorders created in the body. According to ayurveda and hatha yoga, any imbalance in these three disorders gives rise to disease. The shatkarma are also utilized before pranayama and other higher practices of yoga so that the body becomes free from disease and does not create any obstacles on the spiritual path.

These powerful practices should never be undertaken just by reading about them in a book or by learning from just by reading about them in a book or by learning from inexperienced people. According to the traditions, a person has the right to teach others only after being instructed by the guru. It is essential that these instructions are given personally, including the knowledge of when and how the practices are to be done, according to the needs of the individual.

The shatkarmas purify the body. Their purpose, however, is not only physical purification, but inner purification as well. When the body is purified, internal disorders are removed and good health is achieved. Without such purification the body will not be ready for the higher practices of yoga.

After purification a human being lives longer on this earth. In the Upanishads and Vedas it states in number of places that human beings live for a hundred years, jeevema sharadam shatam. This is not only the thinking of the Vedas, Upanishads or ancient philosophies, it is the truth. If a human being remains healthy and free from disease, living for a hundred years or more is natural. Accurate genetic copying of the cells can continue for that length of time if the programming is not disrupted by impurities or imbalances.

Causes of ill health:

The root cause of ill health is impurities in the body that create disorders. Impurity does not simply imply waste matter, but physical, mental, emotional and spiritual impurity.

Physical and dietary imbalances:

Physical impurity is mainly related to diet, its qualities and defects. For example, meal times are not often based on what is best for the body. Many people rise late, have breakfast at ten, lunch at two and dinner between eight and nine at night. Also, food contains many impure elements, including residues from fertilizers and pesticides used in agriculture. Such impurities cannot be completely removed from the diet because most people depend on purchasing food, but certainly some adjustment to meal times can be managed to be in accord with the natural routine of the body. The result will be an improvement in health.

The vedic tradition stresses that meals should be taken after sunrise and before sunset, but people today do not believe in this way of thinking or adhere to this advice, although the jains still observe strict dietary disciplines. Why not eat before sunrise or after sunset? There is a scientific reason behind this theory, linked with the biorhythms of the body. The solar plexus is linked with the digestive system and is activated by the sun. This important fact should always be kept in mind. It explains why observing this simple rule is the first step in remaining free from disease.

The second rule for keeping the body disease free, as emphasized in ayurveda, is that fifty percent of the stomach should be filled with nutritious food, twenty five percent with water and the remaining twenty five percent should be kept empty. Generally, however, people`s eating habits are quite different to this model. When there is good food, they tend to eat more that they require, due to greed and the sense of taste. Diseases, such as high blood cholesterol, are often the result. Disorders of the blood or stomach are often caused by an uncontrolled diet because the quantities of vata, pitta and kapha are unbalanced.

The third rule that yoga recommends is that meals be taken twice or three times a day, no more. The stomach needs to be regulated in this way because whenever food enters the stomach, digestive juices are produced in the same quantity. The stomach does not distinguish between a biscuit and full plate of food, it simply produces digestive juices. So If a biscuit is eaten every ten minutes, the stomach produce the same amount of digestive juices ten times, which may contribute to stomach ulcers or hernia, and possibly liver damage or kidney failure. If everyone ate a balanced diet at regular times, eighty percent of diseases and disorders would end.

Mental tension:

The second cause of disorders in the body is related to the type of thinking. If the mind is unhappy or tense, worried or disturbed, the appetite may disappear and one will not feel like eating. When there is deep involvement in an external situation or a mental state, it has an effect on mental tensions arise, they have detrimental effects on the body and disorders or diseases take root.

Emotional anxiety:

The third cause of physical disorders is emotional. Medical science describes it beautifully. It has been shown that when a person is in a state of happiness or sorrow, a hormone called adrenalin is secreted by the adrenal glands. This secretion over-excites the body. It is also closely related to the senses. When one fights with someone, adrenalin is secreted, increasing the rate of respiration. The heartbeat also speeds up and the senses immediately become alert. The ‘fight or flight’ response occurs in both happiness and sorrow.

Internal turmoil:

The fourth cause is spiritual. This may manifest as an unsteady mind, as mental or inner turmoil or in the expression of samskaras and karmas, all of which may have a negative effect on the body.

Modern civilization is deeply involved in materialism, but the shatkarmas are part of a complete yoga practice oriented towards the whole person, not just the physical body.

Shatkarma Practices

Those practices which regulate the functioning of the internal organs and make them free from disease can now be explained.

  1. Dhauti kriya: The first practice is dhauti, cleansing of the stomach and alimentary canal ordigestive tract. There are four types of dhauti: antar dhauti, danta dhauti, hrid dhauti and moola shodhana. Three methods are used: with water, with cloth or with air. These techniques help to remove many stomach ailments. Indigestion and other abdominal disorders such as constipation, irritable bowed syndrome and hyperacidity can be cured by practising dhauti.
  2. Basti kriya: The second practice  is basti, yogic enema. In basti, water is sucked up through the anus and kept in the large intestine for some time. The water does not enter the small Intestine, but remains in the large intestine. After some time the water is expelled , just as in a regular enema. The only difference is that in an enema a tube is used. Basti is more natural and more appropriate. When an enema is given, excessive force may be applied, resulting in scratches inside the body with the potential for internal injury and bleeding. The waste matter is toxic, so when it comes into contact with a wound, infection can result. Therefore, yogis recommend basti instead of enema. However, first the practice has to be perfected, and while learning the technique a rubber tube or catheter is required.
  3. Neti Kriya: The third practice is neti, nasal cleansing. Neti works like an ENT specialist, cleansing the nose, ears and throat. It is a simple practice. Sage gheranda describes the variation in which a thread is passed through the nostrils. Alternatively, water is poured in one nostril and flows out the other. The benefits are experienced as soon a s the practice is done, as it clears the nasal passages and sinuses. Neti is beneficial for people suffering from sinusitis, rhinitis, eyesight, eye fatigue, headache, migraine eye congestion, pain in the eyes and minor ailments of the ears such as excessive wax and hardened wax, which may injure the eardrums during its removal. Neti can also relieve throat irritation.
  4. Lauliki Kriya: The fourth practice is lauliki, which is also called nauli. It is powerful technique which massages and strengthens all the abdominal organs. It should be practiced by those suffering from indigestion, loss of appetite or intestinal worms. It is also useful for removing excess vata or wind.
  5. Trataka: The fifth practice is Trataka, steady gazing which is useful for removing eye defects and balancing the nervous system. It can, for example, help to remove nervous tics or uncontrolled nervous activity such as one eye blinking very fast. Trataka can relieve eyestrain , short sightedness, far-sightedness, myopia or other eye defects n a healthy body. Experience has also shown  that with the practice of trataka alone, many people no longer need to wear spectacles.
  6. Kapalbhati: The sixth practice is Kapalbhati. This is a breathing technique that clears the head and can help to remove defects of the lungs. The trachea or windpipe becomes free from disease and the blood is purified, as a greater volume of oxygen is taken in and a greater volume of carbon dioxide is expelled. Kapalbhati is useful for correcting imbalances of the autonomic nervous system and mental disorders. It is also useful for a weekend memory. Research conducted in an American university found that memory retention  in older people can be improved by practicing pawanmuktasana part 1 and kapalbhati for six months.

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