Shatkarmas - Cleansing Techniques

The hatha yoga cleansing processes have been placed into six groups of purification practices known as shatkarmas, ‘Shat’ meaning six and ‘karma’ meaning action. They are described in the ancient texts of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and Gherand Samhita. The six shatkarmas are neti, cleansing of the nasal passages, dhouti, cleansing of the alimentary canal, nauli, strengthening of the abdominal organs, basti, cleansing of the large intestine, kapalbhati, cleansing of the frontal area of the brain and tratak, intense gazing of a point developing concentration and cleansing the mind. A variety of practices come under these categories. We will look at the following cleansing practices that can be helpful for many problems.

Tratak – Concentrated Gazing

This is concentrated gazing on a point, flame or object without blinking the eyes. It is a cleansing practice for both the eyes and the mind.


Other Recommendations for Purifying the Body

As well as the yogic cleansing techniques there are some other recommendations to take into consideration when trying to purify the body. A natural, wholefood, preferably vegetarian, diet full of fresh fruit and vegetables, both raw and cooked, whole grains, lentils, legumes, nuts and seeds. Try to fill between half to two thirds of the diet with fruit and vegetables. Avoid salt, sugar, saturated fats, fried and fast foods, alcohol, caffeine and cigarettes.

Make sure you drink enough fluids. If you are eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables then the fluids needed are less. Don’t drink just to complete the daily two litres of water like many books say. It is important to listen to the body. It tells you when it needs water and you can also check your urine so you will know if the amount you are drinking is sufficient. The urine should be a very pale yellow. If you drink too much water it can lead to loss of electrolytes as well as water retention.

Once a week have a fruit and vegetable fast, eating only fresh fruit and steamed or raw vegetables. It gives the digestive system a little break and will also help to clear any old waste. Drink warm water with lemon or herbal teas. If you find it difficult to do this all day then substitute just one meal with fruits and vegetables.

Regular exercise is also important, whether it is sun salutations as exercise or walking, swimming or other forms of exercise.

Dry skin brushing is very good for improving the circulation, getting rid of cellulite and toxins as well as dead skin cells, leaving the skin glowing. All you need to do is get a body brush and brush the body in circular motions from the feet and arms towards the heart before you take your shower.

Self massage is also good for improving the circulation, skin appearance and is soothing and relaxing for the mind. After dry skin brushing massage any cold pressed vegetable oil into the skin, first warming it with the hands. Massage in upward strokes towards the heart.

There are so many ways to cleanse and detoxify the body and it is becoming increasingly necessary to do this both for our body and mind. By following a yogic lifestyle we can remain happy, healthy and free of disease.


Hatha Yoga describes Shatkarmas (six processes) in details for Body purification and mind purification. Various asanas (Yoga Positions), six shatkarmas, mudras & bandhas (psychic knots or psycho-physiological energy release techniques) and Pranayama are described in old ancient sanskrit texts of Hatha Yoga (Hatha Yoga Pradipika and Gherandasamhita).

Yoga has considered internal purification of the human body in depth. The shuddhikriyas (Cleansing Process) have been planned with a view to have total purification of the body before various samskaras are made thereon for baking the body in the fire named Yoga so as to turn the body into a ripe vehicle. The organs where there can be a lot of impurities require these shuddhikriyas. The internal organs, which come into contact with the external matters regularly, need to be purified. The trachea regularly comes into contact with the external air, the food pipe comes into contact with the external food products, and the mind comes into contact with the thoughts of the external world; these and such other organs need to be purified internally. Hence the shuddhikriyas. Certain elements are cured with these kriyas. Ayurveda has described these shuddhikriyas by the name of Panchkarmas. However, these panchkarmas take help of certain medicines and herbs. In the shuddhikriyas stated in Yoga, the emphasis is on the natural method. Many shuddhikriyas have been described in the Yoga texts. We will consider some of them in this syllabus. Direct study of these shuddhikriyas is expected over here.

While studying shuddhikriyas, one should consider the important difference in other yogic processes and the shuddhikriyas. Other yogic processes invariably form part of the daily activity of the human life, but these shuddhikriyas are not to be practiced daily. In fact they are not meant as part of the daily routine. When it is necessary to purify the body, these kriyas may be practiced daily, but when the need is over, the practice is stopped. It cannot generally be stated over here, when the need arises. It depends on each and every individual hence, the processes will be taught over here, but they are not to be practiced daily, but according to the duration which each individual may need. The duration may be different for each shuddhikriya. The detailed description of each shuddhikriya is given but it is enough to remember that shuddhikriyas are not to be practised like asanas and pranayam in day-to-day life.

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