Note: For the Original
Internet Lessons with additions,
see the AYP
Easy Lessons Books.
For the Expanded and Interactive Internet Lessons, AYP Online Books,
Audiobooks and more, see AYP Plus.
Shatkarmas, Bodily Purification
Date: Mar 2, 2009
New Visitors: It is recommended you read from the beginning of the web archive, as previous
lessons are prerequisite to this one. The first lesson is, "Why
It has been said that the human body is the City of God. We can also
say that the human body, and the nervous system in particular, is a
window to the divine. Yoga practices are designed to aid in cleaning the
window so the full light of our inner divine qualities can shine through.
This is experienced as increasing inner peace, creativity, energy, and a
more illuminated view of the world. That is why the end stage of the
purification and opening process is called enlightenment.
Can this purification and opening be accomplished through physical means
alone? Not likely. Physical measures such as the diet and cleansing methods
being covered in recent and upcoming lessons, and much earlier lessons on
postures (asanas), mudras, bandhas, tantric sexual practices, etc., cover
the physical (energetic) side of our purification and opening. It runs much
deeper than that, and that is why spiritual desire (bhakti), deep
meditation, spinal breathing pranayama, samyama and other methods involving
heart, mind and breath receive much attention in the overall scheme of our
yoga practices. The non-physical methods of yoga reach far deeper than the
On the other hand, physical methods are an essential part of the broad scope
of spiritual practices as summarized in Patanjalis Eight Limbs of Yoga.
In upcoming lessons, we will be discussing traditional shatkarmas that can
be used to supplement our daily yoga routine, including:
--Jala Neti (nasal wash)
--Basti (colon cleansing/enema)
--Dhauti (intestinal wash)
Several additional shatkarmas will also be discussed in relation to our
daily routine of yoga practices. These include Nauli (churning of the
abdominal muscles), Kapalbhati (sudden exhale, a nerve cleansing pranayama
method), and Trataka (an eye/attention gazing method). Some of the elements
in these latter shatkarmas overlap with methods covered in previous AYP
lessons, and these connections will integrated into the discussion.
The use or non-use of shatkarmas is our option, of course. There is no right
or wrong answer in this. Only our own determinations about what works best
for our spiritual progress. Shatkarmas, in conjunction with other
practices, can help cultivate enhanced levels of purification and opening,
and also improve our physical health and well-being.
Stepping back and looking from a broader view, there is always the question
of what to do when as we build our yoga practice routine. In the AYP
approach we begin with deep meditation and spinal breathing pranayama before
we move into more physical methods. With this orientation, the urge to
engage in physical methods may emerge automatically. It is not uncommon for
those who are engaged in daily deep meditation to naturally favor a lighter
more nutritious diet, better hygiene, and even yoga postures and inner
physical maneuvers (mudras and bandhas). We call this automatic yoga,
which is inspired by the rise of inner silence. It is evidence that all of
the limbs of yoga are resident within us and naturally connected. Activate
one limb of yoga, and all the others will be stimulated. The deeper the
method we choose to engage in (such as deep meditation) the more the other
limbs will be stimulated.
Depending on where we are on our path of purification and opening, physical
methods such as the shatkarmas (cleansing techniques), can play a greater or
lesser role in our opening. For example, if we are on the verge of an energy
awakening, or entering into one, shatkarmas can become very important. This
is because our inner physical channels are then transforming to a higher
level of functioning to support the "nectar cycle" discussed on
and cleansing in the nasal passages, sinuses and GI tract will enhance these
refined processes. So we may naturally feel a strong urge to engage in shatkarmas at that time.
Shatkarmas may also be undertaken for health reasons. There is no doubt that
a full range of yoga practices, including shatkarmas, can be a great benefit
to our physical health.
Taking proactive measures with diet and shatkarmas can jump start inner
progress in the early stages of our deep meditation practice. After a few
months of daily deep meditation, if not much seems to be happening in the
way of positive effects in our daily activity, then diet and shatkarma
measures may help. Of course, this can only result if there is a strong
spiritual desire (bhakti) emerging from within to engage in these additional
measures, which is a sign that deep meditation is working to elevate our
longing for progress.
All yoga practices are connected within us. Next
So, whether we are inclined toward doing shatkarmas now or later, we can be
sure it will be in concert with our spiritual desires, deep meditation and
other practices we are engaged in. And, likewise, as we undertake shatkarmas,
this too will have a stimulating effect on our other practices.
In many cases, shatkarmas may not be undertaken at all. There is no rule
that says all practitioners of yoga must engage in all aspects of yoga. We
will know when we are being called, by the symptoms and urges that come from
within us. Some practices we may never be inclined to undertake, and that is
okay. If we are finding good progress and more happiness and fulfillment in
our life, that is all that matters.
The urge to engage in shatkarmas may be strong at one time on our path, and
then wane later on, as our nervous system becomes more self-sufficient in
sustaining the higher functioning associated with ecstatic conductivity and
radiance (kundalini). In this sense, shatkarmas are different from deep
meditation, spinal breathing pranayama and some of our other practices,
which we may continue with on a daily basis with for our lifetime.
Shatkarmas may be needed in the beginning or the middle, but not often near
the end of our journey. Shatkarmas can be viewed to be a kind of training
wheel for our inner ecstatic processes. As these processes come into
their own, we may be less inclined to use the training wheel. This can
happen with diet also, which is less critical in the end than it may be in
the beginning or middle stages of our spiritual journey.
Great sages have occasionally de-emphasized the rigorous diet and bodily
cleansing obsessions of those with less experience and development, going so
far as to demonstrate that they could eat, drink or smoke almost anything
without ill effects, at least not to their spiritual condition. Sustaining
the longevity of the body is another matter, and those advanced sages who
maintained a purer lifestyle generally stayed in the body longer than those
who did not.
One size does not fit all in matters of diet and shatkarmas, and it is
largely a matter of hearing our own inner calling along the way on the path
and utilizing these methods as inwardly inspired. Our inclinations will
likely change as our purification and opening advances over time, first to
more attention on diet and shatkarmas, and perhaps eventually to less
attention on these things as we move on to the glories of abiding inner
silence, ecstatic bliss, and outpouring divine love.
Then, the call we hear most of the time will be for radiating joy everywhere
in the form of service to others, and a constant transcendent inquiry into
our infinite unifying nature. Our yoga practices
are stepping-stones to that. All of the techniques of yoga, physical and
non-physical, are for our purification and opening, leading to
The guru is in you.
Note: For detailed
instructions on shatkarmas (cleansing techniques), see the
Diet, Shatkarmas and Amaroli book,
and AYP Plus.