Sauca , purity, is one of the fundamental principles of yoga. Ancient yogis maintained sauca by practicing a number of kriyas , cleansing techniques. Through a modern lens, some of these practices may seem extreme — such as sliding a rope up your nostril, through your nasal sinus, and out your mouth—and some are considered downright dangerous—like binge drinking salt water until, one way or another, your body rejects it explosively. In the spirit of moderation and non-violence, here are some starter versions of commonly practiced kriyas . They are ordered from most-accessible to least-accessible:
Practice on your own:
- Trataka : Blinkless gazing, which cleanses the tear ducts, is inherently the most accessible kriya . It doesn’t require specialized equipment or a strong stomach, only a dristi (focal point) and tapas (discipline). Set up in a comfortable seated position with an object of focus, such as a lit candle, at eye-level. Gaze upon the object without blinking, and notice your experience without judgement or attachment. Once your eyes begin to water, close them to reset.
- Dhauti: If you’re squeamish do not do a Google images search for dhauti . Traditionally, yogis swallowed and regurgitated long strips of fabric to cleanse the digestive tract (this, of course, should only be attempted under the guidance of a qualified teacher). A more accessible version of cleaning the upper digestive tract requires only a simple, inexpensive piece of equipment: a tongue scraper. As part of your normal dental hygiene routine, gently scrape the back of your tongue where bacteria tends to build up.
Practice with a teacher:
- Kaphalabhati: If you’ve done Bikram yoga, you’ve practiced this pranayama technique at the end of class. Translating to “skull-shining breath,” kaphalabhati not only cleanses the lungs, it is also thought to purify the cranial sinuses. To practice this technique, inhale the lungs to half-full and begin series of short, sharp exhales driven by the belly snapping back toward the spine. When the abdomen relaxes between exhales you may not even notice the inhale that occurs naturally. This is a powerful technique, so if you would like to practice beyond 20 to 30 breaths, consult with an experienced teacher.
- Nauli: Seasoned yogis often have such mastery of their abdominal muscles that they can use them to cleanse the digestive organs with a vigorous, circular massage. A fundamental prerequisite for this is the practice of uddiyana bandha . To do it, exhale all the air from your lungs and tuck the chin to hold the breath out. Then, draw the navel in and up underneath the rib cage to hollow out the belly. Maintain this bandha (energy lock) for a few seconds, but not to the point of feeling panicked, then release the abdominals and inhale.
Special equipment may be required:
- Neti: This is where the kriyas start to get inherently less accessible. There is no getting around it with neti— something is going up your nose. The most accessible version of nasal cleansing is to do jala neti with a neti pot , which can be purchased at most drugstores. The overview: begin by dissolving one teaspoon of sea salt (not table salt) in a two cups of purified warm water, and fill your neti pot. Over a sink, tilt your head such that when you pour the saline solution into your top nostril it enters your sinus cavity and runs out your bottom nostril. After going in both directions, blow your nose well to clear any remaining fluid from the nose. Your neti pot should include more detailed instructions.
Clear with your healthcare provider:
- Basti: Emo Philips quipped, “When I wake up in the morning, I just can't get started until I've had that first, piping hot pot of coffee. Oh, I've tried other enemas…” Like neti , basti —colon cleansing —requires special equipment: you can buy an enema kit from most drugstores. Start with saline water rather than coffee, and f ollow the instructions packaged with your particular kit. Experienced teachers may be able to provide recipes for other concoctions with which to fill your enema bag. Note: Enemas are contraindicated in some cases, including pregnancy, so consult your healthcare provider before attempting.
By Barbie Levasseur