Shatkarma or Shatkriya are the six yogic cleansing techniques. Some Hatha Yoga texts like Hatha Ratnavali prescribe eight cleansing techniques and call them Ashtakarma. However, the majority of Hatha Yoga texts including Hatha Yoga Pradipika (HYP) and Gheranda Samhita provide six techniques only.
Shatkarma Meaning and Importance
The Sanskrit word षटकर्म (ṣaṭkarma) means six actions. In Yoga terminology, Shatkarma means six actions that refer to six cleansing or purification techniques. Also, it gets the name Shatkriya. In English, we call Six Cleansing Techniques.
The purpose of the cleansing techniques is to prepare the Yogi for Pranayama by removing the impurities. Normally, the Nadis are full of impurities that block Prana from entering into Sushumna or the middle channel. By practicing Six Cleansing Techniques, the yogi directs Prana into the middle channel and proceeds to the advanced stages of Yoga.
However, HYP clearly states that Shatkarma is mandatory only for those having excess fat or phlegm in the body. For other people, it is not mandatory to practice Shatkriya before Pranayama. In other words, they can directly start Pranayama after Asana Siddhi.
Also, HYP states that some yoga Gurus are of the view that no separate cleansing techniques like Shatkriya are required since Pranayama removes all impurities.
As per Hatha Ratnavali, the purification techniques not only removes the fat and phlegm in the physical body but also purify Chakras.
Six Yogic Cleansing Techniques
According to Gheranda Samhita and HYP, the Six Yogic Cleaning Techniques are;
- Dhauti, the process of cleaning the upper part of the stomach
- Basti, the process of cleaning the lower part of the stomach
- Neti, the nasal cleaning
- Laukiki or Nauli, the process of cleaning internal organs
- Trataka, the technique for eyes
- Kapalabhati, the process of cleaning head
After describing six purification processes, HYP gives yet another technique called Gaja Karani Kriya.
Ashtakarma or Eight Cleaning Techniques
Unlike other Hatha Yoga texts, Hatha Ratnavali provides eight-fold cleansing techniques. In addition to the six yogic techniques, it gives Cakri Karma and Gaja Karani. Cakri Karma is the process of cleaning the rectum. Similarly, Gaja Karani is the process of vomiting the content of the stomach.
Benefits of Shatkarma
Hatha yoga texts claim the following benefits of Shatkriya or Yogic Cleansing Practices.
- The regular practice removes fat and phlegm in the physical body
- All Chakras are purified
- By the practice of purification practices, Pranayama becomes successful.
- It purifies the entire body and removes all diseases.
Apart from the claims made by yoga texts, many scientific studies were conducted to evaluate the effects of the purification practices.
P.S. Swathi et al reviewed the scientific studies on the Health and therapeutic benefits of Shatkarma. They conclude that the practice of cleaning techniques is safe and has a potential role in health and disease.