What Are The Shatkarmas?

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Shat (six) + Karma (action)

Shatkarma Definition

Shatkarma (ṣaṭkarma) is the Sanskrit term for purification techniques which can be found in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.

Said to internally purify the body, shatkarmas include neti, dhauti, nauli, basti, kapalabhati and trataka.

Some of the shatkarmas are not for the fainthearted and should be practiced under the guidance of an experienced teacher.

a woman using a neti pot, one of yoga's shatkarmas

Shatkarma Deep Dive

Shatkarmas are used to cleanse the body and are said to help keep the body strong and healthy.  While shatakarmas are said to remove toxins, they are also known to unblock the flow of prana within the body.

Shatkarmas are cleansing practices and therefore are often done in the morning to get things moving.

The six shatkarmas stipulated in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika are said to remove “gross impurities” as well as cure numerous diseases. They are also a way to prepare the body for pranayama and meditation.

The six shatkarma techniques address a specific part of the body. They are:

  • Neti – this is a nasal wash used to clear the nasal passages and sinuses. It is often performed with a neti pot where saline solution is poured through one nostril and comes out of the other.
  • Dhauti – Whole digestive tract cleansing (often using cloth).
  • Nauli – This cleansing practice involves moving the abdominal muscles in a wave-like motion to stimulate and massage the digestive organs.
  • Basti – This technique requires the practitioner to draw water up through the rectum to cleanse the intestines before letting the water back out.
  • Kapalabhati –  This breathing technique which means “shining skull” requires a strong exhalation while drawing in the abdomen in a quick rhythmic motion.
  • Trataka – Used to cleanse the eyes and improve focus the eyes often rest on the flame of a candle.

Shatkarma in Your Life

The six internal purification practices can be very powerful practices. If you want to make a start on shatkarmas, then why not get yourself a neti pot and learn how to use saline solution to cleanse your nasal passages – this one is a little less intimidating than some of the others.

It is best not to overdo shatkarmas and they should always be learned from an experienced teacher.

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Sarah is a Brighton-based yoga teacher and teacher trainer with a passion for teaching self-inquiry and rest.

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