Saucha – the practice of maintaining cleanliness and purification of one’s body, mind, and environment – is the first of the five observances or ethical guidelines (see Niyamas) in the eight-limbed path of yoga.
Kriya techniques refer to the various cleansing practices designed to both purify the body and mind by removing blockages and toxins and to facilitate the healthy flow and balance of prana (our vital energies).
Many kriyas are not for the fainthearted and should be practiced only under the guidance of an experienced teacher, especially if you are new to the techniques.
However, with the right guidance, kriya techniques can be a great addition to your yoga practice. So, in this article, we’ll be covering:
- Kriya Yoga ≠ Kriya Techniques
- Types of Kriyas
- Benefits & Precautions of Kriyas
- 5 Yoga Kriyas: How To
Kriya Yoga Versus Kriya Techniques: What’s the Difference?
With such similar names and overlapping philosophies and practices, it can be easy to assume Kriya Yoga and kriya techniques are synonymous. However, this is not the case as while kriya techniques and Kriya Yoga are related, they are distinct practices.
Kriya techniques, on the other hand, refer to a broader range of practices that involve various techniques for cleansing, purifying, and balancing the body and mind.
These techniques are not limited to Kriya Yoga and are practiced across a variety of spiritual and yogic traditions, including Kundalini, Hatha (see Shatkarmas) Tantra, and Ayurveda.
Kriya Yoga, on the other hand, is oriented toward expanding the consciousness of practitioners to move them toward union with the divine. Thus, while Kriya Yoga may use kriya techniques, it’s much broader in its intention than just purification.
Types of Kriyas:
There are many different types, forms, and variations of Kriyas, which can be broadly categorized according to the techniques used and their specific benefits.Some of the most common categorizations of kriyas are as follows:
- Breathwork kriyas: These use various breathing techniques, such as Kapalabhati, Bhastrika, and Nadi Shodhana, which are thought to help cleanse the respiratory system, stimulate the flow of energy (prana), and balance the nervous system.
- Movement kriyas: These use various physical movements, such as Surya Namaskar, Pawanmuktasana, and other yoga asanas/sequences, hoping to improve circulation, stimulate the organs, and cleanse the body of physical tension and blockages.
- Cleaning kriyas: These involve various techniques for purifying the body and mind, such as Shankhaprakshalana, Dhauti, and Neti. These are thought to remove toxins, clear blockages, and promote the flow of prana.
- Sound kriyas: These make use of sound and vibration, such as chanting, singing, or playing musical instruments, to help clear and calm the mind, balance emotions, and open the heart and throat chakras.
- Meditation kriyas: These include various techniques for focusing the mind, such as Trataka, Yoga Nidra, and Antar Mouna, which can help to purify our mind for better concentration, and more truthful thoughts.
5 yoga kriyas To purify the Mind, Body and Spirit
#1. Kapalabhati Pranayama – Skull Shining Breath
One of the six Shatkarmas, Kapalabhati pranayama is a breathing technique that engages the abdominal muscles and diaphragm to pump rapid, forceful exhales through the nose.
In this technique, only the exhales are active. During the inhalations, the abdominal muscles and diaphragm release and relax, to allow air to be drawn in passively for the inhale.
Derived from two Sanskrit words “kapala” meaning skull, and “bhati” meaning shining or illuminating, “Kapalabhati” describes the intention of this kriya practice – to purify the mind to bring clarity and brightness to our thoughts, perceptions, and intuitions.
The deep, rapid and meditative breathing involved in Kapalbhati is believed to purify the mind and body to the following effects:
- cleanse the lungs to improve respiratory function
- boosts metabolism and digestion
- increases energy and vitality
- reduce stress and anxiety
- improve mental clarity and focus
- balance the doshas (Ayurveda)
People who are pregnant, menstruating, have high blood pressure, respiratory problems, abdominal or heart conditions, or have recent surgeries or injuries should avoid or modify Kapalbhati under the guidance of a qualified yoga teacher or healthcare provider.
Seniors, those under the age of 12, persons recuperating from tuberculosis, and anyone with other significant health issues are advised to perform Kapalbhati only under the approval and supervision of a skilled instructor.
- Begin seated in a comfortable position with your spine straight and hands resting on the knees.
- Take a few deep, gentle breaths to prepare, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth.
- Take a deep breath in, and then exhale forcefully through your nose, pulling your navel towards your spine to create a sharp exhale.
- To inhale, relax your diaphragm and abdomen. Inhale passively through your nose, allowing your abdomen to expand. This is one round of Kapalabhati pranayama.
- Repeat the process for 15-30 rounds at your own pace, focusing on the forceful exhalations and allowing the inhale to happen naturally.
- Take a few deep breaths to center yourself and relax after completing the practice, noticing any changes in your mind, body or breath.
#2. Neti – Nasal Cleansing
Neti Kriya is a purification technique that involves rinsing the nasal passages with saline solution, herbal water or sometimes even milk (see Dugdha Neti) in order to clear the nose, of mucus or blockages.
Deriving from ancient Sanskrit, the term Neti translates to “not this” or “neither this” and refers to the negation and removal of toxins and impurities from the body during kriya purification processes.
Neti Kriyas are associated with the following purifying benefits in yoga:
- clear the nasal passages
- reduce sinus congestion
- improve self-awareness
- improve breathing quality
- enhance mental clarity
People with nasal congestion, a deviated septum, ear infections, or other nasal or ear conditions should avoid or modify jala, rubber, or sutra neti under the guidance of a qualified yoga teacher or healthcare provider.
The practice is also only advised for anyone outside of the age range 14-50, or those with underlying health issues or concerns if approved by a medical professional.
There are many ways to practice neti. The most common ways are:
2a) Jala Neti
Perhaps the most common variation, Jala Neti utilizes a specially designed watering can-like jug called a neti pot to pour the warm saline solution into one nostril while tipping the head slightly to allow it to flow through the nasal passages and out the other nostril.
Find our directions for Jala Neti here.
2b) Sutra Neti
In this variation of Neti Kriya, a warm herbal water solution is used to cleanse the nasal passages instead of using saline water.
This herbal water mix is concocted by boiling water and adding a precise blend of gentle herbs like chamomile, mint, eucalyptus, or lavender, which are believed to have soothing, purifying and healing properties. The herbal blend may be altered to treat certain ailments.
The herbal water is then poured into a neti pot or other container and used in a manner similar to Jala Neti.
2c) Rubber Neti
This neti technique uses a soft rubber catheter-like tube, rather than the conventional Neti pot or thread, to gently cleanse the nasal passages.
The tube is lubricated before being carefully inserted into one nostril and passed through the nasal cavity, exiting through the mouth (eek!).
The tube is then gently pulled out of the nostril to clear and clean the nasal passage effectively, before then repeating this process on the other nostril.
#3. Dhauti – Internal Washing
Dhauti Kriya is a cleansing technique that involves the cleansing of our digestive tracts via various methods, from drinking saltwater to swallowing a long strip of cloth (!) in order to eliminate impurities and toxins from the body.
There are numerous types of Dhauti Kriya, including but not limited to Jala Dhauti (water cleansing) Vastra Dhauti (cloth cleansing), and Danda Dhauti (stick cleansing), with each type posing some unique and specific benefits.
Dhouti Kriyas are believed to assist in purifying the mind and body to the following effects:
- Improving digestion
- Boosting immunity
- Enhancing mental clarity
- Increasing energy levels
- Fostering self-discipline
We highly recommend only practicing Dhauti Kriya under the guidance of a trusted and qualified yoga teacher, as it can be dangerous if performed incorrectly or without proper preparation and understanding.
Additionally, it is not recommended for pregnant individuals or those with certain medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, allergic angioedema, diabetes, gastrointestinal problems, recent surgery, or heart problems.
Children, elderly people, or those struggling with/recovering from eating disorders are also not advised to practice Dhauti Kriyas.
Vastra Dhauti (cloth cleansing) and Danda Dhauti (stick cleansing) can be particularly dangerous if not performed correctly, even for the healthiest practitioners, which is why we’re not providing instructions here.
Jala Dhauti How to:
Jala Dhauti involves drinking warm water mixed with non-iodized salt, which is then expelled from the body by inducing vomiting.
This is believed to cleanse the esophagus and stomach, remove toxins from the body, improve digestion, purify the digestive tract, and eliminate excess acidity from the body.
Jala Dhauti can be performed as follows:
- Start by preparing the saltwater. To do so, mix two teaspoons of non-iodized, high-quality salt into a liter of warm water (40°C), stirring well until the salt is completely dissolved.
- Next, stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) and begin drinking the saltwater in small sips. Take your time and try to relax as much as possible, as the taste can be uncomfortable.
- If all feels well, continue by drinking the saltwater more confidently, continuing this process until you have drunk the entire liter of saltwater.
- After drinking the salt water, you may start to feel nauseous or like you need to vomit. This is a normal reaction and is the key part of the cleansing process. When you feel like you need to vomit, lean forward and allow it to happen.
- If you are finding it difficult to vomit, gently use your index and middle fingers to massage your tonsils to encourage the emptying of the stomach.
- After drinking the salt water, you may have some remaining water in your mouth. Spit it out and swill the mouth with normal, filtered water to cleanse any remaining salt.
- Repeat this process until the vomit is completely clear, but do not repeat more than 3 times.
Remember to take it slow and listen to your body throughout the practice. If you experience any worrying symptoms, discomfort, or pain, stop immediately and seek guidance from an experienced yoga teacher.
After completing the kriya, take some time to rest and allow your body to recover. We’d also recommend that practitioners avoid eating or drinking anything for at least 30 minutes to one hour after the practice, and longer if possible.