The tech session I attended this evening focused on the kriyas: six yogic cleansing techniques.
Interestingly, tonight’s class felt very much like a standard, Western education experience – which isn’t bad necessarily, just different. Apart from the class opening (which consisted of the very-common-to-yoga three rounds of chanting OM, then a brief [30 second] centering meditation [“Breathing in, I come home; breathing out, I arrive.”]), the session was pretty much a standard tell-do-review kind of class, akin to 95% of all formal education courses I have ever taken. Again, just interesting.
The instructor introduced the content by explaining the “why” of kriyas; namely, why do them at all?
Kriyas are techniques that clean the physical body; they go above-and-beyond everyday good hygiene such as bathing and brushing teeth and the like. (If you are a yogi, it is assumed you already engage in basic physical self-care, because it is assumed you follow the yamas and niyamas – one of which is saucha [“purity”].) Yogis (and by that, I mean people who are following the yogic path – not necessarily [only] swamis, or Gumby-esque bendy people, or hippies, or whatever other mental stereotypes the term ‘yogi’ might invoke) practice one or more of the kriyas in order to achieve a deeper/more thorough physical cleansing – because a cleaner (healthier) physical body supports more effective pranyama (breath work). Pranyama helps to cleanse the energetic body – and a healthier/more open energy body supports more effective/deeper meditation; and that is what yoga is actually really all about: removing the avidya (ignorance) that keeps us from realizing our true, internal, divine selves.
So, there’s the reasoning for why a person following the yoga path should engage in kriya. (If, indeed, the person really does want to follow yoga in its entirety; not just do the physical movement [asana] practice.)
After explaining why kriyas are important to the yogic path, the teacher then dove into the “what” and “how” of the kriyas.
As I said at the beginning of this post, there are six kriyas. We divided the remainder of the class session discussing each one, and briefly practicing the ones that we could. (And you will see why we couldn’t [or wouldn’t want to] practice some of the kriyas in a few seconds.)
Kriya #1: Dhauti: Stomach and Throat Cleansing.
One of the foundational, ancient yoga texts (the Hatha Yoga Pradipika) explains that to clean the inside of the stomach and throat, a yogi should soak a strip of gauze (“four fingers wide by fifteen hands long”) into warm water or milk. Once the material has been sufficiently soaked, the yogi should then slowly swallow the cloth (leaving the end hanging from the mouth), wait 5-10 minutes or so, and then slowly remove the cloth. And voila! Stomach and throat cleaned.
Um, yeah. We didn’t practice this one in the tech session. :)
Our teacher did say that a more modern, perhaps more “reasonable” practice that many yogis do perform is to fill a pure copper cup with water in the evening; and in the morning, drink the water soon after awakening.
Another way some people practice dhauti is to scrape their tongue each morning with a metal tongue scraper. (Being careful to choose a metal that is in line with one’s specific dosha.)
I’m all for staying open to new experiences, and I know that there are yogis out there who do swallow cloth; but I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to choke down 15 feet of gauze. Now, I never say “never” in life; but I think this one is highly unlikely. Then again…
In the meantime, I probably can start to scrape my tongue (I used to do this many years ago, actually, and just got out of the practice); and I’ll look into finding a copper cup. I’m fairly confident I could locate one online…
Kriya #2: Bhasti: Rectal Cleansing.
If you thought it couldn’t get any worse than swallowing gauze, think again. :)
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika goes into some detail about how to sufficiently cleanse one’s rectum; but I’m not going to repeat those details here. If you’re super-curious, you can access the text online. Our teacher did read the passage for us in class; and then stated that the modern application of this kriya is colonic irrigation and/or enemas, depending on one’s tolerance and preference.
Hmm…. I’ve never had a colonic, but I can only imagine what the experience might be like. Still, I might (*MIGHT*) be up for trying this one – someday. If any of you are local, and want to take me on a colonic excursion, well, I might go. The only catch is that you have to get one, too. :)
Kriya #3: Neti: Nasal Cleansing.
Okay, here’s one I actually do! Neti is the practice of filling a small, long-spout pot with warm salt water – then sticking the spout of the pot into one of the nostrils, tilting the head, and then letting the water flow into the one nostril and out the other nostril. To the uninitiated, this practice may sound kooky, uncomfortable, even dangerous – but I promise you, it’s good stuff.
I started doing neti about five years ago. I had one miserable winter where I got three sinus infections over the course of six months; and it was horrible. Yucky, smelly, and painful. The third doctor I saw suggested neti (thank you complimentary medicine!), and I was desperate enough to get over my skepticism, and just try it. And it totally worked. I haven’t had a sinus infection since; and I truly do notice a difference in not only my quality of breathing, but also my enjoyment of breathing (as silly as that may sound). I neti every single morning (even when I travel, on vacation, when I’m sick [especially when I’m sick], etc.), and it makes a significant difference for me. So woo hoo for kriya number three!
Kriya #4: Trataka: Eye Cleansing.
Trataka is both a cleansing practice, and a meditation practice. Basically, it involves staring at a single object (usually a candle, but can also be a flower, or a mandala, or an image of a guru or deity, or any other “appropriate” item) for as long as you can without blinking (or with blinking minimally). For the cleansing practice, the goal is to stare until the eyes well with tears; then allow the tears to cleanse the eyeballs. (And then wash the eyes with cool water.) For the meditation practice, the goal is to stare until the meditator becomes unified with the object of meditation; that is, to practice trataka until union (samadhi) is reached.
We did a brief 5 minute trataka practice in class. We used a candle, and stared without blinking as much as possible; but we didn’t go to the point of creating tears. We just got a feel for the kriya.
I could see how this kriya might be beneficial; but I’m also nervous that trataka might cause some damage to my eyes. So I’ll have to ponder this one (not intellectually, but with my heart), and see if it’s a practice with which I might want to dabble/experiment. We’ll see.
Kriya #5: Nauli: Internal Organ Cleansing.
Nauli has surfaced in my teacher training program at least once every single month. Honestly. I remember my first day of training very clearly, and during the third hour of that session, the instructor taught us how to do nauli. And yet, I still don’t do nauli on a regular basis. And it’s not that hard, it’s not disgusting or painful or gross, and it doesn’t take that much time.
To do nauli, a person starts by standing upright. The person breathes in deeply, then breathes out semi-quickly and forcefully; puts their hands just above their knees, does uddiyana bandha (upward abdominal lock), and then contracts their abs to churn their stomach. The churning continues until the person needs to inhale; at which they calmly stand up, and take a normal breath.
When done correctly, nauli is actually kind of cool to watch.
Doing nauli takes less than a minute; and while I haven’t felt immediate benefit from doing this practice the few times I have performed it in class, that doesn’t mean that benefit wouldn’t accumulate if I practiced nauli on a more regular basis. So I’ll consider integrating nauli into my daily morning yoga series.
Kriya #6: Kapalbhati: “Skull Cleansing”. (Known more commonly as “Breath of Fire”.)
I have been exposed to Breath of Fire twice before in this teacher training program; once during a guest teacher training session, and again during a tech session on Kundalini yoga. (Kundalini yogis love Breath of Fire.) To do kapalbhati, the practitioner sits upright (either on the floor or in a chair, both work), then makes short, quick, fast, powerful (“explosive”) outbreaths. The goal is to repeat the out-breaths as quickly as possible. (The resulting in-breaths come on their own, no effort required.) When done correctly, Breath of Fire reminds me of the noise a child’s toy train makes. (Choo choo choo choo choo choo….) In fact, every time I do Breath of Fire in a class, I am smiling just a little bit, because in my mind I see a room full of little toy trains. Anyway…
The stated benefits of kapalbhati are increased physical energy and clarity of mind. And those benefits are generally what I have experienced. When I have done kapalbhati in the past, I definitely felt more energized, and the increased energy lasted for a while. And perhaps because I had more energy, I also usually felt more focused, clear, even lucid.
That was my experience this evening, too. After finishing kapalbhati, the teacher made a few closing comments, and then ended the class session. I packed up my gear, drove home, and got ready for bed. I slipped under the covers around 10 pm (which is late for me), but still felt attentive and aware, not quite ready to slip into unconsciousness. So I just laid in bed, breathing, smiling at my good fortune and happy life.