The word Ṣatkarma is a combination of the words Ṣat (six) and karman (act). They are a set of yogic purification techniques delineated by haṭhayoga texts, beginning with the haṭhayogapradīpikā. These are procedures that remove gross impurities such as mucus and toxins from the body, curing a variety of diseases and render one fit for the practice of Prāṇāyāma. Not only this, the Ṣatkarmas enable the purification of the nāḍis, which means that Śakti can flow throughout the body unobstructed.
In her commentary of the Haṭhayogapradīpika, Swami Muktabodhananda says that before starting the practice of prāṇāyāma, any imbalance in the doshas (kapha, pitta and vāta) should be removed. She says, excess body fat should be reduced, mucus blocking the respiratory tract should be removed, gas in the stomach and intestines eliminated. The Ṣatkarmas in the Haţhayogapradīpikā were specifically designed to the correct imbalance in doshas.
The six purifications techniques are dhauti, basti, neti, trāṭaka, nauli and kapālabhāti.
- Dhauti – Swallowing a long strip of cloth in order to cleanse the stomach
- Basti – a yogic purification, intended to clean the lower abdomen, especially the colon.
- Neti – nasal cleaning with thread or water
- Trāṭaka – staring until the eyes water
- Nauli – rotating the abdominal muscles to stimulate digestion
- Kapālabhāti – vigorous breathing
Now we shall look at the 6 techniques in detail as mentioned in the Hathayogapradīpikā.
Gurūpadiṣṭamārgeṇa siktaṃ vastraṃ śanairgraset
Punaḥ pratyāharec-ca-etad-uditaṃ dhauti karma tat
Meaning: One should slowly swallow a damp cloth, about 8 centimetres wide and seven metres long, in the manner instructed by the guru. Then he should withdraw it. This is said to be the technique of dhauti.
Nābhi-daghna-jale pāyau nyasta-nālotkaṭāsanaḥ
Ādhārākuñcanaṃ kuryāt kṣālanaṃ bastikarma tat
Meaning: Squatting in water up to one’s navel with a pipe inserted in his anus, one should contract the anus. This cleansing technique is known as basti.
Sūtraṃ vitasti-susnigdhaṃ nāsānāle praveśayet
Mukhān-nirgamayec-caiṣā netiḥ siddhair-nigadyate
Meaning: The yogi should insert a well-oiled thread 24 centimetres long into the nostril and draw it out through the mouth.
(*Note: While there are two types of neti practices – sūtra neti and jala neti, the Haṭhayogapradīpikā only mentions sūtra neti. We learnt the Jala neti method during our course, which involves nasal cleansing with water.)
Nirīkṣen-niścala-dṛśā sūkṣma-lakṣyaṃ samāhitaḥ
Aśru-saṃpāta-paryantam ācāryais-trāṭakaṃ smṛtam
Meaning: One should focus with unwavering gaze and full concentration on a small object until the tears flow. The teachers call this Trāṭaka.
Amandāvartavegena tuṇḍaṃ savyāpasavyataḥ
Natāṃso bhrāmayed-eṣā nauliḥ siddhaiḥ praśasyate
Meaning: With the shoulders rounded, the yogi should, with a fast and forceful rotation, revolve the belly left and right. The accomplished ones call this Nauli.
Bhastrāvallohakārasya recapūrau sasaṃbhramau
Meaning: Rapid inhalation and exhalation like a blacksmith’s bellows is known as kapālabhāti. It removes the imbalanced of kapha.