Last Updated: April 11, 2016

Definition - What does Shatkarma mean?

Shatkarma is the Sanskrit term for one of the six yogic purification techniques (kriyas) as outlined in the "Hatha Yoga Pradipika." The purpose of these cleansing techniques is to keep the body strong, clean and healthy. They are said to remove toxins and anything blocking the flow of prana in the body.

Practicing shatkarmas internally purifies the body, which makes pranayama and meditation practice easier by preparing the body to perform these practices without distraction, discomfort or fatigue.

The shatkarmas should always be learned from and practiced under the supervision of an experienced teacher.

Yogapedia explains Shatkarma

There are six shatkarmas, each a different purifying technique:

  1. Neti: a nasal cleansing process intended to purify the nasal passages and bathe the sinuses. It can be performed in two ways: either using a neti pot to cleanse the passages with saline solution, or using a thread passed through the nostrils and out the mouth. These are called jala neti and sutra neti, respectively.
  2. Dhauti: a cleansing process for the alimentary canal, including the oesophagus, the mouth, the stomach, intestines and rectum. There are 11 types of dhauti to cleanse different parts of the gut. One popular way is to swallow a length of cloth in order to remove phlegm, bile and impurities from the esophagus and stomach.
  3. Nauli: a cleansing practice for the abdomen which uses the abdominal muscles to massage and stimulate the digestive organs. The muscles of the abdomen are projected forward then contracted in a wave-like movement that increases “bodily fire.” This practice can take a lot of practice to perform effectively, as it requires a lot of abdominal control.
  4. Basti: a method for purifying the large intestine either with or without water. In the method with water, jala basti, the yogi sits in a tub of water and draws up water into the rectum by practicing uddiyana bandha and using the nauli kriya. Then the water is expelled.
  5. Kapalabhati: a breathing technique which means “shining skull.” In this practice, the breath is forcefully exhaled through the nostrils by strongly drawing in the abdominal muscles after which the inhalation happens naturally. This is repeated 20 times in quick, rhythmic succession.
  6. Trataka: also called the blinkless stare, is a technique for cleansing the eyes and improving mental focus. One method involves gazing at the flame of a candle. This is thought to increase blood circulation to the eyes and help strengthen them.

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