On July the 4th 2020 a great day was proclaimed in England – the pubs re-opened after almost three months! All joking aside, this is a huge day for those businesses in the hospitality industry who were allowed to re-open – as long as they adhere to the government’s Covid-19 guidelines.
Although widespread drunk and disorderliness were predicted, the general public was generally well-behaved, but were you?
In actual fact, sales of alcohol have soared during lockdown, which suggests that people have just moved their drinking habits from the pub to the back garden.
Have we learnt to rely on sugar and alcohol more than we used to during this period? Perhaps it’s time we re-balanced our bodies through yoga, and yoga’s sister science, Ayurveda.
The Six Kriyas
In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the 16th-century practical guide to yoga, the six kriyas, or cleansing techniques are mentioned. The purpose of these practices is to make the body light and remove built-up residual matter (also known as ‘amma’ in Ayurvedic medicine) from the body.
These practices are deeply interwoven with yoga in India, as discussed in an interview with Deepti Sastry, YogaLondon’s Philosophy expert. As a child, the focus of her childhood yoga practice at boarding school were these immune-boosting cleansing practices.
These link into Ayurveda, and the three doshas, or qualities of the body: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. If these qualities are out of balance, then this will lead to dis-ease (disharmony) of the body.
What are the Six Kriyas?
In the HYP, Chapter 2, v 21 – 37, the six kriyas are prescribed rather bluntly:
One who is overweight and has excess phlegm, should first (before the practice of pranayama) practice the six acts (cleansing techniques or kriyas). Others [who do not have these issues] should not practice them, because the three dosas (vata, pitta and kapha) are balanced in them.
The six acts (cleansing techniques or kriyas) are dhauti, vasti, neti, trataka, nauli, and kapalabhati.
These six acts, which purify the body and produce special benefits, were kept secret for many hundreds of years and were only practiced by traditional yogis.
- Dhauti is the rather extreme (to us) method of cleaning the alimentary canal through slowly swallowing a long (8 foot long) piece of wet cloth, soaked in salty water. This is kept in for around 20 minutes and then drawn out, bringing with it any impurities.
- Vasti is essentially colonic irrigation – the cleansing of the lower gut through inserting water through a tube inserted into the anus. In the HYP a hollow piece of bamboo is recommended.
- Neti is described thus: Insert a smooth thread [about nine inches long] through the nasal passage and draw it out through the mouth. These days there are slightly less extreme ways to do the neti cleansing, including the use of a neti pot, through which you draw water into the nasal passages to wash away impurities.
- Trataka is the purification of the eyes and thankfully doesn’t involve any insertion – phew. In this practice, the gaze is focused on a small point, without blinking, until the eyes begin to water.
- Nauli kriya can also be linked to Uddiyhana bandha and involves massaging the internal abdominal organs through the use of the external muscles. When done properly the movement resembles undulating waves moving across the abdomen.
- Kapalabhati is a cleansing breathing technique. In the HYP it is described as ‘Inhaling and exhaling rapidly like the bellows of a blacksmith’. Kapalabhati literally means light skull, and the effects are to activate the digestive organs, drain the sinuses, and create a feeling of exhilaration.
According to the HYP, once these six cleansing techniques are practiced then pranayama can be commenced. However, some teachers debate that the kriyas need to practiced at all, as they say that pranayama alone will cleanse the body of all impurities.
In the Western world, almost all of these techniques are not something to just have a go at. However, the principles of cleansing the body of impurities are worth adhering to. The niyama (yogic moral guidelines) of saucha, or cleanliness, is also incorporated into this ideal of cleansing the physical body and ridding it of impurities in order to practice the asanas with a pure body.
What to Try Instead
The first thing in the morning is a good time to establish a few cleansing habits. Before you head to the kitchen, use a copper tongue scraper to clean the tongue, and then brush your teeth. This gets rid of the build-up of toxins that form on your tongue overnight. Then try drinking hot water with a slice of lemon to wash out your digestive system, or some detox tea.
Try doing a yoga practice or pranayama session before breakfast as this helps to purge the body of toxins too.
And, rather obviously, give your body a break from alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and highly fatty foods. Stick to homemade, colorful, fresh food, and feel your energy levels start to increase and your sleeping patterns improve.
How to Detox through Yoga
Yoga can help improve the gut – which is linked to improved mental health too. Poses that help to detox the body are those that are ‘pitta’ (or fire) inducing, such as sirsasana, or headstand. Backbends stimulate the liver – which is why they can make you feel nauseous if you’ve overindulged the night before. The twists massage the organs of the gut and help cleanse the kidneys and liver by wringing them out. And Supta Virasana, (Supine Hero pose) can be done at any time, even after a heavy meal (or heavy night) to aid digestion and stretch out the gut.