Hatha means willpower, and here it refers to disciplined practice and behaviour using willpower and energy.
Hatha Yoga is the path of practice and purification - internal, as well as external. It is therefore an additional Yoga path to the four traditional paths. Regular practice of these exercises requires willpower and discipline and that is why this path is called Hatha Yoga.
HA-THA, also means sun and moon. This refers to the union and harmony of the sun and moon principles, which result from the practice of Hatha Yoga. There are six purification techniques that pertain to Hatha Yoga, called Shat Karma Kriyas or Shat Karmas. In the West, Asanas and Pranayamas are generally assigned to Hatha Yoga - they are actually a part of Raja Yoga.
Caution: All the techniques described here should initially be practiced under the guidance of a “Yoga in Daily Life” Teacher.
Neti - Purification of the Nose
There are two types of Neti: Jala Neti and Sutra Neti.
Fill the specially made vessel, the Neti Pot, with warm, salty water. The temperature of the water should be 38-40° C, with about 1 teaspoon of salt per 1 litre of water*. Bend the head over a wash basin and gently insert the spout of the Neti Pot into the right nostril (which as a result, closes it). Bend the head slightly forward and at the same time tilt the head to the left so that the water may flow out of the left nostril. Breathing takes place through the opened mouth. Pour approximately half the contents of the pot through the right nostril.
Now gently insert the spout of the Neti Pot into the left nostril and tilt the head to the right, so that the water may flow out through the right nostril. When finished, blow out all remaining water from both nostrils using the technique of Kapala Bhati Pranayama (see Hatha Yoga Kriyas 5).
To complete the purification of the nose, strongly expel the breath a further 3-5 times through each nostril while holding the other nostril shut (as when blowing your nose). It is important that the mouth remains open during this process to prevent water getting into the ears.
It is recommended that Neti be performed daily.
Benefits: Has a positive influence on all sense organs in the head. Strengthens vision and relieves tired eyes (e.g. after working long hours at the computer). Neti can also be helpful in relieving headaches. Memory and concentration are improved. It is also beneficial for problems associated with the nasal and sinus cavities. Neti has a preventative effect against head colds and sinusitis. With regular use, Neti can also cure or at least ease hay fever and pollen allergies.
Caution: Do not practice if you have a severe cold or are suffering from earache.
This type of Neti is performed with a rolled string of cotton which has previously been dipped in melted bees wax, or a soft rubber catheter. The correct performance of this technique needs some practice and, therefore, for the first time it should only be practiced under the guidance of a Yoga teacher from “Yoga in Daily Life”.
Just as with Jala Neti, Sutra Neti also produces a thorough cleansing of the nose. The massaging effect of the catheter works even more intensively than rinsing with salt water.
This technique is very helpful for people with respiratory problems or narrow nostrils. With proper practice it can be performed every second day, or also daily.
Dhauti - Purification of the Esophagus and Stomach
This technique is also known as Gaj Karn. Gaj means elephant. When an elephant experiences nausea in the abdomen, it reaches the trunk deep into its gullet and sucks out the contents of the stomach. The technique is therefore demonstrated to us by nature. It helps relieve nausea when there is high acidity in the stomach or when one has eaten something indigestible or bad. This technique may also relieve food allergies and Asthma.
Jala Dhauti or Kunjala Kriya
Technique: Mix two litres of warm water (40°) with 1 teaspoon of salt. Stand upright and drink the water rapidly glass by glass. Bend forward slightly, press the left hand into the lower abdomen and extend the index and middle fingers of the right hand partially down the throat. Simultaneously, press the tongue down so that nausea is induced. The entire quantity of the water comes out again in half a minute.
This can be repeated once or twice each week and is best performed in the morning on an empty stomach.
Benefits: Has a beneficial influence on high acidity, allergies and asthma. Eliminates halitosis (bad breath).
Caution: Do not practice this exercise with high blood pressure or glaucoma.
Technique: This stomach purification technique requires the use of a strip of cotton, 3 metres in length and 10 centimetres wide. First-time practice of this technique must be performed only with the guidance of a “Yoga in Daily Life” teacher.
Benefits: Like Dhauti this technique purifies the stomach and helps relieve high acidity. It purifies the upper respiratory tract, and thereby eases asthma, and dust and pollen allergies.
Nauli - Turning of the Abdominal Muscles
There is a rule in Yoga that each muscle should move at least once a day. This brings our energy back into flow and releases blockages. Energy is like water. Water that stands still becomes impure and putrid. On the other hand, flowing water always remains pure. This is the reason why we should also move the muscles of our abdomen and intestines daily. Nauli very effectively supports digestion and the elimination process.
As a preliminary exercise it is recommended to practice the following technique - Agnisara Kriya.
Technique: Stand with the legs slightly apart. >Inhale deeply through the nose. >Exhale fully through the mouth while slightly bending the knees, placing both hands on the thighs. >Straighten the arms. The back is straight, the head upright. Allow the abdominal muscles to relax. >Now without breathing, move the abdominal wall powerfully and quickly, in and out 10-15 times. >Inhale through the nose and stand upright again. >Repeat the exercise 3-5 times.
Benefits: Agnisara Kriya activates the Manipura Chakra and awakens the “digestive fire”. It has a stimulating effect on metabolism, strengthens the immune system and is helpful for diabetes.
Caution: Only practice on an empty stomach. Do not practice this technique during pregnancy, menstruation or after any abdominal operation. Consult a Doctor before practicing this technique if there is any disease of the intestine or pancreas.
Once the abdominal muscles have been strengthened for a few weeks through the practice of Agnisara Kriya, then one may begin to practice Nauli.
Technique: Stand upright with legs slightly apart. >Inhale deeply through the nose. >Exhale through the mouth and bend forward, keeping the back straight. Bend the knees slightly and place both hands on the thighs. Draw in the muscles along the sides of the abdomen and at the same time contract the muscles that run parallel to each other in the centre of the abdomen (Rectus abdominus). In this way a strong suction effect is produced within the whole abdominal cavity. >When the impulse to inhale occurs, stand upright again and inhale. >This process can be repeated 5-6 times, or for as long as there is still power in the abdominal muscles. >After practicing for some time, it is then possible to move the Rectus abdominus from right to left, then left to right and also later, to move these muscles in a circular motion.
Nauli strengthens the abdominal muscles and massages the intestines and organs of the lower abdomen. It regulates blood pressure and has a preventative effect against diabetes. Helpful for heartburn and skin diseases (acne).
Nauli is one of the best exercises for our health, due to the stimulation and regulating effect upon the entire digestive system. Many illnesses have their origin in the digestive system: headache, skin diseases, sometimes also Cancer. Toxic substances and waste products that have not been excreted in a timely manner, are stored in the body - this is the cause of these misfortunes.
Caution: Practice on an empty stomach. Do not practice during pregnancy or if kidney or gallstones are present.
Basti and Shanka Prakshalana - Complete Cleansing of the Intestines
Dhauti cleanses the upper digestive tract. Basti and Shanka Prakshalana evacuate the intestines and thoroughly cleanse the whole digestive system (from mouth to anus).
In earlier times Basti was performed in the river whilst sitting in a squatting position. With the assistance of Nauli water was sucked up into the intestines and then eliminated again into the river. Today this technique is applied as an Enema in order to cleanse the lower segment of the intestine.
This technique is practiced in the morning on an empty stomach and, for the first three times, should definitely be practiced under the guidance of a teacher from “Yoga in Daily Life”.
Gently warm six to seven litres of water to 34-40°C. Add 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt per litre of water (with high blood pressure use diet salt). The temperature of the water should be kept constant throughout the whole practice.
Quickly drink the entire quantity of water glass by glass. After each glass of water, practice five stretching and twisting exercises, such as Trikonasana, Triyak Bhujangasana, Sideways Bending of the Body, Meru Prishthasana and Tadasana.
After the fifth glass, go to the toilet and perform Ashvini Mudra (rapid contraction and release of the anal muscles). This Mudra stimulates peristalsis of the intestines.
Continue to drink the warm, salty water, glass by glass and practice the five Asanas and Ashvini Mudra till no more solid stools are passed. The whole process is only complete when one eliminates completely clean water from the bowel. The colour of the water may be yellowish, but it should contain no solid components.
Afterwards, cleanse the stomach, esophagus and bronchial tubes by means of Dhauti (but with unsalted water). In conclusion, practice Jala Neti to prevent headache. Relax for about 1 hour following the Shanka Prakshalana practice. Cover your body well, but do not fall asleep.
Caution: The following diet is important. Khicheri should be eaten approximately 1 hour after Shanka Prakshalana - this can be prepared prior to relaxation.
Preparation of Khicheri: Place 2 cups of Basmati Rice, 3/4 cup of hulled Mung Beans (Dal), 1/2 teaspoon Turmeric powder, 1/2 teaspoon Cumin seeds and salt in a pot, covered with three times the amount of water. Allow to simmer until it is tender. Mix in 1 dessert spoon of butter or clarified butter per serve. This food has the effect of providing a protective film on the intestinal tract and for this reason, as much as possible should be eaten. Do not drink for 2 hours after eating this meal.
In the weeks that follow, eat only easily digestible food, as the intestines are very sensitive after this practice. For 7 days avoid milk, cheese, raw fruit and vegetables, black tea and coffee. For 20 days avoid gas-forming foods such as beans, cauliflower, cabbage, garlic, onions, hot spices and carbonated drinks. For at least 40 days avoid meat, fish, eggs and alcohol - however, for our health it is best to do without these completely.
In order that peristalsis of the intestines is stimulated, it is advisable to practice Agnisara Kriya or Nauli each day following the Shanka Prakshalana technique.
It is perfectly normal that no bowel movement takes place for two or three days following the practice. On the early morning of the next five days, one may choose to drink warm, unsalted water (four to five glasses), and after each glass perform the same exercises as with Shanka Prakshalana.
Shanka Prakshalana should be practiced 4 times a year, at the change of the seasons. At these times, our internal Biorhythm changes. Alternatively the technique can be practiced at least twice a year, mid-October till the beginning of November, and mid-March till the beginning of April.
Benefits: Shanka Prakshalana purifies the blood, detoxifies the body and helps to develop good digestion. It eliminates allergies (e.g. hay fever) and skin diseases (e.g. acne, neurodermatitis or psoriasis). Further, it is helpful for springtime lethargy and has a balancing effect upon the mind.
Caution: Shanka Prakshalana should not be practiced by persons under 15 years of age, during menstruation or pregnancy. It is to be avoided by persons with very low blood pressure, gastritis, ulcers, weak kidneys, large gallstones, kidney stones, chronic diabetes, hernia, or those with mental illness.
Kapala Bhati Pranayama - Cleansing the Frontal Sinuses
Bend the head and upper body slightly forward. Inhale through the mouth and exhale in short, powerful bursts through the nose 25-50 times.
Initially this exercise is practiced through both nostrils and afterwards through each individual nostril while the head is bent either to the right or left side.
After practicing Kapala Bhati one should relax for 1-2 minutes.
Benefits: This technique has a refreshing effect and gives new energy. Blood supply is stimulated to the whole forehead region and nasal passages. It is very helpful for sinusitis. The nose is cleansed and the respiratory system is strengthened. The effect is calming and therefore counteracts stress. Practiced prior to meditation, this technique brings inner peace.
Caution: Kapala Bhati may give rise to slight feelings of dizziness, however, these pass after some practice.
Trataka - Concentration on a Point or Candle Flame
Sit in meditation pose in front of a candle. Place the candle about an arm’s length away from you with the wick of the candle at the same height as your chest. If the candle is placed too high, it can create tension at the eyebrow centre, or produce a burning sensation in the eyes. The flame should be still and not moving in a draft. Close your eyes. Mentally repeat your Mantra as in meditation.
Open the eyes and look at the flame without blinking. The flame has three zones of colour. At the base of the wick is a reddish colour, in the middle it is bright white and at the tip it is slightly smoky. Concentrate on the upper part of the flame where it is brightest.
Close the eyes again. If the image of the flame appears within, gently concentrate on that image without creating any tension. Try not to pursue or hold onto the image, otherwise it will fade and disappear.
Repeat the practice 3 times.
The practice time should gradually build. In the initial stages, look at the flame only for about 10-15 seconds. Slowly increase this time, so that after about one year you can look at the flame for 1 minute and then concentrate on the inner image with closed eyes for about 4 minutes. Under no circumstances should this recommended length of time be exceeded.
One may also practice Trataka while looking at a white point on black paper, or at a black point on white paper. When one concentrates on a white point, one sees this as a black image when the eyes are closed and vice versa with a black point.
Benefits: Purifies the eyes, strengthens the eye muscles and improves vision and memory. Helps with sleeping difficulties and bedwetting. Strengthens the ability to concentrate and is therefore recommended for school children. Develops intuition, the ability to visualise and willpower.
Caution: This exercise is not suitable for people with psychic problems. Those who have a tendency towards Schizophrenia or hallucinations should not practice Trataka