Sometimes when I talk about my yoga experiences with friends on Facebook, I forget how strange it must all seem to them.
One of the most-liked quotes my husband posted from our most recent retreat together was an imperative to try “vomiting harmoniously”—people were equal parts awed and amused.
And probably a little disgusted.
In my time taking the Hridaya Yoga Module 1 course at the center in Mazunte, we talked about a number of different kriyas or physical cleansing methods, including the ones that seems more “extreme” to Western minds, like vamana dhauti (stomach cleansing by vomiting) and shanka prakshalana (intestinal cleansing with salt water).
And while we were encouraged to try these out if we felt called to do so, we were primarily focused on turning five different cleansing techniques into daily habit.
I haven’t kept all five as part of my daily routine. It was a challenge to get into, even at the retreat, because of the amount of time it added to my morning routine. I was told that when it became habit, I’d easily be able to do it all in five or 10 minutes. But as a beginner, I was spending at least 30 minutes every morning trying to feel cleansed.
It was the first, the neti pot—using salt water to cleanse the nasal passages—that held up the entire process.
I was and continue to be so congested that it can take five or more minutes to get a single pot of water through one side. But I persist in reminding myself to grab my bathroom bag, head to the sink and check these five exercises off my to-do list, because even after a few weeks I could already see some incredible results.
Jala neti: cleansing the nasal passages using salt water.
This is the “weird” one that most people have heard of, as it inevitably comes up in any discussion about natural remedies for nasal congestion. That is, in fact, why I first tried using a neti pot many years ago.
But it wasn’t until recently I realized the power of daily neti pot use. My nasal passages are clearer, my sense of smell better, my breathing easier. My breathing feels conditioned.
Jihva mula dhauti: cleansing of the tongue.
Tongue scraping is another technique that may seem kind of icky but that has had some dramatic results for me. It’s amazing how much more alive my tastebuds seem when they are free to experience all the flavors, not masked by bacteria and residue.
I’m still trying to find the perfect tongue scraper for me—my original metal one started getting rusty almost right away. But I have been blow away by how much this practice has changed the way previously “bland” food tastes.
You won’t believe your tongue.
Danta mula dhautii: cleansing of the teeth and gums.
This is the kriya that most people are familiar with, since it’s basically just brushing your teeth. Typically it’s done with simply a finger and some sea salt. I make my own “toothpaste” out of coconut oil, fine sea salt and some herbal medicine specifically for teeth, like clove tincture which helps to kill bacteria and ease any kind of pain.
I can admit it. I’m not very good with tooth care. My parents always had to hound me to brush my teeth and I generally avoid it as much as possible. Practicing my kriyas as part of my spiritual pursuits, as an attempt to keep my mental, emotional and spiritual energy bodies purified, has completely changed the way I look at personal hygiene. Slowly, it becomes less of a chore and more of a treat I offer myself. Slowly. But surely.
Kapala randhra dhauti: washing the skull.
The kriya for washing the top of the skull seems like the least practical at first sight, but I’m confident there is good science behind it. When the face or the top of the head come into contact with cold water, the body experiences what is called the Dive Reflex, a calming of the muscles, a sharpening of the mind, regulating of body hormones. It can even end panic attacks and alleviate depression!
You may not feel particularly inclined to try this one out, and it may not be suitable for you, especially if you live in a cold climate. But on a hot day, as the sun is peeking over the horizon, it can be an incredible way to wake up.
Chakshu dhauti: cleansing the eyes.
Cleansing of the eyes is the most difficult kriya for me to perform and maintain as a habit, mostly because I can’t stand how it feels. And even though my eyes are refreshed and revitalized after being washed, it still seems strange in the moment. I will say one thing, it can’t be beat for keeping loose eye lashes and painful sleep crust out of my eye balls!
Even though I haven’t done all five of these kriyas every single day, I have noticed distinct differences in my body as a result of my practice and I am working to continue creating new patterns, bringing more cleansing on all energetic levels into my daily life.
The benefits of these simple practices can’t be ignored. Why not give them a try yourself?
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Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Jason Rogers/Flickr