One of my favorite classes during my yoga teacher training course at the Association for Yoga and Meditation was kriya class. Kriyas are yogic cleansing techniques meant to purify the body and mind, as well as treat and prevent disease. There are six areas of focus, including the stomach (“dhauti”), the lower intestines (“basti”), the nose (“neti”), the eyes (“tratak”), the abdominal organs (“nauli”) and the brain (“kapalbhati”). Done properly, kriyas clean and strengthen the body, focus the mind, enhance the senses, build stamina, combat allergies and can even help people quit smoking.
Now, some of these techniques are quite ambitious. “Vastra dhauti,” for example, involves swallowing a cloth to induce vomiting. “Gomutra neti” requires one to shoot cow’s urine through his or her nostrils. And advanced stages of tratak involve staring at the sun for long periods of time.
Needless to say, we focused on tamer kriya techniques. And I must admit, sometimes, it was kind of hilarious.
To start, we learned “jala neti,” a nasal cleansing technique that uses a neti pot (a small pot with a nostril-sized spout) to run warm salt water through one’s nose and sinuses. The process is supposed to clear the buildup within the nose and sinuses, desensitize hyperactive nasal tracks and combat allergies and respiratory problems. It is also good for relaxation.
The technique seemed fairly simple. After filling your pot with warm salt water, you hold the bottom of the pot, insert its tip into one of your nostrils, bend forward and tilt your head, making sure to keep your mouth open to breathe and prevent water from entering the lungs. What should result is what I like to call a “fountain effect,” whereby a steady stream of water flows smoothly from the second nostril. Let me tell you, it’s damn sexy.
My classmates seemed naturally apt at this. I looked around the courtyard and saw one fountain spring up after the other and thought, “Ok, I got this.” Then it turned out, actually, not so much.
I thought I was doing everything correctly. I filled up my pot, inserted the tip and tilted. I felt the water go in, I just didn’t feel it come out. There is something about standing around in a courtyard watching people shoot water out their noses that is just really funny. Perhaps part of the problem was I couldn’t keep a straight face.
Eventually, my teachers came by and helped me adjust, ultimately resulting in my own special “Erica Fountain.” It was a proud moment.
The second kriya didn’t happen at all. This one, “sutra neti,” involves taking a sterilized, waxed or rubber string, inserting it into one nostril and pulling it out the mouth and essentially “flossing” back and forth. If this activity doesn’t sound that appealing to you, trust me, it didn’t sound that much fun to me either.
But I tried. Again, the instructions were clear: take the waxed string, straighten it out, then create a gentle “J” curve and begin to work the curved end through one nostril until reaching the sinus cavity in the back, then gently lower down and pull out the front.
I think I made it about three inches before the violent gagging and coughing took place. I even tried to have our teacher, Mahesh, help, though I’m not sure having a different person insert a foreign object into your face is much more comfortable than doing it yourself. It certainly yielded the same reaction.
In the end, I decided my sinuses were pretty good as they were.
After struggles with the “neti” kriyas, I finally had more luck with the “nauli” kriya meant to cleanse the abdominal organs. Now, before you go envisioning more foreign objects being inserted into the body to remove bodily fluids, I’ll tell you, this one required no such action.
Nauli kriya is a stomach cleansing technique that essentially involves lifting one’s abdominal organs up into the body behind the lungs and rotating them around, all without breathing. To do it properly, one must begin with an empty stomach and empty bowels. You then take a long exhale to empty the lungs, bend forward and use your muscles to tuck your stomach in and up before moving it around. The effect is a starved-looking, bizarre-moving body that is super impressive at parties.
Despite my earlier neti troubles, I actually did pretty well at nauli kriya. After a few tries I kind of got the hang of it, even making this super attractive video:
While I did make some progress on my kriyas, I obviously still have quite a ways to go. I recently read of an advanced kriya involving removing one’s own colon from the body and washing it. Now that’s impressive!