In medieval Europe, people could go their whole life without ever taking a bath! Not one. Baths were too cold and were considered unhealthy. In fact, people of the time marveled and scoffed at the "frequency" with which Queen Elizabeth I bathed (reportedly she took a shocking four baths a year "whether she needed one or not").
Eventually those folks "discovered" (as they are wont to do) the link between hygiene and health. And indoor plumbing and water heating happened. Modern society has become practically obsessed with cleanliness and grooming our outsides. For most of us, the thought of people going their entire lives without ever bathing is unthinkable! Yet how many of us go our entire lives without ever washing our insides?
The yogic tradition outlines 6 internal cleansing practices called shatkriyas (6 actions). These are considered as important a part of a regular routine as daily bathing and brushing teeth to maintain positive health. How do you wash the inside of your body? Much like you wash the outside--with water (and instead of soap, you use salt as the cleansing medium. Many of the shatkriyas involve cleansing the various internal tracts and passages of the body with a mild isotonic saline wash. I am going to talk about the 3 most accessible saline cleanses that you can start to incorporate into your self care: Jala Neti, Vaman Dhauti, and Laghu Shankaprakshalana
The first of the shatkriyas has through the popularity of yoga become pretty mainstream: the neti pot (pronounced nay-thee, not netty).
The traditional term used to describe cleansing the nasal passages with water is Jala Neti. Jala means water. For many people in India and practitioners of yoga, cleaning the nose is as much a part of daily ablutions as cleaning the mouth. We tend to take the nose for granted, but we shouldn't underestimate its importance. Our noses have a very important job, they filter the air that we breathe. Our noses guard one of the most important gateways between the outside world and the vulnerable inside world of our bodies. In modern society, we've made their jobs even tougher with all of the air pollution that we have added to the natural pollutants that our noses are designed to filter, all of which significantly contribute to asthma, allergies and other respiratory disorders. We change and clean the air filters in our cars and in ourhomes, and yet we often go our whole lives without cleaning this very important filter!
Jala Neti is done using a neti pot (available at pretty much any grocery or drug store nowadays) which is like a small teapot with a long spout which fits inside the nostrils. The process: You can find instructions and instructional videos on how to use a Neti pot online, so I won't go into too much detail here. Basically, you lean over a sink, tip your head to one side, insert the neti pot into the upper nostril and pour in your salt solution in a steady stream while letting it drain out the bottom nostril. You may need to adjust the tilt of your head to get the water to flow out the other side. Do one full neti pot on one side and then repeat on the other side, tilting your head the other way. Just make sure the water is clean and slightly warmer than body temperature...not too hot or too cold. And make sure the salt solution is just about isotonic (the same salinity as our blood). That way the solution won't irritate the nasal tissues. Also important and often left out of the instructions here in the West, is to make sure to dry out the nasal passages afterwards. Leaving moisture in the sinuses can actually cause sinus infections. To dry the sinuses after your nasal wash, tip your head forward over the sink. Let all the water drip out and then exhale in short puffs repeatedly through the nose, blowing the excess water out. Rotate the head gently side to side as you do this to make sure to get all the water out from both sides. Regular practice of Jala Neti has positive effects on treating sinus infections, allergies, headaches and even stress. Jala Neti is safe to do as part of a daily routine (like brushing and flossing)
Jala Neti has become pretty mainstream in the West even though initially it may have seemed very out of the box because it's fairly easy and safe to do and has been demonstrated to be effective for sinus conditions. The next two practices are more intense and while safe and effective if practiced correctly, should not be misused or overused.
Vaman Dhauti is a wash of the esophageal tract. Vaman means to vomit. And yes, this practice involves vomiting salt water. I had to practice this as part of my yoga training in India. And I can tell you, while it's not a pleasant experience in the moment, it actually makes your throat and chest feel very clean and clear. The process: Drink 5-6 full glasses of warm salt water (sea salt and drinking quality water is fine for this). The water should be about as salty as a light broth. Drink the large quantity of salt water pretty quickly. You want to purge it while it is still in the stomach before it starts to go into the intestine. Sometimes you will vomit spontaneously just from drinking that huge quantity of salt water. But if not, go to a sink (or outside) and gag yourself by sticking your first two fingers to the back of the throat. Regurgitate all the water out. This should be done first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, never after eating. While it is just salt water that you vomit, there is a possibility of bringing up some stomach acid with the salt water, so this practice shouldn't be done too frequently or it can cause damage to teeth. It shouldn't be done more than once a month but really a couple times a year or once every season is plenty. It clears excess mucous from the throat and chest and is great for the throat chakra, our center of truth and communication, also known as vishuddhi, the purification center.
The 3rd practice is called laghu shankaprakshalana. Laghu Shankaprakshalana is a wash of the entire digestive tract. The process: drink 4-8 glasses of warm salt water, first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. If you have food in your stomach, it will absorb the salt water and you will unnecessarily ingest extra salt. The quantity of salt only needs to be enough so that it tastes like a light broth. To make it more palatable, you can add a squeeze of lemon into it. But this time instead of vomiting it out, we want all that salt water to stay in so that it goes through the intestinal tract and comes out the other end, flushing the intestines and colon. So to get the water to stay in and not come up spontaneously, you have to drink it more slowly. Drink 2 glasses and do a light asana sequence to push the water down. Here is a YouTube video which shows the asana sequence to be performed after drinking the water:
The twisting and bending and squatting will help push the water down through the digestive tract. Drink 2 more and repeat. Repeat until you feel the urge to go to the bathroom. You will have to go frequently until all the water flushes out. Continue to drink the salt water until the water is coming out is almost clear. At that point, you can stop the process by resting and eating a light meal of kichri (soft cooked lentil and rice). Add 2-4 teaspoons of ghee or coconut oil for a vegan alternative to lubricate the digestive tract. For the rest of the day you should eat light and easily digestible foods like kichri, steamed veggies, etc. Probiotic foods are recommended as any flush of the digestive tract can also flush some of the good bacteria. Shout out to Satya Yoga Collective teacher and fermentation Goddess, Asia Dorsey's company Five Points Fermentation! You will never taste any thing as subtle and technically perfect and full of good prana as Asia's krauts and kombuchas and brews! She is a genius! https://www.facebook.com/FivePointsFermentation/
Avoid difficult to digest foods like raw salads, junk or processed foods. Laghu shankaprakshalana can be practiced as needed, if you feel like your digestive system feels sluggish or congested. This will help flush toxins and waste that is sticking to the walls of your colon. However, it should not be practiced more than once a month as with all bowel stimulation, the body can grow dependent on it. Once a season is perfect.
Springtime is a great time to flush the accumulations of winter, when it's natural to eat richer, heavier food and live a more sedentary life, which can cause us to feel sluggish and lethargic. These simple cleanses are like spring cleaning for our system and can give us a reset and an energy boost for the warmer days ahead.
Take good care of yourselves and each other!