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Year : 2017  |  Volume : 5  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 3-5

Physiological effect of kriyas: Cleansing techniques

Division of Yoga and Life Sciences, SVYASA, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

Date of Web Publication14-Dec-2017

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Sanjib Kumar Patra
Division of Yoga & Life Sciences, SVYASA, Bengaluru, Karnataka
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijny.ijoyppp_31_17

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The literal meaning of Kriya is cleansing. Kriyas are categorized into six and every one of them has a particular role to play as far as their cleansing action is concerned. The practice of Kriya is quoted with its subclassification in Hatha Yoga pradipika and Gheranda samhita. However, in this theoretical scientific article, all varieties of Kriyas described in Hatha Yoga have been explained with its physiological effects. Evidence-based findings are limited using Kriyas as the interventions; therefore, author has made an attempt to put the observed finding and unpublished observations following the practice of each Kriya technique.

Keywords: Kriya, physiological effects, yoga

How to cite this article:
Patra SK. Physiological effect of kriyas: Cleansing techniques. Int J Yoga - Philosop Psychol Parapsychol 2017;5:3-5

How to cite this URL:
Patra SK. Physiological effect of kriyas: Cleansing techniques. Int J Yoga - Philosop Psychol Parapsychol [serial online] 2017 [cited 2024 Mar 3];5:3-5. Available from: https://www.ijoyppp.org/text.asp?2017/5/1/3/220776

  Introduction Top

There are three humors in the body: Kapha (phlegm), Pitta (bile), and Vata (wind). In Ayurveda and Yoga, they are called Tridoshas. There should be an equilibrium state between these three humors in the body. Imbalance of either of the humor causes impairment or disorders.

Before commencing the practice of Pranayama, any imbalance in the doshas should be removed. Physiologically, an effort needs to be made to remove the mucus blocking in the respiratory tracts, excess fats from the body, and excess gastric juice secretions from the stomach. In addition to this, these practices are believed to be producing revitalizing and rejuvenating effect in the organs of various systems. In Hatha Yoga, there are six purification practices specifically designed for serving this purpose. They are Kriyas or Shatkarmas. When we split “Shatkarma,” is the combination of two words “shat” means six and “karma” means action.

Hatha Yoga is famous for six cleansing techniques starting from forehead to anus. Although the sequences of these practices are different in Hatha Yoga, to remember them easily, we discuss Kapalbhati a first and Moola shodhana last. The Shatkarmas are very powerful practices that can never be learned from books or taught by inexperienced people. One should have adequate knowledge and skill to teach them. The Shatkarmas are said to be the secret practices as one must be personally instructed to do them and how to teach them and how often, according to individual need, etc. For teaching these practices, a qualified experienced teacher is required.

The Shatkarmas specifically increase the vital capacity of the practitioner. They were never designed for only therapy but for prevention of diseases, attainment of health and harmony, and freed from old age. It also creates harmony between body and mind and prepares an aspirant for further practices. As they bring about smooth and perfect functioning in the bodily system, it is inevitable that through these practices, mind will become free from turbulence and disturbances and thus be better able to concentrate and to move toward Dhyana (meditation).

Physiological effect of Kriya practices

Before we discuss physiological practices of Kriya, we must know the role of isotonic solution in body physiology. Looking at the tonicity, solution has been divided into three: hypotonic, hypertonic, and isotonic solutions. Hypertonic solution has less proportion of solutes in the solvent, hypertonic solution has more, and isotonic solution has the required proportion of solutes in the solution.

Sometimes, we drink hypotonic solution during the practice of Kriya, which causes ex-osmosis and results in shrinking of biological membrane, whereas hypertonic solution causes endosmosis [1] and effects in bulging out of the cells. In both the cases, there are expected cell injuries. However, whenever there is an exposure of isotonic solution across the cell membrane, and when the solution travels in the gut, the effect is zero water flow between the two solutions, i.e. solution in gut and in cell, although water is moving both ways. In biology, some cells must be maintained in an isotonic solution to support cellular functions. Therefore, isotonic solution is always advised during the practice ensuring maximum cleansing in the food pipe and produces flushing effect for better cleansing.


Kapalbhati is the combination of two syllables,[2]Kapal means forehead and bhati means shining. Therefore, an optimum functioning of frontal lobe can be expected through this practice. This is divided into three, viz., Vatkarma (breathing), which means inhalation and exhalation through both the nostrils as we do during the practice of Kapalbhati, Vyutkarma (reversed), which means inhaling through nostrils and exhalation through mouth, and Sheetkarma (cooling), which means inhalation through mouth and exhalation through nose. In many texts, it is advised to use water instead of air for both Vyutkarma and Sheetkarma practices.

All three Kapalbhati practices are good for activating the frontal lobe which is mentioned in Hatha Yoga as Kapala. Practice of Kapalbhati causes excess removal of carbon dioxide and builds up oxygen in the peripheral tissue of the brain though we know brain is unique in its blood supply. More supply of oxygen causes optimum metabolism in the forebrain which is otherwise called as shinning of brain in colloquial words of Hatha Yoga.


The appropriate literal meaning of “Trataka” is not found in Hatha Yoga[2] texts, but it is a practice for concentrated gazing on a particular object. Trataka is of two types, Antaranga(internal) and Bahiranga (external) trataka. Usually, we practice Bahiranga trataka as it is convenient for us to organize an object outside. Internal Trataka involves the gazing the internal flame visualized with closed eyes between two eyebrows and other Chakras.

When we practice Bahiranga trataka using a candle flame, make the light to pass through the retinohypothalamic tract which affects in the activation of suprachiasmatic nucleus. Moreover, this nucleus is believed to regulate the circadian rhythm. Therefore, any complications related to this nucleus such as insomnia can be easily eradicated.


In Sanskrit, an appropriate meaning of Neti is not found but for our understanding,[2]Neti is all about the cleansing of nasal cavity. The practice of Neti is further divided into four, Jala (water), Sutra (catheter), Dugdha (milk), and Ghrita (ghee). Beside Sutra Neti, the remaining three Neti practices require a Neti pot and Sutra Neti requires a cotton thread immersed in wax or ghee.

All four practices of Neti help in cleansing the nasal cavity and therefore ensuring the cleansing of the frontal, ethmoid, maxillary, and sphenoid sinuses. The sinuses are porous in nature and they retain air in them. However, retention of water in the sinuses causes many complications such as sinusitis. However, how draining out process in sinuses happens need to be understood experimentally.


The literal meaning of Dhauti[3] is internal cleansing. It is classified into four, Anata dhauti (internal), Danta (teeth), Hrid (cardiac), and Moola shodhana (purification of anus). Antar dhauti is further classified into five, Vatsara (ex: plavini), Varisara (ex: sankhaprakshalana), Vahnisara (agnisara), and Bahiskrita (rectal cleansing). During the practice of Vatsara, stomach full of air is gulped and held for a longer duration which helps a yogi to float on water; during Varisara, the whole gut from mouth to anus is cleansed by drinking sufficient amount of water and this is one of the practices that produce flushing effect of water in intestine and therefore become successful in eliminating the old sticky defecated mater adhered on the surface of the small and large intestines. Vahnisara is one of the practices that produce fire which means enhancing the gastric secretion including pancreas endocrine and exocrine functions. It is always advised for diabetics as endocrine function including the secretion of insulin gets enhanced. Bahiskrita means driving out and this practice is quite difficult for both Yogis and celestial beings, but it is said that the rectum is pushed out through the anus for cleansing. The procedure and functions of this practice are quite hard to explain.

Danta dhauti, as the name suggests, it is the cleansing of not only teeth but also Jihva (tongue), Karna (ear), Kapalrandhra (frontal sinuses), and Chakshu (eyes). Jihva is practiced by milking the tongue with thumb and index finger of both the hands every day before brushing, which helps the tongue to produce quality voice and proper mastication. Karna involves dropping the sesame oil into the ears and getting that out and is done for keeping them healthy. Kapalrandhra is practiced by cleansing the upper back portion of the palate and this particular practice is exclusively good for sinusitis. Moreover, Chakshu is cleansed either by washing the medicated water using a pot called eye pot. Some of the yoga aspirants do the practicing by focusing on the rising sun which is not brighter. This particular practice is good for eyesight improvements. All these practices ensure healthy eyes, tongue, ears, and sinuses.

Hrid dhauti is further classified into three, Vastra (cloth), Danda (stick) and Vamana (water vomiting). Vastra dhauti involves swallowing a cotton cloth which helps in removing excess phlegm produced by the upper gastrointestinal tract (GIT). Danda dhauti requires a banana stem and inserting the same and helps an aspirant to clear up the excess production of gastric mucosa. Vaman dhauti involves drinking of Luke isotonic solution and vomits them out which ensures health functions of upper GIT. The practice helps in opening up the sphincter, inhibiting the excess gastric secretions, encouraging peristalsis, etc., All these functions of the GIT are achieved due to activation of vagus nerve.

During the practice of Moola shodhana, a tender turmeric root is used after pealing out it. This root is used as turmeric has antiseptic property. This is one of the practices to get rid of the complications such as fistula, piles, and hemorrhoids. This practice also ensures a healthy rectum, and thus, small little spread of microorganisms to the gust and other parts of the body can be prevented.


The meaning of Nauli is abdominal massaging.[3] Thus, practice involves isolating the rectus abdominis muscles. When we isolate this muscle at the right side is called Dakshina Nauli, at the left is Vama, and at the center is called Madhyama. This particular practice strengthens the secretions of gastric juice including endocrine and exocrine functions of the pancreas. Nauli helps in improving the blood supply to the peripheral part of the stomach as it increases the negative pressure within abdominal cavity.


Basti is otherwise called Yogic enema.[3] It is of two types, Jala (water) and Sthala (dry). This practice involves the cleansing of large intestine. During this practice, a negative pressure is developed within intra-abdominal cavity which pulls water to the large intestine through anus. In many cases, a straw is inserted into the anus for easy pulling of the water. During Sthala, instead of water, air is sucked into the large intestine and cleanses the large intestine by producing the positive pressure of air in the said parts and expels out the fecal matter by pushing the whole amount of air through the anus. Both Jala and Sthala ensure healthy intestine.

  Conclusion Top

The effect of Shatkarma can be summed up in one word - purification. When the different systems of the body have been purified, the overall result is that energy can flow through the body freely. One's capacity to work, think, digest, taste, feel, experience, etc. increases, and greater awareness develops. It is no wonder that the yogis have achieved perfection and known the real extent of human capacity, regarding Shatkarma with great esteem.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Hall JE, Guyton AC. Text Book of Medical Physiology. 13th ed. California, USA: Saunders Publisher; 2015.  Back to cited text no. 1
Muktiboshananda S. Hatha Yoga Pradipika. 3rd ed. Munger, Bihar: Yoga Publication Trust; 1998.  Back to cited text no. 2
Saraswati SS. A Systematic Course in the Ancient Tantric Techniques of Yoga and Kriya. 5th ed. Munger, Bihar: Yoga Publication Trust; 2016.  Back to cited text no. 3

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