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Yoga and Purification

By Swami Karma Karuna

“The aim of Hatha Yoga is to create harmony between the two major pranic flows, Ida and Pingala, thereby attaining physical and mental purification and balance.”

Swami Satyananda


Check out our upcoming Traditional Hatha Yoga Shuddhi Gathering this November! 

Purification is an important topic in self-development. Our environment is filled with toxins – in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the thoughts we think.  Many toxins and external conditions are unavoidable, but some are self-created.  We cannot always change the outside, but we can change ourselves and thus affect the outside. The science of yoga has tools to help purify all the levels of the being, to cope with challenges and to open the channels for greater awakening.  

Purification means throwing the “rubbish” out of the body and mind and replacing it with health and positivity.  Purification through yoga is not meant to be a “puritan” approach to the self that limits and represses the body and mind.  Rather, yoga is a means of harmonising the body, mind, and emotions through specific practices. Many people think of only the outer aspect of yoga or the physical postures, but yoga encompasses a whole way of life applied in a systematic and practical way to transform and balance all aspects of the being.

Purification on a physical level begins with movements, which are used to increase blood flow through the muscles and organs.  These movements, combined with conscious breath, bring oxygen to the whole body. The muscles and organs are tensed and released, so that old stagnant blood is moved out and fresh blood, full of nutrients, nourishes the whole body.   In some of the more dynamic postures, sweat can be created which also releases toxins through the skin. Further, the physical postures tone the endocrine glands, creating more harmony within the functioning of the body systems. On a basic level, physical purification has begun.

As the physical components of the body begin to relax and function in a more optimal level, the energy or ‘prana’ also flows. Prana pervades the whole body, following flow patterns call nadis.  The two most important nadis are Ida and Pingala, and represent masculine and feminine energy, similar to Yin and Yang in Chinese medicine. Blocked or imbalanced energy is experienced in the physical body as stiffness, pain, lack of “energy” to perform duties, or inappropriate nervous or emotional releases.  Yoga postures start the process of balancing and purifying the energy in the body.  

The traditional Hatha Yoga techniques carry this one step further.  They are called the Shatkarmas or six actions of cleansing.  These practices cleanse and balance the doshas or humours of the body: kapha, mucous; pitta,  bile; and vata, wind.  According to both Hatha Yoga and Ayurveda, an imbalance of the doshas will result in illness.  The shatkarmas are used as preparation practices in order to purify the body of toxins and to ensure safe and successful progression along the spiritual path. These techniques systematically cleanse the different areas such as the nose, abdominal organs, large and small intestines.  In the beginning one needs a guide for these practices, but once familiar with them, they can be integrated into daily life, as a regular cleaning maintenance in the same way that one would regularly get their car engine cleaned and working at an optimal level. These practices work on a physical level, but also release emotional and energy blocks at more subtle levels. 

Another mode of purification through yoga is working deeply with the breath.  Techniques of pranayama, through use of the breath, increase and balance energy throughout the whole body. Depending on an individual’s needs, different pranayamas are practiced.  Some have a heating effect, which purifies.  In the same way that the sun or fire burns up impurities and transforms them, the heating practices, burn up impurities and transform them into energy to be used for higher purposes. 

But it is not enough to only purify the physical and energy bodies.  What is often forgotten is that the mind is the root of everything that we experience in the physical body. Tensions in the mind, affect the heart rate, the release of hormones, the breath, the capacity of the digestive system etc. When these systems are not functioning properly, toxins are formed in the physical body, resulting in mental and physical imbalance.  

If we keep putting dirty water in the fresh water, then despite rigorous cleaning methods the fresh water will get dirty.  This is the same with the human body.  If we keep eating toxins and creating toxins with the mind, the body will not stay clean despite regular practice to purify it.   For example, many people do various cleansing methods regularly, but continue to eat without awareness.  Food is a fuel for the body, but in our society it has become an escape or an emotional crutch. It is difficult to just stop eating the wrong foods, because the senses are so strong that it seems almost out of conscious control.  These patterns are deep, so we need powerful techniques to develop an inner awareness 

Yoga has techniques that begin to cleanse the mind, where these deep patterns are hiding.  One powerful tool is Yoga Nidra or deep conscious relaxation.  In this technique, the practitioner gradually develops the ability to consciously access the deeper layers of the minds. Through the use of visualization of archetypical images hidden patterns can gently be released. These seeds buried, within the mind, are the roots of the mental and physical challenges.  Only by weeding the mind, can we truly transform ourselves,

Another potent tool is Antar Mouna or Inner Silence.  This practice develops the witness aspect of the self, so that one can gradually gain the ability to see what tricks the mind is up to, without always being controlled by it.  By understanding and befriending the mind, it can become a great tool of transformation.

Purification is an important aspect of self-development, due to the internal and external “rubbish” that we all experience.  Sound yoga practices including postures, hatha yoga cleansing techniques, pranayama, and meditation practices work with all the layers of the being.  These tools, when practiced regularly transform life into a healthy, positive, and conscious experience.

(C) Anahata Yoga Retreat 2018

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