Purification (shaucha) is the principle of self-discipline (Niyama) in Patanjali’s eight-limb approach.
Yogis have discovered impurities in our internal body adversely affecting state of mind and preventing attainment of real wisdom and spiritual liberation.
Through yogic practices of asana, pranayama, tapas and shatkarma, body and mind are cleansed and spiritual development accelerates.
Physical postures of yoga purify body through movements increasing and improving flows of blood, oxygen and pràna (life force energy) in tissues, muscles and organs.
Poses squeeze and massage muscles and organs, move out stagnant depleted blood and bring in fresh nutrified and oxygenated blood.
In more dynamic postures, heat is created…sweat produced to facilitate toxins release through skin pores.
The breathing techniques of prànàyàma purify mind and body through balance and cultivation of energy throughout whole body.
Different prànàyàma have different actions on body and thus different purifying effects.
Kapàlabhàti (breath of fire) is warming and energizing, purifying body through creation of heat and movement of energy.
Nàdi Sodhana (alternate nostril breath) is calming and cleansing, purifying body through reducing stress and removing blockages in nàdis (energy channels).
Intensive self-discipline of Tapas purifies mind and spirit through “burning up” of desire in mind.
Tapas is engaging will to do avoided action. Conflict between will and desire of mind produce internal “fire” which illuminates and burns up mental and physical impurities.￼
Six cleansing practices of shatkarma purify body by physically removing excess of mucus or phlegm. These are primarily esoteric practices that must be learned and performed with the supervision of a qualified teacher.
The shatkarma are described as six groups of yogic cleansing techniques:
Neti: nasal cleaning and irrigation
Dhauti: digestive tract cleansing
Nauli: abdominal massage, Basti: colon cleaning
Kapàlbhàti: brain purification and vitalization
Tràtaka: blinkless gazing
The goal of these practices is to purge out excesses in order to bring three doshas (physical constitutions) into balance.
If doshas already in balance, it is recommended to not practice these intense cleansing practices. There are easier, gentler and more accessible ways of balancing doshas through healing techniques of Ayurveda that can be utilized as alternative of shatkarma.
When mind, body and spirit have been purified through the various practices of yoga, the overall result is an increase in the flow of pràna through the whole body, improving capacity to work, think, digest, taste, feel, and experience life.
Not only do these practices make us feel more alive, they also foster spiritual development, inner awareness and equanimity.