Sunday, March 25, 2018

Kriya: Going Above & Beyond Downward Dog

I am two-thirds of the way through my month-long yoga course in India. I would like to finish the course before sharing my lessons learned. However, I am itching to write about our kriya class, in which we went above-and-beyond the downward dog.

In the western world, we often think of yoga merely as a means of fancy-dancy stretching. We think of these stretches as a form of physical exercise, improving flexibility, strength, and stamina. In the true essence of yoga, these stretches are called asanas. The asana postures serve to heighten awareness and prepare the body for concentration.

In reality, yoga is far more holistic than the mere mastery and performance of fancy-dancy asanas. Yoga is a science of well-being that influences all aspects of life: physical, mental, emotional, psychological, and spiritual. While yoga includes asanas, it also includes methods for meditation, breathing, self-purification, and a handful of other components.

Self-purification is an intriguing aspect of yoga. Called yogic kriya, self-purification consists of both internal and external cleansing. The idea is that in order to work towards spiritual enlightenment, one must first be squeaky clean, both inside and out.

External cleaning is accomplished by bathing -- something we all do on a daily basis. I assumed internal cleansing would be accomplished by purifying the mind and soul. The naive me didn't realize that internal cleansing also included purification of the internal gross body.

Me, doing a yogic kriya practice.

Just a heads-up: If you get easily grossed out, read no more. On the grossed-out scale, the photo above is pretty tame compared to what you're about to see.

You've been duly warned.

There are six types of yogic kriyas.


Tratak is a practice of intense gazing with the intent of developing concentration. We've practiced tratak a few times during our morning meditation sessions, focusing intently on the flame of a candle.

Piece of cake!


Kapalabhati, also known as fire breathing, is a breathing technique intended to clean the sinuses and respiratory system as well as stimulate the abdominal muscles and digestive organs. We've practiced kapalabhati at the beginning of each morning's asana practice.

Again, piece of cake!

The remaining four techniques are a little more...hmm...invasive.


Neti is a technique for cleaning and purifying the nasal passages. One type of neti is called jala neti. Jala neti is a form of nasal irrigation in which the sinus cavity is flushed with a saline solution. If you've ever used a neti pot, then you've practiced jala neti.

I first heard of neti pots about ten years ago. A friend of mine, Sarah, swore by them. It cleared her sinuses and cleared her mind. I was always curious to try a neti pot, but I never got around to it...until just a few days ago, when we had our kriya class.

Here is a video of me doing jala neti:

Having a history of ear, nose, and throat issues, I was a little apprehensive to try a neti pot; I really didn't care to end up with water in my ears. Fortunately, it worked out well. Jala neti was actually quite pleasant. A main benefit of the technique, the vast clearing of sinuses, was immediate.

Another type of neti is called sutra neti. With this technique, a rubberized string, approximately 18" in length, is inserted into one nostril. Holding onto the tail end of the string, one reaches into the back of the throat, grabs the head of the string, and pulls it through the mouth. Holding on to both ends, the string is then flossed through the nasal passage.

Brigid, an Australian classmate, was one of a few students to gave sutra neti a go.

Brigid inserted one end of the rubberized string
into her right nasal passage.
Here, she is trying to fetch the other end of the string
from the back of her throat.

Brigid eventually found the string and pulled it through her mouth. In the video below, Brigid demonstrates the sutra neti flossing technique:

Look at the smile on that girl's face!

I opted to pass on experimenting with this method. I have a sensitive gag reflex. There's no way I could reach into the back of my throat without tickling this reflex.


Dhauti includes a series of techniques for internal cleansing. One form of dhauti involves drinking a salt water solution that induces the body to vomit.

The first part of the technique is performed while squatting. (Squatting slows the movement of the solution so it doesn't enter the digestive system prematurely.) You drink as much of the saltwater solution -- typically one to two liters worth of fluid -- as quickly as possible. Once you feel the urge to vomit, you stand up, lean over, gently press on your stomach with one hand, stick two fingers from your other hand down your throat, and barf away.

Prem, one of our instructors, demonstrated dhauti.

Prem chugs a not-so-appetizing salt water potion.

And then proceeds to vomit:

I somewhat expected that Prem's retching might encourage sympathy vomits, but his vomit was rather pleasant -- clear and free of odor.

Call me adventure-adverse, but I opted not to partake in dhauti either. I had been fortunate to earn myself a parasite my second day in India. The parasite gifted me a terribly unpleasant twenty-four-hour episode during which I vomited, like clockwork, every two hours. I didn't particularly feel the need to purge once again.

I was surprised by how many students wanted to try dhauti. Megan, the only other student from the United States, was, by the far, the most successful newbie to dhauti. Still in her twenties, Megan's college drinking days are somewhat fresh in her mental and muscle memories. She was quite the vomiter!

Megan chugs the salt water solution...

...and then impressively vomits it all back up.

Let's just say that Megan made me proud to be an American!


Nauli is a technique for massaging and strengthening the abdominal muscles. Prem gave us a demonstration of this technique. Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera with me for the demo, so I was unable to capture Prem's rousing skills on video. Thanks to YouTube, here is a video of another yogi demonstrating nauli:

Amazing huh? I wouldn't even know how to begin to do nauli! For one, I'm not sure I have any ab muscles. For two, I'd have to figure out what to do with my winter hibernation layer (albeit a thinning layer, thanks to our three-Indian-meals-a-day diet).

Fortunately, we didn't have the opportunity to practice this technique in our kriya class.


Basti, the final yogic kriya method, includes a number of techniques for washing and toning the large intestines. As was the case for nauli, we only lightly discussed basti in our class. My fellow students and I, however, had a blast joking about enemas and colonic irrigations. We've grown quite close over the last few weeks, and we figured doing basti together would be the only thing that could bring us even closer. I laughed so hard, I cried. (Laughing yoga is a form of yoga, too -- no joke.)

Of course, our joking was only intensified by our learning of the malasana pose the prior day. Malasana translates to shit pose. The pose is more commonly known as garland pose -- don't ask me why.

Malasana -  aka "shit pose."

As much as we joked about shit pose, this position is no laughing matter. It's well known that those who use squatting toilets have far healthier digestive systems than those who sit on western toilets; the angle at which folks sit atop porcelain thrones isn't exactly conducive for gravity to exert its full force on the intestines.

If you want a visual of basti, help yourself to YouTube.

Suffice it to say that my yoga class has been...hmm...enlightening. There's a hell of a lot more to yoga than just downward dog!


  1. My one attempt at yoga left me car sick.... And with all you did try PLUS just going to India to partake, no one would ever call you adverse to adventure without having to take to me first!

    You are truly amazing woman!

    1. Yoga left you car sick??? Dude, you got skillz!

      This course definitely would not have been the same if I had taken it in The States. Yoga is not necessarily yoga all the world around.

      Btw, thanks for being my protector. I'll send anyone who gives me a hard time in your direction! 😁

    2. Happy to do so! Protector Valente they call me!


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