Shat Karma: The Unconventional Things You Learn at Yoga Teacher Training
The Whole ToolBox
When I got to Yoga Teacher Training twelve years ago, I had a lot of internal demons to face. The most energy consumptive demon was the thing inside me that chose to consume 300% of the calories I needed on a daily basis. That is 200% more than what my body wanted. I used to feel tremendous shame and imprisonment around that habit.
I knew back then that the only thing that would ultimately help me get over my demon was meditation. And I hated meditating! I would sit and close my external eyes. Immediately my internal eyes would open to a cyclone of thoughts. Being with myself was almost unbearable. So I meditated infrequently. But I knew in and out that meditation was the only cure. I would have the disease so long as I didn’t take the medicine.
If I couldn’t yet meditate, I could at least use some of the other tools Yoga provided to create a consistent practice. And that is precisely what I did. I started practicing things that didn’t require me to look point blank at my mind. Instead they helped to cleanse my mind.
I did these other practices without even being aware that I was preparing myself to eventually be able to sit for a long period of time. I later understood that the progressive use of tools within the Yoga practice is what makes it so genius. Hate meditating? Move your body! Hate meditating? Breathe! Hate meditating? Do shat karma! (See below for a full description).
We all have demons to work out. If I was going to work out every single demon through the method of conscious analysis, I would be sitting in the chair for lifetimes. Consciously working out unconscious patterns is important, but it isn’t the all-knowing cure.
I look at chair time and conscious movement and breath-work and chanting like I look at the Avengers. Each one has a special super power. Each one is capable of saving the day depending on the severity of the problem. But when it comes time to face Thanos, you need the whole team. Enter shat karma.
What is Shat Karma
It definitely takes an open mind to embark on a Yoga Teacher Training experience. Going to training usually doesn’t just mean someone is looking for a vocation. It almost always means they are additionally looking for a new way of life, or at least a few new tools to be happier.
The best changes are those made gradually, ones the conscious mind doesn’t object to too much. Shat karma is one of those little known tools that the conscious mind can accept with just a little coaxing. There is one practice, the neti pot, which has become commercially popular. It is so popular that you can go to any Walgreens and buy yourself a neti pot.
The six types of Shat Karma are Neti (nasal cleansing), Dhauti (Intestinal wash), Vasti (enema), Trataka (candle gazing), Nauli (intestinal wash) and Kapalabhati (breath for "skull shining"). Both jala neti, a.k.a. the neti pot, and sutra neti fall into the first category. They address the cleansing of the nostrils.
Jala means “water” and cleanses the nostrils through water. Sutra means “string” and cleanses the nostrils with a string. These techniques are not so widely taught anymore unless you go to a classical training. It is something that we are honored to pass on at Elemental Yoga.
In the practice of jala neti, you fill a pot, which looks like a small watering pot for plants, with warm water and a little salt. Then you insert the spout into one nostril, tilt your head, relax, and let the water come out the other nostril.
Many people testify to the power of the the neti pot: it cures allergies, heals the symptoms of deviated septum, stops snoring, etc… It doesn’t work for everybody. It’s efficacy depends on how deep rooted the problem is. It also may not work because other needed dietary changes are not implemented in conjunction.
Neti pot is the most simple of the six methods of shat karma. It is safe and easy. It can be done daily thus keeping the mucosal cavities free of impurities. Sometimes though the snot piles up high and the medicine needs to be dialed up a notch. There are practices for that too! Sutra neti, nasal cleansing with a string, is a step up from neti pot.
Cleansing the nostrils with a string is best done when the nose is a little lubricated. Therefore the neti pot is good to do before sutra neti. This sends water through the nasal cavity and gets the internal juices running. Yum!!
The next step is to apply a few drops of sesame oil inside the nose. Now the body is ready for sutra neti. In the practice of sutra neti, the string is inserted through the nose, it follows the nasal passages down to the mouth and the string is pulled out the mouth.
I did sutra neti for the first time twelve years ago when I went to yoga teacher training at Mount Madonna. Every morning at 5:30 am, I learned and practiced a different type of shat karma. On the morning of sutra neti, my classmates and I gave it our best shots. A few students were successful the first time through. I was not. But I was determined.
Later that day during a break, I went to the bathroom and sat on the counter in front of the mirror for thirty minutes trying. After many tears (because it cleans the eye ducts too) I succeeded. Even in the initial times that the string did not go through, the practice still took effect. This is how:
The string is interpreted by the body as an “invader” so the body sends mucous to the invader to wash it away. The result is that the mucus floodgate is opened. I must have snotted a culp and a half of mucus out of my body that day. I am exaggerating.
In the hours following my first sutra neti victory, I felt an unprecedented clarity in my head. It was as if there was a pristine open space from my nose to my crown. This was conducive to a body bliss that I had never known.
That day I was sold on shat karma. Yoga scriptures say not only does shat karma cure the body of many ailments and diseases, it also helps loosen the bondage of the soul to the body. Ancient sages revered shat karma as a method of liberation.