Image Source: Canva
In yoga, the shape of our digestive system is seen as a conch (Shankha) which has a long spiral tunnel-like intestine, and prakshalana in Sanskrit is called cleansing. Shankhaprakshalana is a yogic cleansing technique of the digestive system including the whole gastrointestinal tract (mouth to the anus).
In contrast to other yogic cleansing techniques where a person drinks enough water and then vomit it out, In Shankhaprakshalana drinking lukewarm saline water is followed by a precise series of asanas. This series of asanas particularly called Shankhaprakshalana asanas.
The traditional name used for this practice is varisara dhauti. In Sanskrit, “vari” means “water”, “Sara” refers to “essence”, and “dhauti” means “cleansing”.
According to Gheranda Samhita, the practice provides a luminous body by eliminating toxins from the body.
The major purpose of shankha prakshalana is to promote bowel movement naturally without any medication and side effects.
It also serves as a vital part of an ayurvedic technique known as Kaya kalpa. It can be understood as physical transformation, as “kaya” means body and “kalpa” is a term for transformation.
Therefore, shankha prakshalana is more than a purification technique. It is a holistic approach to eliminate impurities promoting physical and mental health.
Mechanism of Shankhaprakshalana
Shankhaprakshalana begins with an intake of 250 ml of lukewarm saline water followed by performing the particular set of asanas respectively. It includes tadasana, tiryakatadasana, katichakrasana, tiryaka bhujangasana, and finally udarakarshan.
Each asana must be performed eight times in order to complete one round. The practitioner has to perform complete 5-6 rounds as per the technique’s requirement.
The completion of the technique takes approximately one to one and a half hour.
Reasons to use lukewarm salty water
The temperature of water used in this practice is kept 38-40°, i.e. lukewarm. It is due to the fact that it promotes the movement of stagnant stool with mucous and causes frequent elimination.
The salt used in lukewarm water prevents the rapid absorption of water into the intestine. It eventually facilitates the movement of water smoothly into the intestinal tract to be evacuated through the anus.
The combined effect of lukewarm saline water with asanas
After having two glasses of water before each round of the asanas, the water moves from the stomach, small intestine, to the large intestine. This leads to the eventual removal of toxins and water from the anus.
1. Promotes peristalsis
In this shankha prakshalana, the gastrointestinal tract all the way from mouth to anus is washed. It catalyzes the further movement of foodstuff, thereby promoting peristalsis. This leads to enhanced bowel movement.
2. Decreases cholesterol level via bile removal
Due to peristalsis, the chyme from the stomach reaches the small intestine. As it enters the duodenum, it combines with bile juice. As the bowel movement has been enhanced, the mixture is removed easily. This reduces the concentration of bile.
Cholesterol acts as major component in bile secretion. Therefore, cholesterol is consumed more often to produce bile and leads to reduced cholesterol level.
3. Increased hemoglobin
Mucus acts a barrier in the absorption of ferrous ion. It reduces the concentration of iron in the body and acts as ferritin curtain. However, shankh prakshalana eliminates mucus and increases the absorption of ferrous ion.
It maintains the iron concentration in the body, thereby increasing the hemoglobin level.
4. Prompts parasympathetic dominance
The clearance of gastrointestinal tract renews and rejuvenates the internal organs. This leads to hormonal balance to maintain homeostasis.
This hormonal balance leads to a calm state of mind, inducing parasympathetic dominance.
The internal cleansing brings improvement in physical health. It creates an environment for better mental health, thereby providing soothing effects on psychophysiological terms.
It involves five asanas in following order as described below:
- Stand separating the feet 15-18 inches.
- Bring your arms forward to the shoulder level and interlock the fingers.
- Extend them overhead with palms towards the ceiling.
- Lift the heels and stretch the body upwards as far as possible.
- Then release bringing the heels and hands down.
Tadasana opens the pyloric sphincter muscle that serves as a valve of the stomach opening to the small intestine. It streams the saline water into the small intestine along with chyme.
- Stand in tadasana with heels on the floor.
- Stretch upward and flex the waist towards left, be there for a while.
- Come back to the center and relax.
- Then bend towards the right and hold the pose.
- Again return to the center.
The bending involved in the asana contracts both sides of the coiled intestinal wall repeatedly. Thus, the water moves smoothly through the intestinal layer.
- Stand separating the legs 16-18 inches.
- Open the arms sideways to shoulder level with facing the floor.
- Rotate the upper body by the waist to the left.
- Bring your right hand around the body to be placed on the left shoulder bending the right elbow.
- Flexing the left elbow wrap the left arm around the twisted back towards the right placing the hand on the waist.
- Finally, turn the neck towards the left twisting the entire body to the left.
- Release and repeat on the other side.
The twisting involved in the asana exerts pressure into the intestinal muscles. It causes the flow of water downwards.
4. Tirayaka bhujangasana
- Lie down in a prone position.
- Raise your head to bring chin to the floor.
- Bring your hands beside the chest and curl the toes to the floor.
- Pressing the palms to the ground lift the chin, chest, and abdomen.
- Bend your right elbow and turn to look at your left heel, keeping the left arm straight.
- Come back to the center and then relax on the floor.
- Repeat the same on the right side.
This asana opens the ileocecal sphincter muscle and saline water reaches the large intestine. Thereby, clearing the entire pathway till here.
- Keep the feet hip-width apart.
- Sit bending the knee with soles on the ground.
- Keep your hands on knees.
- Push the right knee with the hand to bring it near the left foot.
- Now, push the left knee towards the right.
- Shrinking the lower abdomen, turn to look towards the left shoulder.
- Be there for 5-10 breaths, inhale and come back to sitting pose.
- Exhale and repeat it pushing the left knee to the right foot.
This last pose is helpful in squeezing the large intestine, stimulating, and stretching the digestive organs. It creates contraction and relaxation in the alimentary canal.
Finally, the stagnant stool and mucous is eliminated as the bowel movement is evacuated from the gastrointestinal tract. No traces of residual particles or saline water remains in the alimentary canal.
The process of Shankhaprakshalana can be categorised into 3 parts;
1. Pre-procedure – Salt Water Preparation
The lukewarm water is used to prepare the saline solution. The ratio of salt to the water remains 2 tablespoon salt in 1 liter of water. Prepare an adequate amount of saline solution, as it consumes about 16 glasses of water.
Also, prepare a special meal for post-procedure. This special meal is khichdi of rice and moong dal cooked together. Add turmeric and eliminate salt addition. Cook it using ghee at the end to prepare a semi-liquid meal.
Choose a place like a garden or a terrace where you are in contact with fresh air to perform shankha prakshalana. Ensure there is an approachable toilet nearby.
Morning hours are preferable for this practice around 6-7 am.
2. Cleansing procedure – Bowel Movement
Begin with drinking 2 glasses of saline water and immediately perform the above-mentioned set of 5 asanas, 8 times each to complete the first round. Drink another 2 glasses repeating all the asana, 8 times each.
Repeat it a third time and then go to the toilet to check whether there is any bowel movement or not. Be there for 1-2 minutes and do not exert pressure externally.
Come back to repeating the procedure of drinking water and resume the asanas. It is followed by again visiting the toilet. Continue the process for about 6 rounds.
Almost after third round the evacuation process begins. The first time is accompanied by solid stool, followed by a mixture of stool and water. The concentration of stool decreases progressively and finally clear water will pass out of the anus.
3. Post-Procedure – Eat & Relax
After the evacuation of clear water, stop the process and lie down in shavasana. Relax the body for 45 minutes maintaining complete silence.
Following the resting period of 45 minutes, eat the khichdi on time. Eat a sufficient amount to refine the intestine to resume peristalsis. Rest after having the first meal, but avoid sleeping for 3 hours. Repeat the meal after about 6 hours of the first meal.
Avoid any physical and mental activity for the whole day and keep resting the following day as well. Do not repeat this technique more than twice a year.
Duration – The process of shankha prakshalana must be completed in a day as described above.
Alternatively, beginners can perform it by following the process consecutively for 6 days. Have the first round of saltwater and asanas on the first day, followed by evacuating bowels. On each passing day keep increasing one round to complete the course in 6 days.
2 Types of Shankhaprakshalasna
Based on the quantity of saline water, Shankha prakshalasna is two types;
1. Laghu shankha prakshalana
Laghu means less or short. Here laghu referred to the quantity of saline water and the proportion it cleanses. In Laghu shankha prakshalana, maximum of 6-8 cups of water are taken only and then asanas are performed for bowel movemnt.
This is a shorter technique for cleansing the alimentary canal. For this also lukewarm salty water is prepared.
- Begin with drinking 2 glasses of prepared solution.
- Perform the 5 asanas as that of shankha prakshalana respectively, eight times each.
- Drink 2 glasses of saline water and repeat the asanas eight times each.
- Repeat it one more time and then go to the toilet.
- Check whether the bowel movement has been initiated or not without pressurizing externally.
- If it has not been started it will eventually come on later.
This practice takes one hour. It is important to take rest post practice for half an hour before having any food or drink.
2. Poorna Shankaprakshalana
Poorna means full or complete. In Poorna Shankaprakshalana, one keeps drinking water and performing 5 asanas back to back until the water coming out anus is as clean as the water going in.
- Shankha prakshalana cures constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea, or any digestive disorder.
- It is helpful in relieving abdominal pain and irritation.
- This practice is beneficial in treating diabetes.
- This technique is used to prevent allergies like hay fever.
- It acts as a remedy to cure skin problems like acne, neurodermatitis, or psoriasis.
- It also relieves anxiety by soothing the nervous system.
- Avoid the practice if you have high blood pressure or any heart disease.
- People with weak kidneys must refrain from the practice.
- Do not practice shankha prakshalana during pregnancy.
- If you have a gastrointestinal ulcer, this practice must be avoided.
- In case of back pain avoid this pactice.
- If you have a recent surgery, then it is strictly prohibited to perform shankha prakshalana.
- Stop the practice immediately once the removal of clear water initiates.
- Do not fall asleep while resting in Shavasana.
- Avoid intake of any fluids for at least 2 hours after the meal.
- Avoid any chemically prepared, spicy, or non-veg food for one month after the practice.
- Restrict the intake of pickle, dairy products, sweets, or acidic fruits.
- Consumption of cigarette, alcohol, or any drugs must be prohibited for a month.
- Keep the body warm to prevent any side effects like headache, cold, or nausea.
Shankha Prakshalana Benefits
- It cleanses the body internally, clearing the toxins from the alimentary canal.
- This technique tones the internal organs like the liver, kidney, digestive organs, and glands.
- It is beneficial in the purification of blood by the reduction of excessive mucus.
- It maintains the metabolism and strengthens the immune system.
- It rejuvenates the body physically as well as mentally.
- It decreases appetite and helps burn extra calories. Therefore it tones the body and reduces body weight.
- It also raises the energy level by stimulating the prana flow aligning the body chakras.