Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Kriyas

In the West today, we have created a nearly unthinkable number of distractions to “ease” the pain and suffering of our daily lives – overly indulgent food, drugs and alcohol, electronic distractions, media at our fingertips, instant gratification everywhere. The trouble is that using these distractions as an attempt to make ourselves feel better usually leaves us feeling much worse. Especially in America, we tend to swing between great extremes – working day and night for long periods, and then a few days of utter nothingness; our complete absorption in our workaholic lifestyle leaves us unable to cope with the periods of stillness, unable to cope with being alone and unoccupied for even a minute. We overdo the indulgences because we don’t know how to be alone with ourselves – some of us even feel guilty, as if we should always be “getting something done”.

So what are we to do? Practicing yoga asana regularly can help us feel more comfortable with stillness, and of course begin to help us quiet the mind. In my personal experience, however, I have found that it’s all about maintaining moderation and balance, so those extremes begin to have less distance between each other. One way to do this is to practice mindfulness in your everyday life, and the kriyas can help you do just that.

The Kriyas are ancient techniques developed by the yogic sages which purify and cleanse both the physical and subtle anatomy. A number of them are simple hygienic practices that you probably already do every day; what makes the practice a kriya is the element of mindfulness – taking a moment to stand back and take a breath, realize that you are doing something beneficial for your whole being, and appreciating the whole process (both the fact that you are doing the practice, and also the fact that you are fully present as you do it – be kind and thank yourself for this). I find it’s quite helpful to chant the mantra for purification (if you know it) in your head while you do most all of these exercises. Otherwise, you can concentrate on the breath, as you perform the practices with diligence and meticulousness.

There are many kriyas other than those listed below; however, these are the most universally accessible. More advanced techniques should always be practiced under the guidance of an experienced and knowledgeable teacher.

First, the simple ones that you probably already do: Danta-Mula-Dhauti (cleansing of the teeth) and Kama Dhauti (cleaning of the ears). A normal toothbrush and some ayurvedic toothpaste is just fine for the cleansing of the teeth; once again, the point is to be present as you perform the action, and to be thorough without brushing so hard as to wear away the enamel of the teeth. For Kama Dhauti, you can use a q-tip or even your index finger (as long as it is clean).

Practitioners of an Ayurvedic lifestyle recommend two more very simple practices: Jihva-Shodhana (the cleansing of the tongue with a scraper – in a pinch, water and gentle strokes with the fingers will work just fine), and Jala Dhauti (drinking a glass of warm water with lemon juice upon first waking). For Jala Dhauti, warm up the water (preferably not in a microwave), squeeze FRESH lemon juice into the cup (half a lemon for a small glass, a whole lemon for a larger glass – use your best judgment), and add a small amount of sweetener as needed (honey, maple syrup, or agave nectar). Jala Dhauti ignites the digestive fire, allowing the bowels to move more easily. Lemons are also high in several important vitamins – this website has a fantastic article which covers the benefits of this kriya in greater detail.

To cleanse the frontal sinuses, try Kapal Randhra Dhauti; simply press and rub the thumb of the right hand into the indent of the forehead near the bridge of the nose. This helps to purify the psychic channels as well, and it should be practiced upon awaking, after meals, and in the evening.

Next, neti. There are two types of neti practices – the more commonly accessible one being jala neti, which is performed with warm salty water and requires a neti pot (sometimes called a neti bowl, commonly available for purchase). 

Fill the neti pot with room-temperature or slightly warmed, distilled water (never use unpurified water, as the nasal passages are an excellent gateway for bacteria to creep into all areas of the body, including the brain), and mix in a package of salt made especially for use in neti pots: 

This is just an example; many brands are available in local drugstores. Never use plain table salt – this will be extremely uncomfortable and potentially damaging. Gently blow the nose with a tissue before beginning this practice. Insert the spout of the neti pot into one nasal passage, and tilt the head ninety degrees, so that one ear is over the other. Allow the water to flow in one nostril and out the other (over a sink is best), while breathing through the mouth. You can either use the entire pot (and refill for the opposite side), or use only half. Once you have allowed the water to pass through, remove the neti pot from your nostril and gently expel air through the nose while the head and torso hang down over the thighs, as in Uttanasana (not too vigorously, or you may end up with water in your inner ear and/or sinuses). Repeat this whole process, beginning with the spout in the opposite nostril.

These are the most basic and user-friendly of the kriyas. Many advanced techniques exist, but most require the guidance of a reliable teacher. As you can see, while some of the kriyas are indeed new practices to add to one’s routine, many of them are simple actions that you already do; one needs only to shift one’s approach, in order to change a “daily grind” into an offering, performed with grace and purity of intention.

Headstand can also be considered a kriya… Check out our previous post for detailed instructions on this pose!  

Author: Danielle Gray, Online Media Manager at DYNYC

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