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The Six Purificatory Acts, or Shat Karma

In the normal course of life, the nerves, arteries and all other channels of the body gradually harden and become obstructed by sediments and impurities, which are the cause of aging and of most physical and mental ailments.

The first work in the practice of yoga is to remove these sediments through the purification and rejuvenation of, first, the grosser, then the subtler channels of the body. The chief means for purifying the body are rhythmical breathing accompanied with holding of the breath and the uttering of certain syllables called the "seed formulae" (bija mantras).

In addition, there are six acts (shat karma) which, when done systematically and with the assistance of the special muscular control gained by the training of yoga, have a remarkable effect in thoroughly disintoxicating and rejuvenating the organism.

"These six acts should be performed: washing out the stomach (dhauti), washing out the bowels (vasti), cleansing of the nose (neti), shaking the abdomen (nauliki), fixing with the eyes (trataka) and breathing bellows (kapala bhati)." (Hatha Yoga Pradipika 2, 22.)

Some treatises, particularly the Bhakti Sagara of Charana Dasa, add to these: the Elephant act (gaja karani), the Air-pipe act (dhanu karani), the Tiger act (dhagi karani) and the Conch act (shankha pashala).

Without these Six Acts, it is often difficult to find the physical strength and resistance necessary for the practice of yoga.

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