As spring approaches, you may feel the urge to set the stage for new growth by cleaning house or cleansing the physical body. Shaucha or purity is one of the foundational principles of yoga, and ancient yogis practiced six types of cleanses, known as the shatkarmas. Most of these should be undertaken only with the guidance of an experienced teacher. However, some yogic cleanses, combined with gentle ayurvedic practices, make an effective daily cleansing routine suitable for anyone who wants to release toxins and build agni, the digestive fire.
Start each morning by cleaning the tongue of ama, toxins that have accumulated overnight. A tongue scraper is the best tool. If you like, follow this by gargling or oil pulling, swishing a spoonful of oil in the mouth for at least 10 minutes, then spitting it out. Before showering, massage your skin with a dry washcloth or soft brush to stimulate circulation and slough off dead skin cells. Use light pressure, stroking toward the heart. Other simple cleanses include washing the eyes using an eyecup and purified water, and cleaning and massaging the gums with a paste of sesame oil and salt.
If you’ve learned jala neti — nasal irrigation using lukewarm saline solution and a neti pot — you know that it’s ideal for warding off allergies or helping control symptoms of upper respiratory infections. In 2011, however, news stories about neti practitioners dying from infections scared some away from this simple and venerable practice. If you have learned cleaning and drying techniques from a teacher, and you keep everything — water, salt, neti pot — squeaky clean, you should have nothing to worry about. (Don’t use water straight from the tap.) Jala neti, like most yoga cleanses, has both a physical and a psychospiritual purpose. Nasal washing removes debris and pollutants and stimulates the sinus cavities, but also helps open the third eye, ajna chakra, the seat of inner vision.
Incorporate your cleansing routine into a morning sadhana, which might include meditation, sun salutations, and pranayama. The candle-gazing meditation known as trataka cleanses the third eye. Kapalabhati pranayama, taught in many yoga classes, is said to purify the frontal brain regions, as well as help remove carbon dioxide from the lowest regions of the lungs. Asana cleanses the body by promoting circulation and massaging the digestive organs. Twists are especially effective at this. The pawanmuktasana digestive series focuses on building agni and freeing energy blockages in the abdominal area. This spring yoga sequence can help awaken dormant energy and release stagnation.
Just as the spring equinox marks the equilibrium of day and night, the aim of cleansing (like the aim of yoga) is to restore balance. When purification becomes part of an ongoing healthy lifestyle, we begin to experience balance on ever deeper levels, encompassing body, mind, and spirit. This is the renewal of spring.
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