Intestinal Cleansing – Shankhaprakshalana
"Shankhaprakshalana purifies the body. By practicing with care, one gets a luminous or shining body." Gheranda Samhita
by Shanti 1996, revised and expanded in May 2009
Many years ago, I met a friend on the street who cheerfully told me of a girl he had just met. Then he said something that caused me to prick up my ears: "she rinses her intestines with salt water!" I had never heard the like before. I became both curious and sceptical at the same time!
Katrin's Christmas Present...
A woman wrote to me five months after her first intestinal cleansing:
"As I'm sure you remember, I was allergic to milk and sugar when I visited you in November. I say was, as just before Christmas I received the best Christmas present ever. I cautiously tried to eat normally, and it worked! Since then I haven't had any problems at all. A very happy Katrin."
The yoga tradition is very rich, containing a comprehensive knowledge of the body and mind. It is a science of tried and tested methods, which have been refined over thousands of years. Anyone can use yoga, regardless of what you believe in or who you are. The methods work precisely and without side effects. They give you access to your own resources.
Hatha Yoga is a part of the yoga tradition. It includes the physical cleansing processes, which remove toxins and waste products, and dissolve the coarser tensions in the body. The state of health can be improved with Hatha Yoga. Stomach problems and indigestion, psychosomatic illnesses such as diabetes, asthma and migraine can be relieved, even cured, with yoga.
A young man with diabetes stayed at Haa Retreat Center on a longer course. His pancreas did not produce any insulin at all when he arrived, and he had to take insulin several times a day. After just a couple of days of yoga training, his insulin requirement decreased. We teachers had prepared him for the possibility of change after the intestinal cleansing, but we did not expect such a quick response. His pancreas began to work, and towards the end of the course he needed very little supplementary insulin.
Ha stands for the sun and tha for the moon. The sun - warm, active and physical. The moon - cool, passive and mental, reflecting the sun's light.
Hatha Yoga is built upon the knowledge of how to bring the body's organs and functions into mutual balance, thereby creating a harmonious foundation in the physical and mental state. Quite often, restlessness indicates an imbalance in the body.
Physiologically, the yogic principle concerning the balance between heat and cold, exertion and relaxation and between expansion and absorption can be described along with the two complimentary functions of the autonomic nervous system, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. For example, in fighting situations, the active functions are stimulated: The pupils dilate, blood rushes from the inner organs to the muscles, the heart beats faster and respiration increases. These functions decrease when we rest.
Stress has to do with an imbalance between these two functions, between sun and moon energy, in that both are active simultaneously and can be said to work against each other. This can lead to the occurrence of all sorts of complications, physical as well as mental.
The cleansing processes of Hatha Yoga remove fundamental tensions, which stand in the way of your clarity and concentration. They are divided into six main groups: Shat Karma. Some of the simpler methods are, for example, brushing the teeth and cleaning the scalp. In one text, Gheranda Samhita, they are described alongside other more comprehensive methods.
Such cleansing processes are Nose Cleansing, Neti, where salt water at body temperature is poured through the nose (see Nose Cleansing), and stomach cleansing, Kunjal Kriya, where salt water is drunk on an empty stomach and then vomited. Also stomach exercises such as Agnisar and Nauli, where the muscles of the abdomen are rotated, massaging the intestines and kindling the digestion. The breathing exercise Kapalabhati cleanses the lungs. It is also said to "purify the frontal region of the brain" (partly by oxidising the blood). Tratak where you concentrate on the flame of a candle, gives a better balance in the brain and strengthens and cleanses the eyes – it is also an important concentration technique. And finally, there is Shankhaprakshalana, intestinal cleansing:
Here we have the most comprehensive cleansing process, which cleanses all the way from the mouth to the anus. In Sanskrit, the approximately seven meter long folded intestine is called Shankhaprakshalana means to wash thoroughly. In certain texts, Shankhaprakshalana is also named Varisara Dhauti.
In the intestines, 'residue' accumulates, waste products remain sitting in the small folds of the intestines, around which tensions can arise, binding energy and affecting one's well-being. When the intestines are rinsed, the residue and tensions are removed.
The skin becomes clean and soft and various kinds of skin allergies and eczema are relieved, and can even disappear completely.
The senses are sharpened to such a degree that they feel as though they were muffled, and have now been unwrapped. I will never forget the taste of that boiled carrot I ate after my first intestinal cleansing. Its taste was more carrot-like than I had ever previously experienced.
The effects, however, are not only physical, such as an improvement in taste and sight. When the coarse tensions are removed from the stomach and abdomen, you have the released energy at your disposal, and the body feels light and healthy. It becomes easier to calm down, something that facilitates the learning of yoga and meditation.
Important! Even though the intestinal cleansing is simple to perform, it demands guidance by a teacher with personal experience, and should not be done alone, but only together with others in a group.
Therefore, we request yoga teachers who haven't tried it themselves or who don't have a proper education, to abstain from using or teaching it till the necessary experience and proper training has been acquired. We also request writers not to paraphrase this article in their own words. It is based on personal experience and a direct introduction to the method, and it should not be retold as second hand knowledge.
When you decide to come and do the intestinal cleansing it is necessary to set aside a whole day and not make any other plans for the afternoon and evening. The evening meal should be skipped the day before. However, you may eat some fruits and drink water or herbal tea, but no dairy products.
If you suffer from an illness tell your teacher before you do the intestinal cleansing.
The Water and Salt
The water for the intestinal cleansing must be physiological salt water, the same salt concentration as the body's own, 0.9%. This allows the water to leave the stomach more quickly, while maintaining the same osmotic pressure upon both sides of the intestinal wall. This means that the body neither absorbs nor yields salt or water in significant quantities; the saline water stays in the intestinal canal on its way down through the body and is evacuated through the rectum.
We have ascertained that some people are allergic to sea salt. We therefore suggest using ordinary salt from deep salt mines, one that is free from any anti-caking agent, such as Himalaya Salt or Luisenhaller rock salt.
The ease with which the water passes through the intestines is also dependent on the temperature of the water. It is perfect when it is like warm soup.
Intestinal cleansing is done by drinking a glass of salt water and performing five simple exercises that help the water to pass through the intestines. Afterwards, you again drink a glass of salt water, do the exercises and continue like this.
After the sixth glass, you begin to go to the toilet following the exercises. Gradually, as you drink more glasses and do the exercises, the water that is evacuated becomes lighter and contains fewer and fewer particles. Finally, it is almost as clear as the water you drink, and completely free from particles.
The intestinal cleansing itself is now over. Altogether, sixteen large glasses of salt water, or a little more, are drunk. However, do not drink ordinary water during the process nor the following four hours.
1/ The first exercise is a variation of The Palm Pose or Tadasana in Sanskrit.
Stand with the arms stretched over your head, and your hands clasped with the palms up.
Inhale and rise up on your toes. Balance, looking up at your hands, and hold the breath.
Walk around on your toes, as long as you can hold your breath.
Then come down again on your soles while exhaling.
Stand relaxed for a while with your arms at your sides and your eyes closed.
Repeat it three times.
2/ The second exercise is called
We call it
The Tree in the Wind.
Stand with the legs apart,
fold the hands
and turn the palms outwards.
Stretch the arms over the head,
look up at the hands
and sway from side to side.
Do it eight times to each side.
3/ The third exercise is Kati Chakrasana,
The Waist Twist.
Stand with your feet apart
and arms hanging at your sides.
Start swinging your arms from side to side by twisting your body.
When you twist to the right, look as far back as you can over your right shoulder – then twist to the left.
Now swing so fast that your left hand ends on your right shoulder and the right hand swings behind your back and touches your waist round on the left side, and vice versa. Your arms should be so relaxed that they swing out horizontally from the body.
This exercise is also done eight times to each side.
4/ The fourth exercise is called Tiryaka Bhujangasana, and is translated as The Twisted Cobra.
First lie on the stomach with the legs wide apart.
Then raise the body up on straight arms and twist the head and torso so that you can look over the right shoulder and see down towards the left heel. Repeat to the other side.
The exercise is repeated eight times to each side.
5/ The fifth exercise, Udarakarshanasana, translates as Abdominal Massage.
Sit in a squatting position with the hands placed upon the knees. Hold the upper body and head erect.
Lower the right knee to the left foot, while pressing the left leg against the body so that it exerts a pressure against the stomach, all the way down to the groin.
Repeat to the other side.
Do it eight times to each side.
Important! The five exercises that are described here cause the water to pass quickly through the alimentary canal, from stomach to anus.
The exercises therefore must be practised in the given order. When you do the exercises after having drunk each portion of the water, they will cause the different sphincter muscles, from the stomach and down through the intestines, to open in the right order.
Kunjal Kriya - Stomach Cleansing
After clear water is evacuated, the stomach must be cleansed.
The water for the stomach cleansing is also physiological, but just below body temperature.
This technique is called Kunjal Kriya, not to be confused with "Kriya Yoga", which is an advanced meditation technique.
In Sanskrit, Kunjal means "to throw up water", and Kriya, "process".
You drink the water in one go until the stomach is full – approximately 1½ litres – and, if it has the right temperature, the water will come up by itself. Otherwise, you can insert two fingers down your throat and trigger the vomiting reflex.
Stomach cleansing is a simple and quick process that produces a feeling of well-being and deep relaxation.
Therapeutically, Kunjal is used against stomach and digestive problems, headache, nervousness, asthma, common cold and coughing.
If a more thorough acquaintance with the method is desired, then it can be done every morning on an empty stomach, for up to forty days. No special diet is required, but wait three quarters of an hour before you eat anything.
Neti - Nose Cleansing
The nose is cleansed afterwards. It is also done with physiological salt water.A Neti pot is filled with salt water at body temperature. The spout is placed into one nostril, so that it sits tight. The head is held at an angle so that the water runs by itself in through one nostril and out of the other.
The process is repeated on the other nostril.
Read more about Neti and how to dry the nose afterwards>>
Rest and Food
When you have cleansed and dried the nose, done the exercises again, been to the toilet, and gotten the final water out, then lie down and rest for 45 minutes. You don't sleep but just lie and relax, maybe while listening to some pleasant music.
The rest following the intestinal cleansing is described in this way in Yogic Management of Asthma and Diabetes, by Dr. Swami Shankaradevananda Saraswati:
"This is the only time, where the digestion gets a total rest, as it is only when the stomach is completely empty, that the activity of the digestive nerve impulses and glands stops."
When you've finished resting, then you eat a special meal, consisting of rice, red lentils and ghee (clarified butter, the clear oil from heated butter). This meal helps the digestive process start again in a gentle and balanced way. Eat plenty. Do not drink water and do not take a bath for the next four hours. Thereafter, you must only drink warm water for the rest of the day.
Then, take it easy until bed time. You can take a walk in the fresh air, but don't do anything strenuous.
What does one eat after the intestinal cleansing?
A diet is observed after the intestinal cleansing, involving mild and easily digestible food, such as boiled grains (rice, pasta without egg, etc.), boiled or steamed vegetables and legumes (for instance beans or lentils). This protects the digestive system and gives the body time to stabilise the effect of the intestinal cleansing.
What does one avoid eating?
During the first ten days, the following things are to be refrained from: Coffee, tea, sugar, honey, chocolate, all varieties of sweets, tobacco and also medicine that is not absolutely necessary. Vegetables such as onions and leeks, raw vegetables and also spices are to be avoided, as well as all forms of fruit and dairy products.
Meat, fish, eggs and alcohol are not consumed for forty days.
Choice of content and preparation of the diet.
If you are in doubt as to what you can eat during the diet period, then do a little experiment and ask yourself whether you would give it to a baby. If you wouldn't, then don't eat it until after the diet.
A diet of boiled vegetables and grains may sound a little bit boring to some, but you can make interesting food by just using your imagination. Already after a couple of days, you can begin to season the food with a tiny bit of herbs, but not strong spices, such as chillies, curry, ginger and the like. Herbal seasoning can be enjoyed in limited quantities, as your taste buds have been awakened from a slumber.
Even though organic vegetables may be a little more expensive than others, the investment is worthwhile.
Intestinal cleansing at our place
At our city schools and weekend retreats, we end the intestinal cleansing by going through the diet. On the longer retreats at Haa Retreat Center, it is easy as the food is served for you.
The body has regained its original sensitivity
When you expand your menu after the diet period, bear in mind the body's increased sensitivity, which perhaps means that you don't need to eat the same as before. Be attentive to the body's signals. After the intestinal cleansing, it is easier than at other times to change one's eating habits. It can also be a good time to stop smoking, as many lose the desire for the smoke following the process.
The Small Intestinal Cleansing
There is also a shorter version called Laghoo Shankhaprakshalana. It is used by people undergoing special treatment, for example diabetics. They do it every day for forty days following the larger Intestinal Cleansing.
It is simpler because there is no diet to observe afterwards, and only six to eight glasses of saltwater are drunk. The same exercises are done after every second glass.
The little intestinal cleansing is done in the morning on an empty stomach. In contrast to the full intestinal cleansing, which is normally done only once or twice a year, the small one can be done as often as necessary.
In Hospitals in the East and West
Statistics – May 2009
Since the foundation of the Scandinavian Yoga and Meditation School in 1970 in Copenhagen, roughly 21.000 people have done Shankhaprakshalana with us — in our different city schools, in retreats we have held abroad, and at Haa International Retreat Center. Some people have done it more than once.
We began using the gallstone cure mentioned below in the late 1980s, but we have no figure on how many have done it.
"Yoga hospitals" can be found in many places in India, where people with various psychosomatic illnesses, such as asthma and even diabetes, are treated. Common to them all is that medicine is not used in the treatment; it consists entirely of yoga techniques.
The Yogic Treatment-cum-Research Center in Jaipur, Rajasthan in India was founded by Swami Anandananda, where he collaborated with a team of doctors. A group of yoga teachers from the Scandinavian Yoga and Meditation School visited Swami Anandananda in 1973.
The treatment at the institution in Jaipur consisted of intestinal cleansing, followed up by various yoga programmes and supplemented with the small intestinal cleansing, which was done as often as necessary with regard to the patients needs. With these simple forms of treatment, diabetes (especially type II diabetes) and asthma patients experienced a noticeable improvement, if not full recovery.
A special surgeon at the University Clinic in Cologne, Germany, heard about the intestinal cleansing from a colleague who had tried it on one of our courses. He became so interested in trying the technique on his patients prior to their operations, that he invited one of our yoga teachers to Cologne. Normally, the doctors would use a method where the patient would sit on a special chair with a hole in the seat, and put a stomach pump in them. In this way, the intestines were rinsed with a saline solution. It is a harsh treatment to say the least. The first one to do the intestinal cleansing was a 75 year old woman. The doctor was very surprised to find how easy, with the help of the exercises, the water passed through her system. He was even more surprised the following day during the operation, when he discovered that her entire alimentary canal was completely clean - no particles could be found even in the folds of the intestines.
Intestinal Cleansing and Gallstone Cure
– a personal experience of an effective method – by Laxmi
When I had gallstone pains, I went to the hospital to confirm that it was gallstones. I got an appointment for ultra-sound scanning, and later I should arrange a date for an operation. I said that I would only be operated on if it was absolutely necessary, and that I would first try an old-fashioned oil therapy to get the stones out.
When I came home to the yoga school I did the intestinal cleansing. It took a little longer than usual, as I couldn't do the exercises thoroughly due to the pain, which felt as if there was a knife just below the ribcage on the right side. After the intestinal cleansing, I rested for an hour as usual, and then – instead of the food – I drank a litre of olive oil. I managed to drink the oil by thinking about the operation I was avoiding and the two week stay in the hospital afterwards. Since then, I have heard that it is sufficient with two decilitres of oil.
The next couple of hours I needed to rest again, so that the oil could work in peace. I lay on my right side and waited for the gallstones to come out. I went to the toilet a few times, but only oil and slime came out. At one point I gave up waiting, and ate the food and took it easy for the rest of the day.
The next morning, when I went to the toilet, a large green gallstone and thirty smaller ones came out, and the pain was gone!
What a relief! Gallstones emitted by a participant on a 14 days retreat at Haa Retreat Center, after a session of intestinal cleansing and oil treatment.
The time had come for a close examination before the operation. I took the small grass-green stones in a glass to the hospital and told them what I had done and that there was no longer any pain. The scan showed that there were no more stones left. The doctor's conclusion was, "you can't just go home and remove the gallstones yourself, so there has probably been a misdiagnosis from the start." The slightly elder doctor, who performed the ultra-sound examination said to me in all confidence that research was being carried out on the effect of fatty acids on gallstones.
This all happened thirteen years ago, and I haven't had any more stones since. I have done the treatment quite a few times just to be on the safe side, but only green liquid from the gallbladder comes out. Naturally, I do yoga exercises that keep the gallbladder and the other digestive organs in form. Other teachers and students who have tried the treatment at our Scandinavian Yoga and Meditation School have had equally good results from it.
A similar oil therapy is used by some health farms and natural doctors. My late grandmother removed her gallstones by drinking double cream and melted butter.
Note! This yogic gallstone therapy should only be done under expert guidance of an experienced yoga teacher.