by Beth Gregory
What are Kriyas?
Kriyas are Ayurvedic techniques which help cleanse the body. Utilising Kriyas can improve energy levels, improve digestion, reduce common ailments and illnesses, and bring about better bodily awareness, to name a few benefits.
Kriyas have long been known by yogis to be beneficial, however, many Kriyas are now becoming much more popular in the West.
There are many different Kriyas and some of these are ill-advised without proper supervision and guidance. However, below are the most common and easily accessible Kriyas, which have the least contraindications. Making these Kriyas a regular part of your routines can enhance other elements of your yoga practice, reduce illness, and bring vitality to your life.
A neti-pot is a device used to clean out your nostrils. This Kriya will give you energy and clarity. It will help remove any pollutants from the nostril and can help prevent colds and flu, as well as help ease allergy symptoms.
You can buy neti-pots online quite cheaply but I'd recommend spending a bit more on a ceramic one. To use a neti pot, fill it with boiled water (or use warm filtered water), add a spoonful of sea-salt or pink Himalayan salt. Allow it to cool so that it's warm but not too hot.
Lightly blow air out of each nostril, establishing which nostril is least blocked. Tilting your body slightly forward over your sink, bring the spout of the neti pot to the least blocked nostril to start. Keep your mouth open during the process and tilt your head down. Slowly start to pour the water into your nostril, so it comes out of the other nostril. It may come out quite quickly or as a slow trickle. This depends on the flow and how blocked your nose is and can vary day to day. Once you’re done, blow out any excess water and repeat on the other side.
At first, you can use half a neti-pot for each side, progressing to a whole neti-pot for each side.
During this process you may get an odd sensation in your head - similar to brain freeze - especially if this is your first time using a neti pot. Stay calm and steady and breathe through your mouth.
After you’ve completed this, blow your nose. You can also use Kapalbhati breathing (see below), which will help to expel any excess water trapped in the nose. Try to avoid lying down or going out into polluted air for one hour after this process.
You can use a neti pot once or twice a week.
Try it out: Net pot cleansing with Andrew Wrenn
2. Tongue scraping
We brush our teeth daily but how often do we clean our tongue? In Ayurveda, the condition of your tongue says a lot about us. If it’s got a heavy, white coating, for example, this can signify a Kapha imbalance. Our tongue is the gateway for our sense of taste and cleaning it heightens this sense – meaning the experience of eating becomes even richer and more fulfilling.
Cleaning our tongue also improves our digestion and our ability to assimilate nutrients, as we are removing bacteria from the tongue which would otherwise be re-absorbed into the gastrointestinal tract, leading to digestive imbalances. Tongue scraping can also improve our dental and general oral health. Tongue scraping is a fantastic tool to bring into our morning routine.
Using a tongue-scraper, place the curved part at the back of your tongue and pull front-ways 10 times. Do this every day, before brushing your teeth. Some people use the back of a plastic toothbrush to clean their tongues, however, I prefer using the traditional tool. Firstly – buying plastic toothbrushes is less sustainable than buying a bamboo toothbrush, and secondly – using a traditional tongue scraper covers more surface of the tongue, making it more efficient. Tongue scraping is easy to do, and whilst it may take a while to get used to, is not an unpleasant sensation.
3. Oil pulling
Oil pulling is described as the Ayurvedic version of using mouthwash. Oil pulling is becoming increasingly popular in the West and many people utilise this Kriya because of its teeth whitening benefits.
Oil pulling is essentially using oil to ‘pull’ bad bacteria out of your mouth. It's very easy and is something everyone can do. All you do is pop a small amount of oil – preferably organic – into your mouth. Swirl the oil around your mouth for a few minutes, then spit out into the bin (avoid spitting it down the sink as it may solidify and block your pipes).
According to Ayurveda, certain oils work best depending on what your Dosha is. If you are predominantly Pitta, then a cooling oil such as coconut oil is preferred. On the other hand, if you are a Vata, a warming oil such as sesame oil is recommended. However, the best thing you can do is find an oil that works for you, which you don’t mind the taste of.
Many people say that you need to oil pull for 20 minutes. However, oil-pulling for a just a few minutes each morning, before brushing your teeth, is enough. If you like - and you have time - you can increase the time as it becomes a regular part of your morning routine.
Kapalabhati is an energising pranayama (breathing technique), however, it is also classified as a Kriya due to its benefits for the digestive system. Kapalabhati is best practiced in the morning, before eating, and after using your neti pot. Kapalabhati is not recommended for those who are pregnant, menstruating or have high blood pressure or eye problems.
Start by sitting in a comfortable upright position. Place your hands on your lap or you can place one hand on your lower abdomen. Having one hand on your abdomen can be helpful to feel the sensation of this Kriya and to check you are doing it correctly.
Inhale deeply, and then using the contractions of your abdomen, exhale sharply out the nose. Continue to exhale rapidly, using the abdomen to push the air out. The inhale will come naturally. Repeat this 20 times, for three rounds. The first round should be done slower, with the second two rounds increasing in rapidity. Kapalabhati is fantastic for stimulating the abdominal organs and promotes digestion. It also creates heat in the body, which is why it’s great to do in the morning.
Try it out: Kapalabhati exploration with Helen Noakes
Nauli is also known as ‘stomach-churning’. You may have seen some yogis being able to suck their belly in and then create ripples with their stomach moving from side to side. This is a very advanced version of this Kriya - you can perform much easier versions of this Kriya right away.
To perform Nauli, come into a standing position with both feet slightly wider than hip-width distance apart. Bend slightly forward from the hips, keeping the back straight. Take a deep inhale, then as you exhale pull the navel into the spine, sucking the belly in and creating Uddiyana Bandha (abdominal energy lock). Hold this for as long as you can comfortably until you feel the sensation to breathe. Don’t feel the pressure to hold on for too long, just doing what feels right for your body. Repeat this two more times.
Once you have done this, you can try the next version of Nauli. Repeat step one. Once you have this position, start to relax and contract the abdomen, making the same movements as you would during Kapalabhati, but without also bringing the breath in. Do this twenty times or as long as is comfortable. Repeat two more times. Nauli can be performed about once a week.
Nauli is great for massaging the digestive organs and for stimulating and promoting healthy digestion. Learning Nauli can also give us a greater understanding of the Uddiyana bandha energy lock, which can aid us in many other areas of our yoga practice.
Nauli is not advised if you’re pregnant or menstruating. As it's stimulating for the digestive system, it is best avoided if you have an upset stomach.
Try it out: Tone your abs with Nauli Kriya with Andrew Wrenn
These five Kriyas can be used together, or you can pick one or two which are most accessible to you and will benefit you the most. When performed regularly, Kriyas can add a new dimension to our practice, and help us connect to yoga beyond an asana practice.
If you have any concerns about performing these Kriyas, make sure you speak to a healthcare professional beforehand.
About the author:
Beth came to yoga over 7 years ago, as a way to spiritually connect to her inner self. She trained in Ashtanga Vinyasa in a traditional setting in Northern Goa and now teaches Ashtanga and Vinyasa classes in Bristol, UK. Beth has also been writing since she was a teenager.