With yoga making waves across the world today, most of us know of yogic practices like pranayama and asanas. But the science of yoga has even more to offer! For instance, did you know that yoga also describes cleansing processes? These are said to be “secret” practices that need to be passed down by an experienced guru. Hatha Yoga Pradipika, an important text on yoga, describes six such practices known as shatkarmas and nauli is one of them.
The Sanskrit word “nauli” is derived from the root “nala” which means “naval string.” The practice of nauli involves isolating and contracting the rectus abdominis muscles. These are two vertical long muscles present at the front of your stomach which run till the pubic bone. When this exercise is perfected, your abdominal muscles will contract and roll like waves in the ocean.
The Benefits Of Nauli
Many benefits have been ascribed to the practice of nauli. It is thought to:
- Intensify your digestive fire and cleanse toxic substances from the digestive system.
- Strengthen your liver and abdominal muscles.
- Help with digestive problems like dyspepsia, flatulence, and constipation.
- Help with menstrual disorders.
- Help normalize the functioning of the ovaries in women.
The Four Steps Of Nauli
The practice of nauli essentially involves four movements.
- Uddiyana bandha: This is an abdominal lock where you empty out your lungs and pull your stomach in and upward beneath your rib cage.
- Madhyana nauli (central nauli): Where you isolate and contract the abdominal muscles in the center.
- Vama nauli (left side nauli): Where you isolate and contract muscles on the left side of the abdomen.
- Daksina nauli (right side nauli): Where you isolate and contract muscles on the right side of the abdomen.
How Do You Do Nauli?
It’s important that nauli be practiced on an empty stomach. You should leave a gap of at least 5 hours after eating before you try this exercise. The ideal thing would be to practice it in the morning before having your breakfast. It’s also a good idea to empty your bowels before you start practice. Do keep in mind that you need to learn nauli under the guidance and supervision of an experienced practitioner.
Here’s what’s involved in the four steps of nauli.
- Stand with your feet apart so that they extend a little more than the width of your hip. Now bend your knees a bit and place your hands on your thighs right above the knees.
- Exhale completely so that all the air is pushed out. Remember to keep your stomach relaxed after you exhale.
- With your breath exhaled, raise up your rib cage and pull the area under the navel up and inward, curving it toward your spine. Your lower back will round a bit and your pelvis will tuck under when you do this. Hold this position for a bit, say, a few seconds.
- Release the position and inhale slowly through the nose. If you find yourself gasping for breath, you’ve held the position for too long.
- Once you’re comfortable with the uddiyana bandha, you can try doing uddiyana bandha contractions. This involves going in and out of the bandha without inhaling – that is, repeating and releasing the position described in step 3 without inhaling. In the beginning, you may find yourself getting out of breath pretty soon. With repeated practice, you may be able to do 5 to 10 contractions without inhaling.
After doing a few sets of uddiyana bandha contractions, you can try central nauli. For this, you need to relax the middle part of your abdominal muscles while keeping the sides engaged. Pressing on your thighs a little firmly with your hands can sometimes help in achieving this.
Right And Left Nauli
After doing the central nauli a few times, do the uddiyana bandha and then relax the abdominal muscles to the left side while keeping muscles to the right engaged. Putting a little extra weight on your right arm and leg can sometimes be helpful. Then, relax the muscles on the right and contract the muscles on the left side. Extra weight on the left arm and leg may be helpful here.
Connecting The Dots
After practicing right side and left side nauli for a few times, try to directly move from contracting muscles on one side to the other. After practicing for a while, you’ll be able to effect a rolling motion, like a wave, from one side to the other.
Once you start doing nauli comfortably, you should be able to do a number of revolutions for a period of 15 to 25 minutes regularly. While you need to start nauli practice with your hands placed just above your knees and your body bent slightly forward, once you perfect the exercise you can do it in an erect position with your hands placed on your upper thighs.
When Should You Not Practice Nauli?
Nauli is considered an advanced practice and it should be learned from an experienced practitioner. If you experience pain while practicing this exercise, you should stop immediately and check in with your doctor. Also remember that nauli is not recommended for pregnant women or those suffering from gallstones, heart disease, hernia, high blood pressure, or duodenal or peptic ulcers.