What is Shankha Prakshalana?
Shankha Prakshalana is an ancient yogic practice of cleansing the intestines and the entire digestive tract. It relies on saltwater intake, breathing and asana. It is also called Varisara Dhauti.
Another name given to this practice is “shell cleansing.” It’s because water goes through all the digestive system as though it was a shell. ,
This technique eliminates the digestive residue and wastes. It purifies the intestines, removes toxins and prevents many diseases.
Why is it essential to clean the intestines?
Our health, wellness and psychological balance depend on the functioning of our intestines.
When the colon is congested with stagnant waste, toxins return to our system and contaminate the rest of the internal environment. This process is called auto-intoxication which means “self-poisoning.” It affects all the body’s tissues and accelerates the aging process. The worst source of auto-intoxication is constipation. It causes poisons to leak through the intestinal walls!
There are many contributing factors to auto-intoxication. The main are improper diet, sedentary lifestyle, insufficient exercise and stress. All of which can lead to bowel problems. As a result, the digestive organs cannot process food efficiently. So, part of it passes into the colon as waste.
Consequently, the body cannot eliminate the excessive residue on its own, so the fermentation causes many diseases and dysfunctions. Many organs are affected: stomach, kidneys, liver and appendix. It influences the skin and blood condition as well as can lead to cancer.
Bowel auto-intoxication also affects our mind as there is a close gut and brain connection. Distress in the colon can cause irritation, anxiety, stress or depression. Additionally, it may be a reason for the tension in the mind and heavy internal dialogue.
Benefits of the Shankha Prakshalana
The practice of Shankha Prakshalana helps the colon to remove the waste and eliminate any toxins.
Unlike an enema, which cleans only the large intestine, Shankha Prakshalana removes sediment from the entire digestive system, from the stomach to the anus. It has many benefits as the practice purifies the blood and eliminates allergies, skin diseases and constipation.
It improves digestion and enhances metabolism. Moreover, it helps to prevent cancer in the intestine, as well as reduces bloating and belly fat.
When practised with a higher intention, Shankha Prakshalana also has a spiritual aspect. It raises the energy, purifies the energy center and increases concentration. Moreover, it sharpens the senses and calms the mind, preparing the way for the higher consciousness.
According to the yoga tradition, by practising Shankha Prakshalana, one gets a luminous or shining body.
Two versions of Shankha Prakshalana
During the practice of Shankha Prakshalana, you drink water mixed with salt. The water then runs through the stomach, and with the help of simple exercises, it goes through the intestines and the anus.
The practise continues until the water comes out transparent.
There are two variations of this practice:
1. Shankha Prakshalana- in this classic version, you drink about 3-4 litres of saltwater (12-16 glasses). If you want to practice it for the first time, it is better to do it with someone experienced. Someone that can serve to support and advise. You can do it once in 6 months. The best time is the change of season (mid-October until the beginning of November, and mid-March until the beginning of April).
2. Laghu Shankha Prakshalana – it is a shorter and lighter version of Shrank Prakshalana. You drink about 1.5 -2 litres of saltwater (6-8 glasses). The whole treatment lasts approximately an hour and a half, and you can easily do it at home alone, although if you have someone that can serve to support and advise, then it is a good idea to ask them to join you. It is convenient, and you can repeat it more often than the classic Shankha Prakshalana.
The exercises are the same for both practices.
For the rest of this article, I describe Laghu Shankha Prakshalana, the shortened version of the practice. The one which you can make alone at home.
How to prepare for the practice?
1. Practise when the weather is mild. When it is too hot or too cold, you can get exhausted quickly.
2. It’s better to do it during the weekend or when you have peace of mind. Practising can make you tired and weak.
3. Prepare any body oil or Vaseline. Saltwater can be itchy when it touches the sensitive parts of our skin.
4. Have a light meal the night before the practice (avoid rice, bread, cheese, meat or fish). Eat before 7 pm. Practise early in the morning on an empty stomach.
5. Set an intention. Clarify what you want to purify. Maybe you have specific health or psychological problems that you would like to cure. The mental purpose will direct the physical healing process towards this goal.
How to practice Shankha Prakshalana – A step by step guide to the asana sequence
1. Start with the prayer and setting your intention
The practice of Shankha Prakshalana is part of the yogic tradition. It can have more aspects than just cleaning your intestines. It can be a great spiritual practice for you. It is important not to treat it mechanically as a purely physical experience. How deep it works depends on your intention and connection with your essence. The effects can have different dimensions and even extend to your mind and soul.
Heat approximately 1.5- 2 litres of water to body temperature (37 degrees celsius). Add salt in proportion 5-6 grams (one flat tablespoon) per litre. The water must be salty to ensure the body does not absorb it. This way, it cannot evacuate as urine. Maintain the exact water temperature throughout all the practice (you can reheat the water if necessary).
3. Follow the steps:
1. Drink a glass of warm salty water.
2. Immediately after, carry out the series of exercises described in the next section. As you move, the water will slowly get into your intestines.
3. Drink another glass of warm saltwater and repeat the set of exercises.
4. Continue alternating glass of water and the movements until you have drunk six glasses and made the movements six times.
5. Then go to the toilet. If you have not had a bowel movement after five minutes, you should repeat the series of moves, but do not drink more water just yet. You can also wait seated, possibly massage the abdomen, or you can get up and walk a bit to help the water travel down. Do not try to force a bowel movement; it should be completely natural.
6. After the first bowel movement, you should continue this sequence. Drinking a glass of saltwater, do a series of exercises and go to the toilet. Do it until you drink all amount of prepared saltwater.
Shankha Prakshalana exercises:
The purpose of the asana sequence is to push the saltwater through the digestive tract to the anus. Repeat each movement 4-5 times on each side (8-10 inclinations alternately to the left and right) in quick succession.
Perform these asanas without pulling too hard to get into the perfect pose. The focus should not be on the stretch but rather on relaxing the stomach and intestine. Make the four movements in the order below.
Never change the order of the exercises!
Tadasana – Starting position
Stand up and spread your feet at shoulder width (approximately 30 cm apart). Interlock your fingers and put your palms upwards. Straighten your back well and breathe normally.
You are in the starting position. Without turning your thorax, tilt your body to the left. Then, without stopping, straighten up and immediately lean to the right. Repeat this double movement four times. Do eight inclinations alternately to the left and right. It takes approximately 10 seconds in all.
Those movements open the pylorus of the stomach. With each move, a part of water enters the duodenum from the stomach.
Stand up. Stretch your right arm horizontally. Bend the left arm until your thumb and forefinger touch the right collarbone. Then rotate your upper body directing the extended arm back as far as possible. Look at your left fingertips. Without stopping, immediately return to the starting position. Repeat the movement in the opposite direction. Make each double exercise four times, which should take about 10 seconds.
This movement helps to move the water along the small intestine.
Lie down on your front and push upwards so that only your toes and the palms of your hands touch the ground. Your hips and thighs should not touch the floor; it is crucial to keep your feet about 30 cm apart. Once you are in position, turn your head, shoulders and upper body until you see the opposite heel (if you turn to the right, look at your left heel). Do not stay in that position – go straight back to the starting position and repeat on the other side. Repeat each double movement four times, which should take about 10 to 15 seconds.
This exercise helps to move the water along the small intestine.
Start by crouching with your feet about 30 cm apart. Position your heels outside of the hips (not under your buttocks). Rest your palms on your knees, which should be about 30 cm apart.
Twist your upper body and put your left knee down on the floor in front of your right foot. Your hands should alternately push your right thigh to the left side and your left thigh to the right side.
This movement compresses each half of the stomach and applies pressure on the colon. Look behind you to deepen the twist of your upper body and put pressure on your abdomen.
It does not matter whether you start on the left or the right side in the previous exercises. However, in Udarakarshanasana, it is preferable to compress the right-hand side of the abdomen to first press on the ascending colon. This double movement should be done four times and takes around 15 seconds.
Thanks to this movement, water passes from the small intestine through the colon.
If you suffer from knee or meniscus problems, use the alternative asana described below.
Ardha Matsyendrasana – alternative to Udarakarshanasana
Sit down on the floor and fold your left leg, sliding it under your right leg, pulling it close to your hips. Your right foot goes over your left knee and until your foot is flat on the floor. Your right knee should point up at the ceiling. Whilst exhaling, twist your torso towards the right. Keeping your right hand behind you to keep balance; while your left arm is positioned on the outside of your right knee, pull your thigh inside. Keep your spine straight and breathe normally, holding for 4-5 breaths. Then, unfold your legs and repeat on the other side.
During this, avoid touching your ribs with your bent knee to ease compression of the lower abdomen. Repeat with the opposite knee and alternate until you have done both sides four times.
After the practice, rest and meditate in silence
After finishing the practice, rest for about 1-2 hours. You can relax in the position of Shavasana (lying down on your back). Do not take a shower or bathe. It is also not recommended to sleep, if necessary, have someone there to keep you awake. Try to maintain silence and stay warm during the resting period. The intestines and the digestive system will be in recovery mode. During this time, your body and mind are healing.
I recommend resting and relaxing until the end of the day, so it’s better to remain silent and avoid as many mental and physical activities as you can. You can also go for a short walk. I usually do it after the practice.
Eat 2 hours after the practice
After the practice, the stomach is more sensitive. The first meal could consist of well-boiled white rice, wheat, oatmeal, pasta or well-cooked vegetables. No spices.
The ingredients of this food help to restore digestive functions and strengthen the bowel. This food also prevents indigestion, constipation and diarrhoea. It is better not to sleep for at least 3 hours after this first meal as it can cause a headache and lethargy.
Do not drink any milk or eat any yoghurt for 24 hours after the cleansing. Also, you should avoid acidic foods (oranges, fish) and drinks (coffee, black tea). Also avoid fruits and raw vegetables for the same period.
You can be very thirsty after the cleansing. However, do not drink any liquid until you have eaten the first meal. If you drink, you will continue to stimulate fluid expulsion through the anal canal. After the first meal, you can drink still water or light infusions. Do not drink alcohol for 24 hours after the practice.
The second meal should be 6 hours after the first meal. You can eat bread and hard or semi-hard cheeses (but not white or fermented cheese). After 24 hours, you can return to your usual regime but avoid eating excess meat.
It is pretty normal to have no bowel movements for around 24-36 hours after the cleansing.
Cautions and dangers of Shankha Prakshalana
A person should not practise Shankha Prakshalana under fifteen years old, nor during menstruation or pregnancy. Avoid it if you have low blood pressure, gastritis, stomach ulcers or weak kidneys. It’s not advisable for someone with large gallstones, kidney stones, chronic diabetes or a hernia. The same concerns dysentery, diarrhoea, intestinal tuberculosis, cancer in the intestines or many mental illnesses.
My experience with Shankha Prakshalana
I have practised the at-home shorter version of Shankha Prakshalana, the Laghu Shankha Prakshalana. It is straightforward and doesn’t need additional equipment like an enema. When possible, I use Himalaya salt and try to drink spring water. It takes me about 1.5 hours. During the day, I stay at home, meditate and rest.
I usually do this cleansing for three days with a one-day break between each day of practice. Each day I repeat all the procedures. This way, the purification is more potent. Often, I do it just before I start fasting. My favourite period is spring. I feel like I take away a cloud of dust after the winter, and I am fresh again. My skin is bright, and my eyes are shining.
It has improved digestion and eliminated my intestinal problems. Every time it makes me feel lighter, and in the long run, it changed my diet. My body started to like and choose healthier food. I eat much more vegetables and fruits than I used to!
It also influenced my mind, and it’s much clearer and calmer now. The internal dialogue has diminished and has been replaced by silence, openness and depth. Shanka Prakshalana is a spiritual practice for me. I start it with a prayer and finish with meditation.