Hatha Yoga: Agnisar Kriya. Part I

Abdominal malfunctions are common ailments among many people. The causes are often due to lack of exercise and inadequate massage of the internal organs. Many of us spend long periods of time sitting motionless doing office work, studying, watching television and other activities that require little or no physical effort. This leads to laziness and sluggishness of the entire body, including the abdominal organs. For this reason, the organs become inefficient and unable to perform their basic functions properly, leading to general bad health, whether conspicuous or inconspicuous.
In the case of the abdominal organs, sluggishness leads to indigestion, constipation, kidney and liver problems and various other common ailments of the abdomen. Of course there may be other factors involved, but certainly inefficiency of the organs is a major one. Agnisar kriya is a powerful method of counteracting this condition, for it vigorously contracts and expands the abdomen, giving the internal organs the massage and exercise that they require in order to carry out their functions in the best way.
In various yogic practices to be introduced m this book, one requires reasonable control over the abdominal muscles and the ability to manipulate the front wall of the abdomen. Most people lack this ability. Agnisar kriya is an excellent preliminary practice to gradually develop effective control of these muscles, and at the same time, of course, it gives many other related physical benefits.
The Sanskrit word agni means ‘fire’; sara means essence’ and kriya means ‘action’. Of course there is no fire, as such, in the stomach, but the essence or nature of fire can be compared to the digestive process. If the abdominal organs are not working properly, then the digestive fire smoulders. Digestion is not as good as it should be; the fire needs to be fanned or
stoked. In other words, the process of digestion needs to be kindled and aroused to encourage the best possible digestive power. Agnisar kriya does just this. It makes the digestive fire blaze.
Agnisar kriya is also known as vahnisara dhauti. The word vahni also means ‘fire’, and the word dhauti means ‘cleansing action’. The practice cleans out the digestive system and stimulates digestion. In fact this practice cleans out impurities not only from the digestive system, but other important abdominal organs as well.
Scriptural references
Agnisar kriya is well known and discussed in the ancient yogic texts. The Gherand Samhita says the following: “Contract the navel towards the spinal cord a hundred times. This agnisar kriya gives many benefits, removing diseases of the abdomen and stimulating the digestive fire. It is a technique unknown even to the devas (higher beings). The practice of agnisar kriya will result in a beautiful and healthy body.” (1:19,20)
Very few details of the practice are given, for it is intended to be taught by a gum or teacher to his disciple with personal instructions. Of course, one should not assume that the text strictly means that you should contract your navel one hundred times. It means that you should practise as many times as possible without over-exerting yourself. Furthermore, don’t take the text too literally when it says that the practice is unknown to higher beings. This merely implies that the practice is a good one but is rarely practised because few people know of it. The text also indicates that the ancient yogis were fully aware of the benefits of the practice.

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