This technique is for cleanliness and efficiency of the upper digestive system (pharynx, esophagus, stomach) as well as the respiratory system (pharynx, trachea, bronchi).
How can we clean out the stomach and lungs you ask? The yogis invented a way of simply back-flushing the stomach, just like Jala Neti does for the nose. The yogis maintain that every morning one should flush the stomach, starting off with a clean digestive furnace, to remove any remnant food and to replace the mucus lining. It is just like washing off the dead skin cells on the outside of the body each day. Just as swimming, saunas and scrubbing helps the skin to function or "breathe" better, flushing out the stomach helps it to digest better.
About six cups of warm salty water (we are not going to include the exact recipe here) are drunk to completely fill the stomach, and then from either a squatting or a bent forward position, two fingers are used to press the root of the tongue and stimulate the vomiting reflex. This makes a quick and easy gushing out of the water held in the stomach. Jala Neti is then done to clear out the sinuses. This practice is not as awful as people first think, and is in no way similar to the experience of being sick when the stomach is rejecting food due to an illness or when you've overdosed on alcohol after a drunken party! It need not take any more than about 5 minutes and leaves you feeling light and empty.
The quantity of water needed to fill the stomach may vary from person to person. Six glasses is just an average. A smaller person, or someone with an anorexic temperament, may only need four, whereas a large, hungry person may take eight to ten.
Some people do Kunjal very easily first off, and others may have a bit of trouble when they first begin. Those who have trouble getting the water down, or getting the water to come out, have nothing but a mental problem with it. Based on past experiences, they believe it is an extremely horrible thing to be sick and vomit. They may have nasty childhood memories of being ill with a stomach bug or of drunken binges where the stomach has had to vomit to protect itself from overload and these fears and memories come flooding back when approaching this practice. They often say " I've never liked being sick " (well who has???) or "my mother used to make me drink Castor oil" or something like that. They simply have a psychological resistance to the practice, yet once they get used to the idea or see others going about it easily, they loosen up and it happens much more easily. It may take a few attempts, but eventually it's never as bad as they thought.
Please note: The modern syndrome known as Bulimia has nothing in common with this yogic practice, and is a psycho-physiological addiction to the cycle of gorging and purging.
Anatomy of Kunjal
The pyloric sphincter, which is a muscle located at the bottom or out-going end of the stomach, normally remains closed except for when food is sent in waves down into the G.I.T. (gastro intestinal tract) for further digestion. But when it receives a message from your brain that your body needs to expel the contents of the stomach, perhaps if there is bad food in there, or when the stomach has nausea due to illness and doesn't want to digest the food you have fed it, that sphincter and the surrounding muscles make strong contractions in the reverse direction, forcing the contents of the stomach up and out. The pyloric sphincter is something that one can learn to control consciously, firstly by using the fingers to create the vomiting reflex, but later on simply by stomach control.
Like any organ in the body, there is a build up of deposits, and breakdown through wear and tear. Material builds up on the stomach walls and over time it begins to work less efficiently. It is the job of Kunjal to remove this build up and help restore proper function to the stomach lining.
The lungs and trachea too, have mucus linings which can get a build up of toxic wastes through air pollution or activities like mouth breathing, smoking and poor diet which can inhibit their correct function. When flushing out the stomach with Kunjal there is a connected nerve reflex in the lungs which helps expel excessive mucus as well as releasing nervous tension.
In addition to flushing out the stomach and esophagus, Kunjal is also an excellent cleansing for the lungs and hence it is very beneficial for asthmatics. The strong contractions made by the pyloric sphincter send a shock wave along the vagus nerve which can release the spasm within the bronchial tree. Kunjal is in fact recommended as instant relief for anyone feeling the onset of an asthma attack. If an asthmatic performs Kunjal every morning, over several months their attacks will get less and less frequent. The contractions of Kunjal help with openness of the breathing mechanisms and improve blood supply to the whole abdominal and thoracic area.
Salt is known to be a great cleanser for the body. Everyone knows the feeling after a good swim in the ocean. The head feels clear, the nose is clear, the lungs feel alive. The same mucus clearing benefits can be attained at home, on a daily basis, through this method. By cleansing the lungs and the blood within the stomach area it also helps with removing bad breath.
Kunjal helps those with under-active digestion and stimulates the digestive fire. Regular practice of Kunjal will increase circulation in this area and assimilation of food in the gut, and therefore will raise the internal body temperature. It is a good technique for those with perpetually cold extremities and under active digestion. It can help to remove indigestion, gas, and acidity. It tones the abdominal muscles and other internal organs.
People with stomach ailments such as ulcer, hernia, heart problems, high blood pressure, cancers and asthma should seek guidance from a qualified Yoga Therapist before learning this technique.
Vyaghra (Tiger) Kunjal
Tiger Kunjal is so called because after having gorged its prey, the tiger goes off and hides somewhere for a bit of a sleep. It is at this time that it would be most vulnerable to attack, so it hides. Upon waking up several hours later, it voluntarily expels any food left in its stomach after that time. This is because any food still left in the stomach will be the least digestible part and will therefore take even more energy to finish digesting. Normally, humans shouldn't need to do this, if their food intake is correct in quality and quantity. However, should you ever eat some food which does not agree with you and you suspect the beginnings of intestinal upset or, if, after several hours there is still a heavy feeling in the stomach, this technique can be done. By drinking enough salty water to completely fill the stomach performing normal Kunjal as above.
(Don't try this one at home kids!)
Instead of just washing out the stomach it can be scrubbed out with a cloth! This is the infamous yogic practice of cloth eating. A strip of cotton cloth about two inches wide (which obviously doesn't fray at the edges) is soaked in a bowl of warm salty water. Then one just starts eating the cloth and swallowing it. Three metres of it, making sure to leave a bit hanging out! Then one does Nauli Kriya (the rolling of the abdominal muscles) to scrub the rag around in the stomach. Afterwards it is gently removed within the maximum set time.
Link to Frequently Asked Questions about the Cleansing Practices
Home Page: - An Introduction and its Applications
The Links Page: For Finding Teachers and Neti Pots
Learning Jala Neti: - How to, and how not to, do it
Our Library of Articles: on Nasal Cleansing