“Lower the shoulders. Revolve the stomach left and right with the speed of a strong whirlpool. This is called Nauli by the masters. This Nauli is the crown of Hatha practices. It kindles a weak gastric fire, restores the digestion, always brings happiness, and dries up all defects and diseases.”
— From The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, translation by Brian Dana Akers
Nauli is a yogic cleansing exercise, or kriya. Nauli cleanses the internal organs and tones the abdominal region via a side-to-side rolling motion of the abdominal muscles.
Although nauli is not widely taught or used today in most Western yoga classes, in some classical yoga traditions, it was among the first exercises taught to new students, even before any asana was taught. This allowed the student to use uddiyana bandha and nauli movements within their asana practice in order to bring greater awareness and energy to the asanas.
The muscular actions necessary to accomplish nauli require four movements. Uddiyana bandha must first be attained before nauli can begin:
uddiyana bandha: an abdominal lock accomplished by emptying your lungs and pulling the abdomen in and up under the rib cage
madhyana nauli (central nauli): the isolated contraction of the central abdominal muscles.
vama nauli (left side nauli): the isolated contraction of the left side of the abdominal muscles.
daksina nauli (right side nauli): the isolated contraction of the right side of the abdominal muscles.
Although nauli can be taught to people of any age, it is a powerful action that can cause discomfort, or possibly, minor injury. Learning from an experienced yoga teacher is recommended.
Contraindications (things that may increase the risk of injury while doing nauli) vary. Some say that nauli should not be performed by pregnant women, or people with hernias, hypertension, heart disease, ulcers, or various gastrointestinal ailments. If in doubt, consult a professional. In any case, nauli should not cause pain. Always practice carefully and with awareness.