Learning Nauli

Nauli is considered an advanced yoga practice.  In this case, “advanced” means there is some risk of injury if nauli is not performed properly. Shandor Remete says that [2]:

“The practice of nauli cannot be learned from books. One needs to work with a teacher who has mastered it and clearly understands its function.”

Of course, the task of finding, and recognizing, such a teacher is left as an exercise for the student.

B.K.S. Iyengar, in his book Light On Yoga, says about nauli [1]:

“Care should be observed in its performance, otherwise the process leads to numerous diseases. It is not, therefore, recommended for the average practitioner. First master uddiyana bandha before attempting nauli….”

Despite Iyengar’s rather ominous warning, he provides no details as to the “diseases” caused by improper performance of nauli.

In a modern textbook, Yogani points out that [6]:

“…if nauli is practiced over a period of time without the benefit of the purification practices of meditation and spinal breathing, it could lead to energy imbalances in the body.”

While it would be preferable to learn nauli from an experienced practitioner, it is not always possible to find one.  People can, and do, learn nauli on their own. If one works slowly and with careful attention to the breath, as they would with any new yoga technique or asana, problems should be avoided. Pregnant women and people with heart disease or gastrointestinal illnesses should seek professional counsel before performing nauli. Practicing nauli should never cause physical pain of any kind although there may be some physical discomfort when first learning uddiyana bandha contractions.

Learning nauli typically happens in stages:

Stage 1: learn uddiyana bandha.  The student learns to activate and maintain uddiyana bandha. The student commences a regular practice of uddiyana bandha contractions (known as agnisara dhauti, or simply agnisara [7]).

Stage 2: attempt central nauli. After practicing Stage 1 for some time (weeks or months, most likely), the student occasionally attempts central nauli. Eventually, central nauli is attained.

Stage 3: attempt right and left nauli. After central nauli is attained, the student, continuing their regular uddiyana bandha contractions and central nauli work, attempts right and left nauli.

Stage 4: nauli.  Once right and left nauli are attained separately, the student can attempt to roll the abdominal muscles from right to left, and left to right.

Preparation: It’s very important when attempting any of these exercises to do so on an empty stomach.  Five hours after eating is a reasonable minimum,  but practicing  first thing in the morning is a better idea. Also, evacuate your bowels before starting. [3]

Uddiyana Bandha
1) Stand with the feet a bit more than hip width apart.
2) Bend the knees slightly and place your hands on top of the front thighs above the knee.
3) Exhale all of your breath out. Some instructions say to “quickly” or “forcibly” exhale, but exhaling in a relaxed fashion works fine. Make sure your abdominals are relaxed as possible once all of your breathe has been exhaled.
4) With your breathe fully exhaled, raise the rib cage and then concave the area below the navel upward and inward back toward the spine. Draw the lower belly in and up toward the spine allowing the lower back to gently round while the pelvis tucks under a bit. Hold this contraction for a few seconds, or as long as comfortable.
5) Release the contraction and then inhale through the nose slowly. If you gasp for air, you held the contraction too long.

Uddiyana Bandha

1) Stand with the feet a bit more than hip width apart.

2) Bend the knees slightly and place your hands on top of the front thighs above the knee.

3) Exhale all of your breath out. Some instructions say to “quickly” or “forcibly” exhale, but exhaling in a relaxed fashion works fine [5]. Make sure your abdominals are relaxed as possible once all of your breathe has been exhaled.

4) With your breathe fully exhaled, raise the rib cage and then concave the area below the navel upward and inward back toward the spine. Draw the lower belly in and up toward the spine allowing the lower back to gently round while the pelvis tucks under a bit. Hold this contraction for a few seconds, or as long as comfortable.

5) Release the contraction and then inhale through the nose slowly. If you gasp for air, you held the contraction too long.

Uddiyana Bandha Contractions

Uddiyana bandha contractions are simply the act of going in and out of uddiyana bandha repeatedly (also known as agnisara dhauti, or simply agnisara [7]). Follow the instructions above for Uddiyana Bandha. Once you’ve achieved the contraction in step #4, release the contraction without inhaling. Then re-establish the contraction (still without inhaling). That’s one contraction. Do as many contractions as you can manage comfortably. Then proceed to step #5 above.

Initially, you may find that you get out of breath quickly. Slowly build your daily practice until you can do 5-10 contractions without inhaling. You may eventually be able to contract and release 10 or more times without inhaling.

Central Nauli

Do a few sets of uddiyana bandha contractions to warm-up your abdominal area. Follow steps #1-4 above to achieve an uddiyana bandha contraction. Then try to relax the middle of your abdominal muscles while keeping the side abdominal muscles engaged. Sometimes pressing a bit more firmly on your thighs with your hands helps. Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t come easily.

Right and left nauli

Do central nauli a few times to warm-up your abdominal area. Then obtain uddiyana bandha and relax the left side abdominal muscles while keeping the right side muscles engaged. Sometimes putting more weight in the right side arm and leg helps. Now contract the left side muscles while keeping the right side relaxed. Again, putting more weight in the left side arm and leg can help.

Nauli

Practice right and left side nauli a few times. Then try to move directly from contractions on one side to contractions on the other side.  After a while, you will find that you can create a rolling motion from one side to the other and back. This is nauli.

Regular nauli practice: Once a regular nauli practice is attained, a typical session involves 500 to 1000 revolutions and requires from 15-25 minutes (depending on your speed), first practicing left to right, and then right to left [2].  The number of revolutions per exhale may vary from just a few to as many as 25 (or possibly more) but the quality of the rotations should never be sacrificed for quantity [4].  The speed of rotations is not important. It can be done either slowly or quickly and the same benefits will be derived.

Helpful videos and descriptions.

Yoga teacher Jill Miller has a 15-minute segment about nauli on her Coregeous DVD. It costs $20.

Yoga International Senior Editor Sandra Anderson offers her tips for doing nauli in this video.

This video shows a good view of the standing posture for nauli. Also, if you just watch the first 30 seconds, it shows the person doing uddiyana bandha (but not the release).

Teacher Adrian Cox demonstrates and discusses nauli in this video.

Teacher Larry Terkel demonstrates and discusses nauli in this video.

The AYP site has a rather long explanation of doing uddiyana and nauli.

The Yoga Age site describes uddiyana and nauli with some pictures.

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[1] Iyengar, B.K.S., “Light On Yoga,” Published by Schocken Books, revised edition, 1995. ISBN: 0805210318.  Page 427.
[2] Remete, Shandor. “Shadow Yoga, Chaya Yoga”.  Published by Shadow Yoga, 2006. ISBN: 0977539008. Page 68.
[3] Coulter, David. “Anatomy of Hatha Yoga”. Published by Motilal Banarsidass, 2004. ISBN: 8120819764. Pages 195-206.
[4] Bernard, Theos. “Hatha Yoga”. Publisher: Essence of Health, South Africa, 2001. ISBN: 0958446016. Page 44.
[5] Practice note: Uddiyana bandha and nauli are performed while in the state of bahya kumbhaka, which means that you maintain a state where your lungs are emptied of air as much as possible.
[6] Yogani. “Advanced Yoga Practices: Easy Lessons for Ecstatic Living”. AYP Publishing, 2004. ISBN: 0976465507. Page 210.
[7] Lysebeth, Andre Van. “Yoga Self-Taught”. Publisher: Weiser Books, revised edition. 1999. ISBN: 1578631270. Page 231. Repeated uddiyana contractions in a standing position are also known as agnisara dhauti, or simply agnisara

14 thoughts on “Learning Nauli

  1. In every act we do, we need to be happy in order to really used our self with it. Just enjoy life with it’s natural way. Learn Yoga and be a healthy person.

  2. Nauli – how to teach it, and its benefits – My Suggestions
    ———————————————————–

    Nauli is one of the shat karmas, used for purification. Traditionally it is done in the morning before eating. In APMB (see references below), it is recommended to wait 5-6 hours after eating before nauli.

    These factors present special problems for the teacher:

    (1). It is not normally done in an asana session. This (surprisingly) need not be a problem, because as I suggest later, it really needs to be worked on at home by the student.

    (2). The gap after eating. This affects when nauli can be done in a class. For example, a class starting at 10 a.m gives problems. (In any case, it is recommended that 3 hours should be left before asanas, so 10 a.m. is not a great time for any class!). In my experience, I think that a moderate nauli can be done safely after 4 hours, which makes it safe for doing towards the end of many classes.

    Problem (2) is the main one. In some classes it is safe, and in others it is not. This is a classic case for using a handout or DVD at home.

    However, nauli is not like asanas, where alignment problems are clearly visible. Learning it is rather like learning to waggle your ears. It involves finding muscles that you do not normally control. (I can’t waggle my ears, but apparently, the trick is to watch yourself in a mirror, to see what works. This is known as feedback.)
    The internal nature of nauli, together with the need for feedback, means that it is unlikely to be learnt in a class, so what can the teacher do?

    The teacher can:

    • Demonstrate it.

    • Provide a handout, and explain it.

    • Ask students to learn the stance and the breathing.

    • Get students to have a short attempt, if the time after eating allows.

    • Motivate students to learn at home. Nauli is more suited to an advanced class, where there may be more motivation.

    Nauli – The Embarrassment Problem
    ———————————

    Here is another reason for the teacher to emphasize home learning. Though the teacher might demonstrate by rolling up their top, many students would not wish to do this, and this view should be respected.

    The teacher should not tell the class to do this. Though at home it is needed in the learning phase.

    We now move to the actual learning.

    Uddiyana – The First Step
    ————————-

    Uddiyana should be taught first, as all the texts (APMB etc) suggest.

    The reason is that the diaphragm needs to be lifted in and up in nauli as well as uddiyana, so that the central abdominal muscles (rectus abdominus ) become prominent.

    I recommend APMB’s approach of working up to 10 repetitions of uddiyana, holding on an exhale for several seconds.

    Am I Doing It Right? Feedback!
    ——————————–

    As mentioned above, feedback is important for uddiyana and nauli.

    The best way is to do it in front of a mirror at home. It is a problem of finding the right muscles to isolate. Once it has been learnt, it will never be forgotten.

    Basic Nauli
    ———–

    Assuming that uddiyana is mastered, here is how to do nauli. The instructions are readily available elsewhere, but for completeness, I provide my own version.

    1. Stand in mountain pose, normalising the breathing.

    2. Lean forwards, bending knees, placing the hands on the thighs, with fingers pointing inwards. The elbows point outwards. Exhale completely through the mouth.

    3. Holding the exhale, do uddiyana, but also press down firmly with the hands, so that the central muscles stand out. Hold for around 5 seconds, then relax, slowly inhaling.

    4. Let the breath return to normal, and repeat 5 times.

    Obviously, step 3 is the difficult part. The isolation can be easier to find if the hands are placed near the knees, so that the position is more stooped.

    As soon as the correct action has been found, then the stance can be made more vertical.

    From there, the student should work towards a more erect stance (though the knees are still bent). The ribcage lifts, allowing a deeper massage in my experience.

    Progressing
    ———–

    Once the student can do a firm isolation of the central muscles, then the main hurdle is over. This might seem an overstatement, because the texts describe these versions of nauli: madhyana, vama, dakshina, and lauliki) These terms mean: central, left, right, rolling.

    To do left nauli, we do the central one as normal, then we increase the pressure on the left thigh, whilst relaxing somewhat the pressure on the right thigh. One can also lean slightly to the left in the early stages. These movements cause the left muscles to stay firm, and the right ones to relax. The right-sided version is done in a similar way.

    The next step is rotation. This is not just a matter of alternating left – right – left – right etc. From personal experience, it involves a left isolation, a right isolation, then a brief phase with no side isolated. Then, another left – right movement is performed. This produces a rotational movement which as a totally different feel from a simple left-right alternation. It also provides a unique massage for the colon, as it gives a wave-like pressure in the same direction, rather than reversing direction. There is no hard evidence on this, but I suspect that this form of massage is superior.

    Learning the rotation does not need a mirror, but it does require experimentation. Again, it is an unmistakable sensation.

    Learning Schedule
    —————–

    Here is my proposed schedule.

    Learn uddiyana. As in all of this, the learning time will vary between students. Some will not wish to learn it, some will learn it quickly, and some slowly. The teacher can demonstrate in the class, and provide instructions, warnings, and a handout.

    Learn central nauli. Work up to 5 rounds, holding the contraction for the out-breath, between 5-10 seconds. Again, the teacher demonstrates and provides instructions. Once this has been accomplished, the main learning is over.

    Left-right, and rotations. The teacher can demonstrate, but the onus is on the student and home experimentation

    In general, I recommend the moderate approach of APMB, rather than other more intense approaches. Textbooks are discussed below.

    Benefits
    ——–

    Most yoga texts emphasise the massaging benefits. For example, APMB mentions massaging of muscles, intestines, reproductive, excretory organs. It also states that it is beneficial for constipation, flatulence etc.

    However, there are also non-physical benefits. APMB mentions its purification of manipura chakra. Theos Bernard, in ‘Hatha Yoga – The Report of a Personal Experience’ – strongly based on traditional yoga texts – emphasises the role of nauli in the purification of the nadis as a requirement for pranayama practices.

    Problems
    ——–

    There is the drawback of leaving a long gap after eating. Early morning is best.

    There are contra-indications. It should not be done in situations of heart disease, hernia, hernia, peptic ulcer.

    In ‘The Complete Illustrated Book Of Hatha Yoga’, Swami Vishnu Devananda (a disciple of Swami Sivananda) states that those with a lot of excess weight round the belly will not be able to do it, but that they should do uddiyana. He also makes an often-ignored point: that those with very tight, tense abdominal muscles will also have great difficulty. (Yoga does not work towards stiff and inflexible muscles).

    Constipation, bloating. This is not mentioned in any books, but I feel that I need to recount my personal experience. Of course, nauli is recommended in cases of constipation, but in fact it is uncomfortable and difficult to do if one actually has constipation. My evaluation is that it should actually be avoided in this situation. Self-massage can be performed instead. However, it is excellent at preventing constipation – so do it before you are affected, not after!

    Literature etc
    ————–

    Here I evaluate available material, aimed at the teacher.

    ‘Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha’ (Satyananda) provides detailed steps, in a safe way.

    ‘The Complete Illustrated Book Of Hatha Yoga’, by Swami Vishnu Devananda, has some excellent material.

    ‘Hatha Yoga’ by Theos Bernard contained a detailed breakdown of his extreme practice schedule. This is not suitable for those outside an ashram (in my view) but it should be read by all teachers. It also has some beautiful illustrations.

    There is also a DVD, which I have not seen:

    ‘Yoga Tune-up’ by Jill Miller – http://www.jillmiller.com

    Summary
    ——-

    In this article I have looked at the feasibility of teaching nauli (yes, it is feasible, but has drawbacks compared to conventional asanas).

    I have provided suggestions and references for the teacher, and have added some original material based on my own experiences,

  3. I have just learned to do nauli properly from the first teacher I have ever met who does it himself properly, and I’ve been practicing yoga for 26 years! I’m very excited about this practice and it feels great. But my question is whether it can lead to expansion in stomach size? My stomach does seem to be becoming larger and I’m wondering if it’s due to nauli stretching or developing the muscles and therefore making them hang out? It also could be my age, I’m 46 years old, is middle age spread inevitable even for fit people? My belly pulls in nicely for asana but when I’m relaxed in daily life it’s larger than usual and I’ve had to throw out some close fitting clothes. My nauli teacher has a noticeably protuberant stomach when he relaxes it (not during asana), but he is 70 yrs old, and look at Iyengar’s stomach, also large but in most of the ‘Light on Yoga’ photos Iyengar is also advanced in age. I’d really appreciate comments on this.
    Thanks, Louise.

  4. Hi Louise,
    Congratulatios on embodying Nauli Kriya! What a wonderful thing!
    As someone who has practiced nauli for the past 14 years, I can tell you from experience that it does not actually expand the ORGAN of your stomach. But what it does do is deeply activate and stretch all of the abdominal musculature and fascia. The ultimate result of nauli is a deeply relaxing internal massage…when tissues are massaged regularly, their overall vascularization and tone improves. This exercise will help your abdomen to find it’s most balanced shape from inside out….so while you may be aesthetically disappointed with having a little extra “shape” there, that might actually be the best “fit” for the actual tissues. I teach Nauli Kriya, Uddihyana Bandha and other abdominal “excursions” in my Yoga Tune Up Core Integration workshops and Immersions, and I often have to help students dismantle their preconceived “Glamour Magazine” notions of what their abdominals “should” look like. Or comparisons to famous yogis’ bellies, etc. Concentrate on your own sensations, and embrace the re-molding that is going on from deep within your core. It is truly a marvel that you are able to practice nauli…enjoy!

  5. Thanks very much for this reply, I appreciate the wisdom, and I agree with you, I’d not give up the nauli for anything, even if it does mean a larger looking belly, it feels so good! Actually since writing to you I think my stomach is starting to return to its previous size anyway and as you suggest it was possibly just adjusting to new activations. I also agree that it’s not beneficial to try to fit with modern Western ideals on body shape, as long as we’re healthy and connected who cares how we look on the outside!I shall no longer judge my belly I shall just enjoy!
    With thanks and love..

  6. I have one main question: how often can you practice nauli?
    – Is it safe/healthy/beneficial to practice it *each* morning, before breakfast, or should you do it every other day (say Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday etc.)?

    Clarification: in most sports that I still practice (for example running and fitness) it is advised to *not* practice every day: this way, you allow your body to become stronger without exhausting it before it has a chance/time to recuperate and strengthen itself.

    I would imagine that *once* you’ve attained a certain strength/quality in nauli, it is okay to practice it every day, but until then..?

    I would appreciate your advise.

  7. Most of the veteran yogis I’ve talked to say that they only practice nauli when they feel the need to. But I know of others who practice nauli quite regularly. I think it’s best to pay attention to how you feel after practicing nauli, and practice in moderation.

  8. Thank you for your prompt reply! I understand that the frequency of practice, in any discipline for that matter, varies per individual. However, your answer leaves me a bit confused: “quite regularly” versus “in moderation” — these seem to contradict. Especially, since I also heard that some yogi incorporate nauli in their “standard” asanas.
    Can you please clarify? I was hoping to learn if practising nauli *every* day is a bad thing, or not.

    Thank you for your time. I appreciate it.

  9. Nice website. I wish to point out to this:
    “Pregnant women and people with heart disease or gastrointestinal illnesses should seek professional counsel before performing nauli.”

    Pregnant women should not practice nauli at all. There is a clear danger of abortion.

  10. Hi, can you please tell after nauli what should be done. I mean I start with Agnisara and do Nauli next but can I do pranayama just after it, or anyother kirya or asana should be done as counter pose.

    Thanks,
    Himanshu

  11. Hi Claire, I was encouraged and speirusrd that you posted more of a through explanation on the benefits of the headstand. Originating from my question in your class, which was what are the benefits of a head stand” very helpful and appreciated NickP, S your classes are really dynamic and inspiring.Thanks for email about Laura covering this weds classsee you soon nick x

  12. Hey Barrett.Congratulations again.Yona is soooo sweet. Wishing you a quick physical and emonoital recovery (maybe emonoital is not the correct word here, but going back to feeling yourself again).I have a comment on your thoughts about how often you could take guests at this time.You know, in Bulgaria there is this (I think religious)belief that a baby should not meet other people until he’s 40 days. Of, course you can’t avoid this when you go out. But I think this gives the baby and the family to adjust to their new life and schedule.So, don’t feel sorry for diverting friends and family members from visiting you.Enjoy the summer. Recharge.We’re eager to have you back teaching our class

  13. Hi Himanshu,
    I believe Asan/Pranayam should be done before Nauli, so if you want to do meditation, you can do after Nauli.
    Asan/Pranayam should not be done after Nauli Kriya.

  14. Is it okay to practice nauli if you have inguinal hernia ?

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