According to the teaching of yoga, man’s nature is divine, perfect, and infinite, but he is unaware of this because he falsely identifies himself with the body, the mind, and objects of the external world. This false identification, in turn, makes him think he is imperfect and limited, subject to sorrow, decay, and death. The techniques of yoga are tools to enable man to cast off this ignorance and become aware of his own true self, which is pure and free from all imperfections.
The whole process of yoga is to unite the individual self with the universal Self. It is an ascent into the purity of that absolute perfection which is the original state of man; it entails removing the enveloping impurities in both body and mind. Thus it is necessary to purify the mind to make it crystal clear, for as long as the mind is covered with impurities, the light of the true Self cannot shine through. Yoga is the process of removing thoughts from the mindfield, making it one-pointed, and turning it inward toward the center of consciousness. But the mind cannot be totally separated from the body—at least not at first. One influences the other—a sound mind can live only in a healthy body; physical impurities lead to mental dullness.
You can see this when you look at the obstacles you face in daily life: sickness, procrastination, sloth, lack of motivation, fear, and mental and physical instability. If you trace these obstacles to their source, you will find that the toxins in your system and your disorganized thoughts and emotions are their breeding ground. That is why to free yourself of the obstacles that prevent you from experiencing the joy of transformation you must purify both body and mind. Without purification, it is not possible to control the mind and turn it inward to cultivate an awareness of who you really are.
The ancient yogis knew that to control the mind they must first cleanse the body and strengthen the nervous system, and for this reason they developed the techniques of asana and pranayama and used them in combination with the practice of meditation. They called this raja yoga, the royal path. It is the most ancient model for health and well-being. Then, as time passed, they refined their knowledge and developed a technique that would purify the body, breath, and mind while awakening the dormant force of the soul, the kundalini shakti. In the scriptures this process is known as bhuta shuddhi (purification of the elements).
The purpose of bhuta shuddhi is to purify the basic elements of the body (earth, water, fire, air, and ether) and their corresponding chakras—the root chakra (muladhara), the pelvic center (svadhishthana), the navel center (manipura), the heart center (anahata), and the throat center (vishuddha)—as well as the two highest chakras: the realm of the mind (ajña) and the realm of pure consciousness (sahasrara), which are beyond the elements. Bhuta shuddhi involves visualization, pranayama, and the repetition of a specific mantra while focusing on each of these seven major chakras in turn. The mantra used for the first five chakras is a seed (bija) mantra, the core sound of that chakra. Systematically focusing on the seven major chakras in this manner purifies the subtle realms of being with the fire of kundalini shakti.
Bhuta shuddhi is one of the basic practices of tantra and kundalini yoga.
Bhuta shuddhi is one of the basic practices of tantra and kundalini yoga. It is also an effective technique for those following the path of raja yoga. Those who practice tantra yoga regard the body as a living shrine wherein Divinity dwells, and bhuta shuddhi is one of the preliminary methods for rendering the body pure and wholesome. In the kundalini yoga system, bhuta shuddhi prepares the aspirant for the awakening of the latent force of kundalini. Later, certain components of bhuta shuddhi—meditation on a particular chakra with mantra repetition, for example—become the central focus of kundalini practice.
This practice is derived from the texts of tantra and kundalini yoga, but it is not mentioned in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, so those following the path of raja yoga may not be aware of it. These practitioners, however, can use bhuta shuddhi to good effect after the breathing practice nadi shodhanam (channel purification) and before sitting for meditation, because it creates a smooth transition between the process of withdrawing the mind from the external world and turning it inward.