Anyone with an Instagram account has been bombarded with images of rainbow foods or unicorn-inspired makeup over the past year. But the latest thing Instagram users are rallying around comes straight from the world of fitness and wellness. The trend? Nauli, an advanced yoga technique that's as mesmerizing as it is challenging. Alison West, yoga teacher and director of New York's Yoga Union, describes it as "basically creating a vacuum" with your abdominal muscles.
"When I do it first thing in the morning, I feel extremely light and have a sense of overall refreshed well-being," West tells SELF. According to her, nauli can do things like cleanse the intestines, improve digestion, eliminate toxins, and bring "very positive inner energy" into someone's life. West says it can also aid with constipation—though you should never do it while you're actively experiencing a blockage, she warns. (Nauli can make existing inflammation worse because it puts such pressure on your abdomen, West says.)
But there's not a ton of medical evidence to back up these claims, according to Loren Fishman, M.D., of Manhattan Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation. Fishman studied yoga with BKS Iyengar and uses yoga in his rehabilitation practice. What nauli does do, though, is "massage your intestines, which can cause changes in the pressures around them." This pressure change increases the blood supply momentarily, which could explain why people feel a "sense of lightness," says Fishman, who is also an assistant clinical professor at Columbia Medical School. Fishman explained that—when done under the careful supervision of a yoga practitioner—nauli can be beneficial in this way. "You can feel ethereal—it can be an elevating thing for you," he says.
First things first: Don't attempt nauli without the guidance of a skilled yoga teacher.
Now that we've established that, we can touch on all the other times you shouldn't try nauli:
So how do you even practice nauli? West says you start by pretending to inhale—but instead of drawing air into your lungs, you expand your ribcage. This creates a "strong withdrawal" that pulls your muscles to the back of your abdomen, West says. She likens it to sucking your cheeks in. From there, you churn your muscles, which feels like a "very deep massage on the ab organs with a very soft and large hand" when you've done it correctly.
But even when a highly-regarded yoga instructor spells it out for us, it’s clear this technique is pretty challenging. "Rare is the person who understands how to do nauli on their own," West says. "But for some people, it's just there, and it's never difficult to learn how to do it."
"It's attractive because it's hard," West says. "And it's interesting because it's weird." Nauli isn't offered in many yoga classes—both because it's an advanced technique and because it demands such specific circumstances. (West only teaches it to her most experienced students first thing in the morning, before they've had anything to eat.) "It's unusual—it's a little weird," West says. "But again, it's only valuable when it's done under the right circumstances."
So there you have it: Nauli isn’t for everyone, but it’s kind of incredible to watch. It's little wonder the technique has generated so much interest online.
See some mesmerizing nauli videos from Instagram below.
Also: A Beginner Abs Workout You Can Do in Your Living Room