Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Hello Dear Yogis,

In previous posts, we’ve been exploring the yamas, or ethical restraints that are part of the life of a yogi. The yamas are the “don’ts” of yoga; the niyamas are the “do’s”.  And, whereas the yamas are guidelines for social conduct and relationships, the niyamas focus more on personal conduct and inner discipline.

The first niyama is called saucha, which means purity or cleanliness. Saucha can be practiced on many levels, relating to body, mind, and spirit.

At its most basic and obvious level, saucha involves personal hygiene. The yogi incorporates the practice of kriyas, which are various cleansing techniques ranging from methods meant to address the hygiene of the physical body to methods meant to bring balance to the energetic body. Some kriyas are quite familiar to most of us, including daily bathing, brushing and flossing the teeth, exfoliating the skin with a loofah, cleaning the tongue, and flushing the sinuses with warm salted water (neti pot).

Asana (postures) and pranayama (breath work) are also powerful methods for cleansing our physical bodies. The practice of asana tones the entire body and removes the toxins and impurities caused by over-indulgence. Pranayama cleanses and aerates the lungs, oxygenates the blood and purifies the nerves.

Maintaining an orderly space around us nurtures clarity of thought, balance and calm.  Clutter and disorder affects us energetically (you may be familiar with the Chinese art of Feng Shui, which emphasizes the relationship between one’s physical surroundings and the experience of health, happiness, and prosperity in one’s life). When we clean, arrange, and let go of items that are no longer of use to us, we stimulated renewed flow of prana and creativity into our lives. Through practicing this aspect of saucha, we begin to create an environment that supports our internal process of spiritual growth.

In addition to caring for our physical space, we can bring mindfulness to our consumption habits, avoiding processed foods and choosing organically-grown food as much as possible. Purchasing environmentally friendly household products and using chemical-free cosmetics are also forms of bringing purity into our lives.

Occasional fasting, as well as colon and liver cleansing are powerful ways to eliminate toxins are restore the body to optimal health. The Ayruvedic, Chinese, and Western herbal healing systems all offer effective ways to do this, under the guidance of skilled practitioners.

Purifying the mind is another of the intentions behind saucha. During the course of the day, most of us experience a constant, random inner dialogue. Our senses are pulled in one direction or another, as is our attention and energy. Devotion, self-study, and concentration are some of the methods used to bring this random mental activity under control. There are many kriyas that serve to focus and calm the mind, such as gazing steadily at a candle flame, or following the movement of the breath with one-pointed attention. Mental purity can also be achieved by Japa (repetition of sacred names), chanting mantras, and studying and contemplating scripture. All of these practices serve to replace negative thinking and habits with positive thoughts, attitudes and behaviors.

Every day offers us opportunities to practice purification in a variety of ways. All faith traditions and cultures have their own purification techniques, and there are many that we can incorporate into our own practice of saucha. In addition to our culturally prescribed bathing, tooth brushing and flossing, here are some examples of ways to cleanse your life, physically and energetically:
-- Walk mindfully in nature. Taking in the expanse of the land and the sky can serve to clear the mind and body of stagnant energy.
--Singing, repetition of mantras, and devotional chanting opens the heart.
--The ringing of bells, singing bowls or gongs can shift and lighten the energy in a space.
--Smudging with sweetgrass, sage, or incense can cleanse the energy of our physical space and energy body.
--Blessings with water, rituals with fire, anointment with oil help us release the old and begin anew.
-- Refrain from speaking for a day or more. Notice what clears in the mind from observing a period of silence.
--Take a hiatus from television, computer, recorded music, and other technology for several days. Notice how much time you have for connecting with loved ones and with Spirit!
-- Go through closets and clear out clutter.  Give away items you don’t need. See what shifts energetically, and in your life circumstances, when your material world is purified.
--Laugh!. A good, long, belly laugh works wonders for clearing the mind and opening the heart. Check out   www.laughteryoga.org.

In closing, I’d like to add a reminder to be aware of the challenge of focusing on purity in our culture. Western society doesn’t support clean living. We are constantly bombarded with messages to eat junk food, pesticide-laden produce is more affordable and available than its organic counterpart, and our fast-paced life doesn’t allow us enough time to eat pure, home cooking as often as we would like. We are surrounded by environmental pollution, and bombarded with emails, advertising, and toxic messages from the media. Let’s be gentle with ourselves on this path, avoiding self-judgment, rigidity and perfectionism. Let’s support and encourage one another, and enjoy the practice of saucha as a many-layered, loving inquiry.

From purity of food follows the purity of internal organs. From purification of the internal organs, comes unfailing memory. After achievement of memory (i.e. establishment of Soul-consciousness) comes falling into pieces of all knots of life. ~Chandogya Upanishad 7:26:2

Through the knowledge of the Soul, God, one is pure and clean constantly. ~Katha Upanishad 1:3:6

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