NIYAMAS: YOGA’S ETHICAL GUIDELINES FOR CULTIVATING VIRTUE
This week, we begin a series on the niyamas of yoga, focusing on cleanliness, or saucha
Niyamas are individual observances of self-restraint. In contrast to the yamas, which are concerned with social relationships and harmony with the world, niyamas are more of an internal journey. As described in the aphorisms by Pantajali, they serve as support for the path towards the part of Self that is all-knowing. Some may refer to that Self as the Ultimate Reality. These practices aid us in gaining harmony within as they aid in creating personal discipline.
There are five niyamas: saucha, santosa, tapas, svadhyaya and isvara pranidhana.
This week, we’ll continue a series that takes a closer look at yoga’s ethical guidelines for living. These are called yamas and niyamas, and they fall under Raja Yoga, the branch that governs the disciplines about controlling the mind and senses. The first two branches on Patanjali’s eightfold path are yamas and niyamas.
Simply put, yamas are things not to do, niyamas are things to do. Yamas can be thought of as practices of self-restraint, while niyamas are virtues to cultivate, or observances.
A Sense of Purity is Possible in Our Lives
Saucha translates as purity, or cleanliness. This cleanliness applies to our external and internal worlds. External cleanliness is about our physical being, our personal environment as well as our food and drink choices. Internal cleanliness refers to our mental being.
Life has its unique challenges these days. With COVID creating new problems, each of us are attempting to return to a level of normalcy.
One issue that prevails is the murkiness of social media. This platform has created a level of impurity in our thinking. We allow slanted, fear-based information to influence our lives in ways that go far from a level of truth that is life-affirming.
Truth is what keeps us walking toward the light of love and service for others.
Saucha is stepping back to begin to remove the murkiness in our minds and listening to inner guidance that takes us beyond fear.
Physical, Mental and Emotional Purity in Our Temple, the Body
Saucha’s purity or cleanliness is for all parts of our being. This applies to our physical being, our personal environment and our mental being.
Think of a time when you prepared your home for a special event. You cleaned up the space, maybe added pretty pillows or a rug to spruce it up. Final touches of flowers and fresh scents created a sense of welcoming. You have just purified your space.
You then need to prepare yourself by cleansing yourself, putting on special clothing and maybe a new hairstyle. As you get ready, you feel a growing excitement as the event draws closer. Depending on the occasion, you may even have said a special prayer or gone to a temple or church to ask for a blessing.
You can create the sense of a special event for your daily living space. Start by making life-affirming choices for your food, drink and media exposure.
Invite meditation or a mindful movement practice into your life. This will further support a sense of deepening spiritual practice.
All these steps lend towards a deeper connection with our centered self and bring us closer to a sense of purity.
- Choose fresher foods that are nourishing and supportive for your constitution. (Want to find out more about your constitution? Take my dosha quiz here.)
- Clear your living space. This creates less stagnation which is then reflected in your mental state.
- Practice yoga asanas. Yoga poses strengthen and tone the body while aiding in release of toxins in the body and mind.
All of these practices aid in the mind becoming clearer, more settled with our senses, more present and more focused in meditation. This impacts the quality of our daily lives.
With saucha, you can cultivate a clean heart and clean mind.
For more living with a clean heart, mind, body and soul, see my book, Cleanse Your Body, Reveal Your Soul, which focuses on the ayurvedic practice of panchakarma.
Practicing saucha daily: Ask yourself..
What are healthy choices for me for food today?
How can I be present in this moment with kindness and love?
What small part of the house can I unclutter in the 20 minutes that I have?
Are my choices of social media, streaming or music supporting all of my senses or are these choices fostering negative emotions, stimulating inappropriate behaviors related to jealousy, lust, fear, greed, pride or anger?
What practice can I do today to support me? Meditation, contemplation, movement such as yoga or Tai chi can support the release of tension, stress in mind and body.
Mantra for the Spiritual Heart (hridayam)
To support this practice, the mantra that focuses on the spiritual heart (hridayam) allows for deeper cleansing of our heart and ultimately, our thoughts.
This helps to release unnecessary debris from our being so we can make choices in line with our highest self.
As I have shared before, it is auspicious in practice to complete one hundred eight repetitions.
OM AIM HRIDAYAM NAMAHA
Begin by sitting in a comfortable seated pose in a chair or with legs crossed on the floor.
Bring your hands to your heart and gently bow your head to your heart.
Gently, out loud or silently, speak the mantra to cleanse your heart.
Keep your head bowed for as long as it is comfortable for you.
Practice for a five-day period.
Keep a journal so you can capture your feelings and insights afterward. Notice if you experience an internal shift around matters of the heart.