For the past few weeks, we have been looking at the eight limbs of yoga, and last week, we finished with the first limb: yama. This week we are onto the second limb, niyama, which are another 5 precepts for the yogi or yogini to observe in order to progress on the path. Both yamas and niyamas can be practiced within oneself and within relationship to others and the Natural world. Niyamas, however, tend to relate more to the yogini’s relationship to herself, where the yamas are more directed towards how to live in harmony within our culture, our family and our intimate relationships. Yama and Niyama make up the preliminary practices of yoga, without which, progress on the path is impossible.
The first niyama is sauca (pronounced: “shaucha”) which translates as cleanliness or purity. This purity is like cleaning a crystal. We are the crystal–a clear vehicle for light–and yet that clarity gets covered over by impurities. Those impurities come in through the sense doors by way of toxins in the food and water we ingest; the air we breathe; the things we listen to; what we read and watch; the conversations going on in our head and with others and so on. Sauca is about purifying all of our sense channels so that we can reflect light clearly and perceive life accurately.
The yogis devised all sorts of cleansing practices: perhaps the most important being meditation. Meditation allows us to purify our minds by making space for them to digest all of our experience, to process any difficulites and to develop and strengthen our connection to our Essential Nature. We cleanse the subtle pathways, the nadis, through breathing practices (pranayamas) and asanas. We cleanse the physical body through asanas in general, and specific exercises designed to support internal cleansing of the organs of digestion. We can use a neti pot to clear our sinuses and heads, tongue scrapers to clean our tongues, herbal mouth rinses to clean our mouths, medicated oils both nasally and in our ears. Additionally, we can practice brief periods of more concentrated cleansing during the change of seasons, especially in spring and fall that might include a brief period of fasting or eating a very basic cleansing diet to give the digestive system a rest and to support the body’s elimination of any excess toxic accumulation.
In general, we want to eat a pure diet of whole foods, tailored to our constitution; eat until satisfied but not full so as not to create ama, which is the toxic residue of undigested food. We also want to limit or eliminate the use of sugar, alcohol and other unhealthy substances. We can take tonic herbs to regenerate the body/mind and cleansing herbs to support healthy elimination of wastes. It is also recommended that we spend regular time in Nature to let her restore us with fresh air, sunshine, cool breezes, trees, mountains, rivers, streams, wide open skies, moonlight and star-shine. All of this supports purity and clear perception.
Feng Shui or vastu, ancient arts of placement and alignment with the 5 elements can also support sauca by mitigating the negative effects of our physical environments. Clearing space in our physical environments, including our cars allows more clarity too. Energetic clearing can be done by burning incense, cleaning with essential oils or with pure water and salt and by setting intention within a space. We can also use the sounds of metal bowls and chimes. For understanding the art of placement and energetic cleansing, I recommend the book Creating Sacred Space with Feng Shui by Karen Kingston or anything by Denise Linn.
Here are Mukunda Stiles’ translations of Patanjali’s sutras on Sauca: II, 40 and 41:
II,40 From purity arises a desire to protect one’s body and a cessation of adverse contact with others.
II, 41 From the purification of one’s essence cheerfulness arises, and with it, one-pointed concentration, mastery of the senses, and the capacity for sustaining the vision of the True Self.
That is all for this week. I wish you well in your inquiry looking into sauca. I am always interested in hearing from you so leave your comments in the section below!
Blessings of Peace and Clarity this Spring,
P.S. I will be sending out an article on spring cleansing soon to support you in this practice. Stay tuned!