There was a time when I thought I needed something - a better job, more information about food, a new hobby, I didn’t know what – and I cast about for answers. Which one of these things would create the peace that I longed for? Which one would solve everything? Which one would bring everything into alignment?
By now, you surely know that peace is an inside job and none of those things would complete me. But I don’t really think I was looking for any of these specific things, I believe I was really searching for clarity. Clarity of purpose, maybe. Or a clear path, a direction. I was looking for the neon sign in the sky that said, This Way to Fulfillment.
Clarity creates this amazing space for all possibilities to arise and the discernment to choose wisely. How does one come to this magical place of clarity you may wonder? In my experience, clarity is a result of our first Niyama: Saucha, a Sanskrit word that translates to Purity.
In various interpretations of the Yoga Sutras you will find that purity is not possible in the human form. The very vehicle for liberation, our bodies, is never going to be pure. Other translations lean toward disgust for one’s own body and its functions. It is said we can never be pure because we need food to survive. The very act of assimilating and eliminating food is impure and unclean. But let’s move forward some hundreds of years into a time when not every man is training to become a renunciate and not every yogi is a man.
The Yoga Sutras, while a tremendous book on which to base a life of spirituality and connection, were written with the gentleman who wanted to be a monk in mind. A man who was choosing to let go of everything and live an austere life in the name of holiness. Let’s be honest, we are not that man. Most of us choose instead to be in the world, have families, drive cars and do our best to not mess things up.
For us, this particular sutra and directive, Saucha-Purity, has more to do with creating an internal and external environment that is as clean and pure as humanly possible to allow for clarity of purpose. Or even just a clear thought once in a while.
And being human requires that cleanliness or purity live on a spectrum. It also entails a bit of compartmentalization.
The Yamas and Niyamas are meant to be observed through thought, word and deed towards the self and then towards others. This seems like a good roadmap to parse out behaviors and habits and begin to make change.
Thoughts: Are your thoughts pure? Is your worldview through the lens of love and compassion or anger and fear? How can you shift out of fear or apathy to a place of empathy?
- Meditation or prayer or just connecting with your higher power.
- Carefully selecting what you allow in. What you read, listen to and watch all affect your mental state.
- Spend time in nature simply observing.
- Read spiritual texts. This is not limited to yoga or religion, but also authors like Eckhart Tolle and Brene Brown. If it lifts you up, read it.
Words: Words are powerful. They can soothe and they can be weaponized. How can you soften the words you choose to come from a pure heart?
- Please see Thoughts…all of the above, also…
- Learn to actively listen. Listen with the intention of hearing what the other person is saying, even the subtext, instead of listening with the intention of responding. Most people don’t need you to respond. Listening is a huge gift.
- Remember this: Swami Kripalu once did not speak for many years and said he would not speak until what he had to say was more important than silence. Turns out that was 12 years. Whoa, right?
Deeds: Let’s keep this simple and all about the human form. There are many practices that can help move you toward purification.
- Neti – nasal cleansing. You can find nasal wash kits at any drug store.
- Pranayama – breathing techniques done mindfully, in particular Kappalabhati.
- Eating a plant based, whole foods diet. Plants keep our gut happy and this keeps things moving through which in turn creates peace in the body and mind.
- Yoga and movement help assimilation, digestion and regular elimination of food waste.
- Keeping your bodies and environments clean and free of clutter.
- Regular massage, including daily self-massage.
There are many more activities and practices you could do, I’m sure you’ll think of a few to add to the list. Do what feels right to you and start from where you are.
The trick to saucha is to hold it as a sacred ideal, not necessarily a goal. While purity is not likely possible, clarity is attainable. Strive for clarity. The more you begin to purify and cleanse, the more layers of doubt and confusion will begin to fall away. Peace will edge out fear. Just keep practicing.
Allison Andersen is an owner of Red Sun Yoga, a global wanderer and a philosophy geek. She is the author of two blogs: AllisonsWanderland.com where you will find stories and photos of her travels, and EnchantedLife.blog a place for her to ponder life’s intricacies, inconsistencies and magic.