Over the last few weeks, we have discussed the Yamas. The Yamas are the yogic rules for ethical living and proper conduct put forth by the Sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. Although the Yamas focus on our relationships with others, we also applied some of those concepts internally. Now we come to the Niyamas. The Niyamas are observances recommended by the Sage Patanjali to help us along our yoga journey. They are Saucha, Santosha, Tapas, Svadhyaya, and Ishvara Pranidhana.
The first Niyama, Saucha, means ‘purity’ in Sanskrit. Purity is a very loaded word and can take on many varied meanings. Some take this command literally and practice the emptying of their bowels and showering before practice. Still, others invoke Purity in their postures, declaring one pose promotes Purity in some form or the other. My belief regarding this Niyama is that we should summon the concept of Purity in our practices through life. Deborah Adele, author of ‘The Yamas and Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practices,’ applies the idea of “lightening our load.” Unhealthy habits (whether internal or external) create opacity within us. Harmful practices make our minds cloudy and our surroundings fuzzy.
The first step is in identifying those practices that cause us disturbance, be it in our minds or our physical realm. Ideally, doing so without judgment or shame, accepting that sometimes unhealthy patterns stem from necessity. Our adoption of any harmful practices or habits, at some point, was a matter of perceived survival. Once identified, we can analyze this unhealthy habit or trait and ask, ‘what is the cost of this habit.’ I’ll admit that I have had my fair share of bad habits through my many years on this earth. As a chef for many years, in my younger days, I was accustomed to cursing quite a bit. I spent over eight years in the restaurant business, which ingrained that lousy habit into my daily life. In the years after that, I noticed myself using curse words in excess. I realized that using curse words was a crutch created by ignorance. As my vocabulary grew in college, I no longer leaned heavily on curse words for emphasis.
When we talk about Purity, we must address the shadow side of the word, ‘purity,’ as well. It is no secret that wholesome words have been used to subjugate and abuse all manner of people. This has happened in the Yoga world as well. It is important to remember that your journey is your own. Any advice proffered to you should be taken with a grain of salt. In Yoga, no one should be made to feel inadequate or less than, and we should be mindful of those focusing on creating that separation. If you practice Yoga, you are, in fact, a yogi. Whether you are tall or short, large or small, smoker or non-smoker, or whether you enjoy wine and spirits or you don’t. There are benefits to leading a healthier lifestyle, but you are not less of a yogi because of your diet or habits.
It is my sincere hope that we have shed some light on Saucha and that it is yet another tool in your toolbox to help bring peace and tranquility to your life.
Frank de la Cruz, E-RYT 200â, YACEPâ is a Yoga teacher and writer who lives in Central Florida. Frank began his Yoga journey in 2011 and strongly believes that Yoga is for everyBODY.