Last month we completed the 5 Yamas, Patanjali’s ethical codes on how to treat others. This month our focus moves to the Niyamas. The Niyamas are Patanjali’s ethical codes on personal observances. They are the rules of conduct that apply to individual discipline, while Yamas are universal in application. There are 5 Niyamas, the first of which, Saucha, is the focus of this month.
Niyamas: personal observances, personal ethics
“Niyamas are personal ethics necessary for taking care of and developing oneself in order to live a balanced life.” – Nicolai Bachman
“Compared with the yamas, the niyamas are more intimate and personal.” – TKV Desikachar
Saucha: purity and cleanliness in the body, mind, and speech
“When cleanliness is developed it reveals what needs to be constantly maintained and what is eternally clean. What decays is the external. What does not is deep within us.” – TKV Desikachar
“The body is your temple. Keep it pure and clean for the soul to reside in.” -BKS Iyengar
The most common translation of saucha is cleanliness. To cultivate purity of body and mind, saucha suggests treating your body like a temple. It involves keeping things clean internally and externally: the physical body, the mind, and the soul. When we are pure and clean, a sense of calm is naturally invoked.
Bathing regularly, brushing our teeth, and using the neti pot all help purify the external body, while the practice of asana and pranayama (the 3rd and 4th limbs of yoga) purify the internal body. The asana practice detoxifies the body and removes impurities. Pranayama oxygenates the blood and purifies the nerves. But even more important is cleansing the mind of disturbing emotions and the intellect of impure thoughts. This internal cleansing brings clarity, and “then one is ready to enter the temple of his own body and see his real self in the mirror of the mind.”
Besides purity of body, thought, and action, pure food is also necessary. We want to keep our insides clean by eating sattvic (pure) foods from organic sources grown with respect for the earth and our environment. The yogic diet is a vegetarian one, consisting of pure, simple, natural foods which are easily digested and promote health. Processing, refining and overcooking destroy the energy of food. It is best if we understand that the purpose of eating is to supply our being with Prana, the vital life energy.
Through the practice of saucha, we learn about the physical body and discover that we are not just the physical body. We are open to experiencing the purity at the eternal center of consciousness, and at the same time we allow that purity to radiate through our individuality.