Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Saucha - Niyama of Cleanliness on and off the Mat

As yoga practitioners we observe the eight limb practice and embrace the First Niyama of Saucha (Purity or cleanliness).  In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 2:40, Saucha is defined as "purification results in the abandonment of physicality and the cessation of physical contact with external things".

शौचात् स्वाङ्गजुगुप्सा परैरसंसर्गः ॥४०॥
śaucāt svāṅga-jugupsā parairasaṁsargaḥ ||2: 40||

The entire eight limb practice of yoga is a path of purification.  Naturally by practicing Asana, Kriya (Kappalabhati, Neti, Nauli, Basti,  etc), Pranayama, Yogic Diet the yoga aspirant can evolve in the path of purification.  This Niyama is about observing the practice of purification in body, mind and environment.  When our body becomes clean we will notice improvements in digestion, energy, skin, emotions, overall health and of course our asana practice.  Normally a person who desires a purified body will be very conscious in food choices, knowing that food intake has a direct relation to our overall health.  When we have a Purified mind it leads to a cheerful, optimistic and patient disposition.  The person who embraces this Niyama approaches life with a compassionate heart and always understands that love or a call for love is found in human behavior and therefore necessary in all things.  For those who study subtle body, we know that most physical ailments are a reflection of mental and emotional tendencies which lead to dietary and exercise habits.  Ultimately, purity of body and mind will ultimately allow the yoga aspirant to prepare for meditation.

Long ago yogis would practice in caves with cow dung on walls, ash on their bodies and practice various kriyas for cleansing.  Also keeping an altar with the elements in offering (water, fire, earth, metal, and ether).  Patanjali highlighted how the aspect of giving offering to the altar, practicing aarathi, are part of purification as well, symbolizing how pure we offer ourselves to the Supreme.

While modern day yoga studios may not want to practice all traditional aspects, or even understand many traditional aspects of the yoga practice, we can still practice the Niyama of Saucha.  As a Teacher perhaps arriving early and making sure the space is swept, perhaps lighting incense/candles, burning sage, gridding the room with crystals, setting the vibration of OM to begin and conclude class, possibly doing some meditation, or even embracing chanting after class.  Be the example you wish to witness in your students.

As teachers it is wonderful for us to practice a clean diet, and clean hygiene.  What about the yoga mats?  Some studios have mats to borrow or rent, which means different peoples sweat and possibly fungus can be on the mat.  Therefore, proper mat cleaning is necessary.
  1. Hosing it down with water, soft cloth/sponge and light dish soap
  2. Filling a spray bottle with some water, tea tree oil (anti bacterial/anti fungal) and even some lavender essential oil for a light fragrant smell.  Just spray and wipe.  This is cost effective and students can all do this after class to promote saucha.
  3. Josha wipes, similar to baby wipes with sweet aromatic scents.  These can be sold in yoga studios and seem to be growing in popularity.
The best Saucha to practice is a pure and clean heart.

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