Over the last five months, we explored each of the five yamas, which together comprise the first of the 8 limbs of Yoga as described by Master Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. Now we turn our attention to the second of the 8 limbs, the niyamas.
The word "niyama" is often translated as "personal observances, " but in his translation of the Yoga Sutras, Sri Brahmananda Sarasvati gives us a more detailed definition: "Niyama means the method for transformation, the way or means of application, the constitution of nature. The niyamas are laws to be observed, and they compose the second step or limb of Yoga" (46). (I know - there's a lot to unpack in that definition, and we will work on doing just that in class this month too ;-)
The first niyama is śauca (pronounced shau-cha). This Sanskrit term translates as "purity." Śauca also translates as: shining, glowing, gleaming, radiant, bright, white, clear, clean, pure, honest, virtuous, holy, a true friend, as well as the condition of a religious student. It is a beautiful word. It comes from the root word śuci, which means clear, bright, and luminous.
Rev. Jaganath Carrera says in Inside Patanjali's Words, that "śauca is a strengthened form of śuci. Purity for the yogi means overcoming the influence of ignorance, karma, subconscious impressions (samskaras), the klesas, and the gunas. It includes purity of body, mind, and intention. From this, we can deduce that an impurity--physical or mental--is anything that inhibits or obstructs the innate harmony among the various facets of the individual and the individual's relationship to society and nature." (pp. 195-96).
On an external level, we can practice śauca by keeping our external environment and surroundings clean and tidy, including our homes, our workspaces, our cars, and even our practice space during yoga class. We can practice it by working to keep Mother Earth clean and pollution free. We can practice it in our speech and what we say to others.
On a personal level, it includes purity of body, including what we put into our bodies and caring for our bodies by means of exercise, personal hygiene, and self-care. On a subtle level, it includes our mind and thoughts as well as the intentions behind our actions. The Sutras teach that what we put in front of our minds we become.
So as yogis-in-training, we work on cleaning, purifying, and clarifying our bodies, minds, intentions, and the mirror of our consciousness via all the various yogic techniques so that we might come to see who we truly are--a manifestation of the divine.