As we move into the month of March and transition from winter to spring, we may begin to think of spring cleaning. In yoga, the first of the five niyamas — guidelines for how we interact with the world and those around us — is purity, or saucha. Think about the first niyama for a moment. Does the word purity make you feel enlivened or restricted? Hopefully it makes you feel enlivened! The goal of purity is to remove clutter of all kinds so you can enjoy a good life without distractions.
Purity can exist in layers, from the outer world of our physical surroundings to the inner world of our minds. In between is the physical layer of our bodies. The first niyama offers opportunities for cleansing the body and mind through asana, pranayama, and other practices that make our bodies stronger and our minds calmer and more focused. Think of purification as cleaning a window so you can see reality through it more clearly
Physical Surroundings and The First Niyama
We also need purity in physical surroundings. A lot of times, this means removing what you don’t need. Have you ever noticed the difference between working in a cluttered office or living in a messy house and working or living in a space that’s uncluttered and in order? A pure space—that is, a living or working area that is clean and free of clutter—is usually easier to think, function, and be productive in, isn’t it?
Before you say no to the idea that an uncluttered space is more desirable than a cluttered one, consider how it would feel if the space is already uncluttered. In other words, if you don’t have to do the work of cleaning, which would you prefer? If you go on vacation, for example, would you prefer a clean, orderly, uncluttered hotel room or one that is overrun with the previous guests’ belongings and mess?
The Subtle Effects of The First Niyama
When your surroundings are uncluttered, it’s easier to find space in your mind as well. Keeping things around you clean is also important. It lowers the chances you will get sick. A basic cleaning routine is the most obvious way to purify your surroundings. You can clean your kitchen counters, mop the floors, and dust regularly to eliminate germs and allergens that can make you feel sick or sluggish. You can also do things like diffuse purifying essential oils throughout your living space. Green plants help purify the air in your home as well.
Attention to purity includes what we put into our bodies. When we eat cleaner, healthier diets, we feel better, which affects the way we live our lives. Eating lots of organic fruits and vegetables is a healthy, purifying practice. Some yogis fast or use juice cleanses to purify the body. Diet is another opportunity for purification that a lot of people resist because it seems like too much effort. If you feel that way, start with small changes and see how it feels.
Then there is purity of thoughts and words. If your mind is cluttered with negativity, it will often show in the way you interact with others. You may be snappish, rude, or unfriendly. Perhaps you use “dirty” words a bit too often. But when you practice the first niyama and your thoughts are pure, your interactions with others will be pure as well.
Ayurvedic Practices for Purification
Ayurveda, the sister science of yoga, offers many purification practices that can help yogis adhere to the first niyama. Many of these, like bathing and brushing teeth, are common habits for most of us. Others may not be so familiar. For example, one practice is oil pulling, in which oil is swished around in the mouth, held there for a while and finally expelled to eliminate toxins. Another practice is using a neti pot, a tool for flushing the sinuses with saline solution.
With pure bodies, minds, and surroundings, we can continue strengthening our spiritual health with the other niyamas. In other words, we’re in a better frame of mind to practice contentment, use the inner fire of tapas to stay committed to our spiritual journey, learn more about our true selves, and surrender to a higher power when we need to.
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Hi, I’m Maria. I created Yoga Circles for you if you want to delve more deeply into the philosophy, practice, and life-changing effects of yoga. I’m also a writer and editor who helps small business owners, wellness professionals, teachers, and authors publish books, develop marketing strategies, and connect with readers, clients, and students. Visit my website (link below) for more about that. I’d love to hear from you!