Special Series on the Yamas and Niyamas: Sauca

by Melissa West on June 14, 2010

Special Series on the Yamas and Niyamas: Sauca

    This week in yoga we entered into the realm of the niyamas. Whereas the yamas have to do with the ethical principles by which we live in relation to the world, the niyamas are more about internal restraints. Niyamas are really the rules for good self care as they are about nurturing of ourselves on a personal level.

    The first niyama is sauca, pronounced sh-ouch-a, and translates as cleanliness. It is about purifying all the levels of our being from our bodies, minds,  and emotions, to our external environment.

    I think that sauca makes the most perfect transition from our final yama last week, aparigraha. Aparigraha was all about non-hoarding, in other words, only purchasing and keeping the things you actually use. As we begin this week’s foray into the niyamas we can begin by looking at our external surroundings at work and home. Are they neat and clutter free? Are they clean? This past weekend I spent all day Saturday cleaning my house, doing laundry and general tidying. What can you clean and de-clutter in your home and work environment?

    Asana is a fabulous way to cleanse your internal body. Many of the yoga poses you practice every week help to keep the internal organs and systems of elimination functioning optimally. Twists for example are fabulous for the internal organs such as the liver. As you twist your body the organs get rung out and toxins release, when you come back to neutral the organs get a rush of fresh, oxygenated blood to support their functioning. Poses that put pressure on the descending colon or large intestine are great because they encourage elimination of waste material from the body. Backbends create compression on the kidneys which help the organ associated with the elimination of liquid toxins through the urine. Inversions support the lymphatic system and encourage the movement of lymph throughout the body. The lymphatic system is like the garbage removal system of the body helping to remove viruses and bacteria from the body.  Finally, movement such as sun salutations support the cardiovascular system and the movement of fresh oxygenated blood throughout the body and the exchange and release of carbon dioxide.

    Speaking of releasing carbon dioxide from the body, pranayama or breath practice help to tone the lungs and fully eliminate toxins on each exhale. One of the most beneficial things you can do to cleanse your body is to lengthen out your exhalation and focus on fully breathing out. This helps to eliminate the stale air from the base of the lungs and allows for fresh air to come in and oxygenate all the cells of your body. Kriyas, or cleansing practices such as Kapalabhati breath are an excellent way to cleanse the body as well. (Please note, episode 38 of namaste yoga offers all the cleansing asana and breath practices mentioned above).

    Practicing sauca is an excellent opportunity to reflect on the food you eat. Is it contributing to a healthy and clean internal environment or is it high in processed foods that slow down your body? Many yogis, myself included, endorse and partake in a vegetarian diet. According to Sharon Gagnon, the co-creator of the Jivamukti Yoga Method, yoga and vegetarianism form a framework for physical and spiritual attunement. In terms of sauca, or cleanliness, vegan diets and the reduction or elimination of all animal products help to keep the internal body clean and optimally functioning.

    As part of practicing sauca, I have committed to a cleanse over the next twenty-one days. Please note that my cleanse has been approved and is being supervised by my naturopathic doctor, Jonathan Beatty. If you are interested in partaking in a cleanse, I would recommend that it is under the supervision of a medical professional. The cleanse I have chosen was recommended by my friend Carolyn Woodman Fiset. The Feel Good Fast is an eating program that eliminates meat, wheat, sugar, dairy, coffee, alcohol and processed foods. I will be focussing on taking in many of spring’s nturient-dense cleansing foods such as asparagus, kale, artichokes, and greens. I’ll let you know how it goes over the next three weeks.

    Reflect on the cleanliness of all the layers of your body. Does your body need cleansing through diet or exercise? Does your external environment need cleansing? Could your mind benefit from the cleansing effect of a meditation practice? Our emotions cleanse through laughter and tears, when is the last time you had a good laugh or a good cry? This week check in on what aspect of cleanliness you will bring to your being. Share your comments and commitment below!

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