Last week we began our unpacking of Bhakti Sutra #78 by studying the yama of ahimsa (to see last week’s reflections and the text of the sutra click here). This week let’s delve into one of the niyamas suggested as a way to move us deeper down the path of self discovery and self love. The niyamas of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra are actions and attitudes we can cultivate to help us realize more connectedness. The first Niyama is saucha, which is usually translated as purity. As I yoga teacher I have shied away from teaching this niyama because the word “pure” can be problematic. If we’re not “pure” then we must be “impure”, right? In many cultures being “impure” has punitive and shameful connotations. What comes up for you when you hear that word? Exactly.
The practices of Saucha in the classical yoga tradition were in part meant to cleanse the body. Practices like neti pot to flush the sinuses and nauli to cleanse the abdominal organs were part of saucha practice. Although these practices can be helpful for maintaining health of the physical body, in the Tantra tradition we approach saucha not from the idea that the body is a problem that needs transcending or fixing by “purification”, but that at our essence, we are pure. And yet we forget that the Absolute is whole, unadulterated light, and that light is pure, clear, radiant and brilliant and it is what we are made of. One of the reasons newborn babies are so precious is that they exist as closely as possible in human form to that pure state. As life goes on, the bright pure light gets dimmed by experience, but it’s our job as yogis to reconnect to that light through all our actions.
When we acknowledge that as manifestations of the divine we are at our essence pure, we need to make choices that help us to reveal that pure light – this is the essence of Tantric saucha practice. As beings with free will it is our choice. So in all we do we must make sure that we are aligned with the purpose of promoting connection, harmony and peace within ourselves and among all those who we interact with. Since we have a choice, we can act in a way that aligns us more fully with that pure light, or a way that doesn’t. So there isn’t such a moral judgment related to “purity”, it simply means acting in alignment with the light, or not. Moving towards the pure light of universal consciousness or moving in another direction.
In yoga practice one of our highest objectives is to move towards spiritual evolution according to each one’s own possibilities, or in terms of the Bhakti sutras, to move towards love. So what are the practices which bring you closer to that experience? A friend once said to me that “The moments of greatest spiritual purity are moments in which I am able to act without any trace of moral conflict.” Practicing saucha means engaging in activities, food drink, work & relationship that brings you closer to your true nature of pure, unadulterated light of consciousness, which of course brings you more joy and ultimately more love.
Off the Mat:
- Create a Pure body: practice kriyas (cleansing practices) like neti pot, tongue scraping, trataka dristhy (gazing). Practice nadi shodhana, the channel purifying breath.
- Eat Pure foods: strive to eat no chemicals, preservatives or genetically altered ingredients, and no highly processed foods.
- Create a Pure environment: one that is clean, orderly, and keeps outside energies out (for example taking off your shoes and washing your hands when entering your home) to maintain the purity of inner energies.
- Aim for Pure thoughts: free from judgments of others or yourself, free from worry, doubt, fear and negativity.
- Have Pure conversations: free from gossip and hurtful comments
On the Mat:
In my classes this week we did a full-spectrum class, touching on all classes of poses including standing/strength building poses, abdominals, hip openers, arm balances, backbends and inversions. We did simple, straightforward sequences with the intention to focus on our alignment in every pose to help our bodies line up so that the light within can flow most freely and easefully. When we practice with good alignment we are practicing purity in the body. As a teacher once said to me: “Practicing purity leads you into purity, and then, strong and steady in your own pure light, you become a force of purity. You can walk into even the most wretched place and, just with your own vibration of coherence and clarity, shift it towards light and beauty.”
For the Anusara Junkies:
Open To Grace: Breathe in and let the pure, auspicious light of consciousness at the core of your being fill you up.
Let the breath be pure and clear, easeful and flowing.
Muscular Energy: Onto that light inside, firm the muscles encasing and protecting it.
When we tone the muscles they become more “pure” by acting out their own given purpose.
Magnetize the muscles to the bones as you direct all your actions towards the inner light.
Inner Spiral: This is a refinement of energy, a more subtle shift towards clarity in the body. As you move your inner thighs in, back and apart, shift your awareness inward towards the untainted light that is your true nature.
Outer Spiral: Direct your tailbone down and your awareness towards the light.
Organic Energy: Let the unadulterated light emanate from the center of your being.
Let your intention to align with the purest aspect of your being shine outwards.
Let the radiant light that is your essence shine out unimpeded.
(In honor of Halloween) Like a jack o lantern, let the light inside shine out.