The 8 Limbs of Yoga - the Niyamas - Sauca
So, back to the 8 Limbs of Yoga... The second limb of Patanjali’s eightfold path of yoga are the Niyamas, or restraints. There are five niyamas and they represent Patanjali’s advice for personal well-being; they are the things you need to do to form the basis of a successful and productive yoga practice.
The five niyamas are as follow–
- Sauca - cleanliness
- Santosha - contentment
- Tapas – austerity, fire, heat, effort
- Svadhyaya – study, self-study, self-knowledge
- Ishvara pranidhana – surrender to that which is greater than you
Sauca - cleanliness. Patanjali states simply that cleanliness is an important starting point for any yoga student - both outer cleanliness (it is traditional in India to ceremonially wash one's feet before practice) and inner cleanliness (the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, for example, lists various kriyas, or cleansing practices, such as jala neti - cleaning out your nostrils with saline water).
Of course, moving your body in your asana strengthens your muscles, moves your joints, increases your lung capacity and increases your heart rate, all of which are simply the movement of bodily fluids and movement (as opposed to stagnation) can be regarded as a cleansing process.
But in addition, Patanjali tells us that from sauca comes:
“Purity of mind, cheerfulness, mastery of the senses, one-pointedness and
readiness for self-realization follow”
YS II, 41 translation by Alistair Shearer
The mental clarity that you gain from your yoga practice is a form of sauca – we often begin our practice with a mind clouded by thoughts, but find that somewhere along the line we have been able to let that busyness of mind go, so that by the time we get to our final meditation and savasana, our mind is much more clear and calm than it was at the start. So the word sauca also describes a mind which is clear, uncluttered and straightforward.
Through invoking the idea of sauca in our practice, we are more able to maintain our focus without being distracted by physical discomfort, illness, or mental chatter.
Through the practice of sauca we bring a simplicity to our practice. It doesn’t need to be that complicated. We come to our mat, set aside all the to do lists of the day and begin to move in a way that we know will bring a calm strength to body and mind. We meet resistance (mental or physical) with an open mind and without judgement. We enquire into it rather than push against it. So that if, for example, we feel irritated by a teacher or a particular asana or practice, we ask why we feel that way, rather than indulging the irritation by languishing in it and getting crosser.
So when in your practice you find yourself getting bogged down by technique or philosophy, when your mind feels full of distracting thoughts, when you feel the worries of the day clinging to you as you begin your practice, try bringing a sense of sauca to it: simplicity, purity and clarity. Let your yoga practice itself develop the feeling of clarity within you and when you have finished your practice, see if you can take that cleanliness of mind and body out into the world with you.
A word about the Yoga Sutras...
One further word about the Yoga Sutras in general here – sutra means thread (from it comes our word suture). Patanjali’s sutras are aphorisms – succinct, pithy sentences that present the seed of a teaching. Each yoga student, with the help of a teacher (in person and/or through commentaries published in books), extrapolates each sutra to fully understand its wider, deeper meaning and brings the experiences of their own practice to their study. It’s not inconceivable that entire dissertations could be written on the subject of just one 15 word sutra... from each seed of thought come great banyan trees of meaning.
If you are looking for a good translation of the Yoga Sutras, I can recommend Alistair Shearer’s The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, published by Bell Tower and available on Amazon, I think. It’s got a great commentary and is clear and approachable translation.