Inside the realm of Yoga, the concept of purity is one of utmost importance.
In our eagerness to progress in our âsana practice—making efforts to improve flexibility and strength to achieve certain postures that were previously unattainable to us—we often forget the basics of the Yoga Philosophy; Saucha, or purity (external and internal), is one of them.
The âsanas, of course, help us to purify our bodies; performing each posture is like an internal cleanse. Breathing and moving together while performing âsanas makes the blood hot. The heat created cleanses the blood and makes it thin so that it may circulate freely around all the joints, eliminating any body pain. The heated blood also moves through all the internal organs removing impurities and disease, which are carried out of the body by the sweat that occurs during practice.
The practice of Pranayama helps to cleanse the nadis (“rivers”) or channels of energy throughout our body. This eradicates energetic and emotional blockages, and thus allows the free flow of prana, that in turn creates a healthy and glowing body.
Chapter 1, verse 17 of The Hatha Yoga Pradipika states:
“Prior to everything, âsana is spoken of as the first part of Hatha yoga. Having done âsana one gets steadiness (firmness) of body and mind; diseaselessness and lightness (flexibility) of the limbs.”
Regarding Pranayama in Chapter 2, verse 20, it states:
“When one is able to hold the vayu according to one’s will, the digestive power increases. With the nadis purified, thus the inner sound or nada awakens and one is free from disease.”
Remember that our bodies are receptors for an array of different energies that we come into contact with throughout the day. We carry the residue of our work day with us, and the people we come in contact with. Our senses are constantly externalized as we are bombarded with images from advertising billboards, tv programs, and the internet, not to mention that the average human mind can generate up to 50,000 thoughts a day.
Our minds store this information, and energies between others are exchanged. All of this can cloud over our inner lens, making our lives more cluttered. Through the practice of Meditation, as mentioned by the great sage Patañjali Maharishi in his magnificent text, The Yoga Sutras, we can begin to clean out this residue.
We spend so much time and invest so much energy to keep our physical body fit and healthy. We wash our clothes and clean our houses, but what about our minds? Meditation does just this; it is a form of mental hygiene with a myriad of wonderful benefits.
It is the most essential remedy against anxiety and tension, and it balances the vital functions of the body (doshas). These are the electrochemical balances of the body that depend on diet, exercise, breathing, and karma. Meditation is a powerful medicine against the stress and tensions in modern life, and it is beneficial for gastro intestinal disorders. It strengthens the mind, balances the senses, eliminates anxiety, and helps obtain serenity.
Meditation is also a purifying practise that promotes peace.
Soap and water—how much do you use?
Most of us shower or bathe once a day, but think about this to get you wondering if you should shower more often:
At night, our bodies go through the catabolic process of destruction—breaking down toxins, digesting food, and releasing this toxic waste in the form of perspiration through the pores, toxins on the tongue etc.
Most of us sleep with some form of clothing, so the sweat and the toxins are absorbed into the clothes, creating smells which later linger on as body odour. By sleeping nude, we enable our skin to breathe freely, but we should wash away the toxins that have been released overnight by showering in the morning.
During the day, we come into contact with all kinds of energies and influences, so we should literally wash away any negative energy that may have adhered to us by taking a hot shower at night. This also helps the body relax before going to bed, making it easier for the senses to withdraw inward and enter into a deep sleep state.
Once we take care of our external body, how can we cleanse our internal body?
We have just mentioned the importance of showering externally, but what about an internal shower to remove toxic build up in our digestive system? The solution is easy, effective, and healthy.
When you get up in the morning, before eating anything, heat up 1.5-2L of water. The water should not be cold, as your internal organs will contract, or too hot so as not to be able to drink it. Squeeze in a fresh lemon, add a teaspoon/tablespoon of honey (according to taste), mix it all together, and drink it all.
This amount of water intake will build up pressure internally, which will make you go to the bathroom almost instantly to release the toxic build up from the night. Getting rid of these toxins will refresh and rejuvenate your body and mind.
You will also pump oxygen into your system and fully hydrate your body; then, you only have to top up a little on water throughout the rest of the day. Remember that water is really the best medicine. The lemon helps to purify and cleanse and honey is a natural antibiotic and heats the body (great in winter).
Don’t forget to add some of the shatkarmas to your daily cleansing ritual. The nose is what manages our life and air is our most important way of ingesting oxygen. Jala neti—the cleansing of the nasal passages—is essential.
Since breathing is so fundamental in yoga, if your nasal passages are dirty, congested, filled with mucus or other external matter (dust, germs etc.), then you will not be able to breathe correctly or have a correct flow of prana. Without correct breathing, you may be practicing some form of physical exercise, but not yoga.
The nose is also a source of many infections. If we want to improve our allergies, sinusitis, nasal blockages, and respiratory flow, then we must learn to invest in this ancient cleanse. It will result in easier breathing, improved intake of oxygen, improved removal of carbon dioxide, and consequently, better health.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika once again informs us of the importance of Jala neti in Chapter 2, verse 30:
“Neti: cleanses the cranium and bestows clairvoyance. It also destroys all diseases which manifest above the throat.”
Are your eating habits pure?
According to the Bhagavad Gita, there are three types of food groups. The first is called Sattvic; Chapter 17, sloka 8 says, “foods which promote longevity, intelligence, vigour, health, happiness and cheerfulness, and which are juicy, succulent, substantial and naturally agreeable are liked by men of a Sattvic nature.”
The second food group type is called Rajasic, and sloka 9 states that “foods which are bitter, sour, salty, over hot, pungent, dry and burning, and which cause suffering, grief, and sickness are Rajasic by nature.”
The last food group type are Tamasic foods (sloka 10): “foods which are ill cooked or not fully ripe, insipid, putrid, stale and polluted and which are also impure, are dear to men of a Tamasic disposition.”
Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas are the three energies that we speak about in Yoga, in which the human body vibrates. We can say in a simplistic way that Sattva corresponds to a serene and calm energy. Rajas correspond to a more excited and energetic type of energy, and Tamas to an inactive and low energy.
Milk, butter, fruits, vegetables, and cereals belong to the sattvic food group. Spices, hot substances, fish, meat, alcohol, eggs, and all those foods that excite the nervous system belong to the rajasic food group. All the foods that putrefy in our intestine belong to the tamasic, or impure food group.
Sattvic or pure foods make us calm and give us pureness of mind; they are comforting and nutritional for the body. Rajasic foods awaken animal style instincts in humans like aggressiveness. They lead to an unstable mental state, and can cause nervous and circulatory disorders like hypertension, hardening of the arteries, and uric acid-related diseases.
The third type of food is tamasic or impure, which can make a person bloated and lazy. Their capacity for thinking is diminished, and they can suffer physically from chronic illnesses.
We are electrochemical beings; everything we eat affects the way we think, which in turn affects our central nervous system. Everything we think is reflected in our body and converted into chemistry, which modifies the structure of our body.
In order to maintain a healthy body and mind, our diet should consist of sattvic foods—those foods that are pure and help us keep a positive mind. If the body is sick, the mind also gets sick and becomes more negative. If the body is strong and healthy, the mind also becomes healthy and strong, and naturally gravitates towards all that is positive and uplifting.
Do you observe your thoughts?
We may believe we are positive thinkers, but have you ever kept track of how many times you think negatively during the day? Negative thoughts about little things can deform our body and character.
Thoughts are as solid as rocks. They are alive. They can travel faster than the speed of light and take on various forms. They are subtle forces, so it is essential to keep your thoughts in check, given that they are vibrations that affect the universe, other beings, and you directly.
Thought exerts its influence over the body. For example, grief in the mind weakens the body, and the body in turn influences the mind. Violent fits of hot temper do serious damage to brain cells, throw poisonous chemical products into the blood, produce general shock and depression. They also suppress the secretion of gastric juices, bile, and other digestive juices in the alimentary channel, while draining away your energy and vitality, inducing premature aging, and shortening life.
Because negativity has its natural gravity in a downward spiral, it is easier for us to think negatively than positively. This is the reason so many of us swim in negativity, complain, gossip, or choose negative emotions over positive ones. Keeping a positive mind and sustaining a positive outlook takes effort and strength. Just think how easy it is to lift our arms up, but how much effort does it take to hold them there in place for a longer period of time? It’s easier to let ourselves sink to the same level as those around us than it is to uphold a positive outlook. The latter takes hard work and a lot of mental effort, as can be demonstrated by any external situation that may rock our boat and plunge our normally positive mind into a negative mess within seconds. This is why we teach the importance of balance, sensorial, and emotional control in Yoga, so that when the vicissitudes of life present themselves to us, our boats won’t be so affected by the wave of change. We can remain stable and firm, and adapt to any situation without anxiety, stress, or tension.
Pada II, Sutra 41 (Yoga Sutras)
Sattvasudhhi saumanasya aikâgrya indriyajaya âtmadarsana yogyatvani ca
“When the body is clean, the mind purified, and the senses controlled, then joyful awareness of the true inner self comes.”
Yogini and Yoga & Dharma instructor on the Art and Science of Living, Yogita expresses her gratitude to her Guruji, Swami Shankaratilakananda for being a beacon of inspiration, for his all encompassing knowledge, generosity, compassion, light and spirit, which shines through her example. Contact Yogita via email.