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The Second Limb Of Ashtanga Yoga: Niyama

The last few months, the focus has been on the first limb of Ashtanga yoga – yama (restraints).  As discussed a few months back, there are 8 limbs of Ashtanga yoga:

  1. Yama (restraint)
  2. Niyama (observances)
  3. Asana (posture)
  4. Pranayama (breath control)
  5. Pratyahara (controlling the senses)
  6. Dharana (concentration)
  7. Dhyana (meditation)
  8. Samadhi (absolute consciousness)

We will now focus on the second limb, niyama.

Niyama refers to individual discipline or observance and is the Sanskrit term meaning rule or law.  They refer to the cultivation of following good habits.  Like the five yamas, the niyamas are not exercises or actions to be simply studied; they represent far more than an attitude, but an inner state of the mind. The niyamas are more intimate and personal than the yamas and they refer to the attitude we adopt toward ourselves.

The five niyamas (codes of conduct) of Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path are:

  1. Saucha (purity or cleanliness)
  2. Santosha (contentment)
  3. Tapas (austerity)
  4. Swadhyaya (self-study)
  5. Pranidhana (devotion to God).

Let us examine these niyamas in more detail. This month we’ll focus on the first niyama, saucha.

Saucha is total cleanliness and purity of both mind and body. The body is considered to be the temple or dwelling-place of the Atman (Self) which is used to worship the divine and so external and internal cleanliness is of chief importance.  External cleanliness (bahya) is seen to have a psychological effect on a person and includes general hygiene, a clean environment and adhering to a healthy diet.  Similarly we need to follow a mental diet where internal cleanliness (abhyantara) helps to cleanse and strengthen the mind.  This includes cultivating connections among those who are spiritually minded by regulating our reading, conversation and generally our intake of mental “food.”  Saint Francois de Sales observes that constant awareness of cleanliness of the mind is important so that “once thrown off its balance, the heart is no longer its own master.”  Christian mystics have stressed the importance of being in a state of purification where one’s mind is rid of distractions of thoughts and desires; cultivating sensitivity to what is pure and wholesome.  Purification is not seen as emptying out but leads to greater intentness in one’s life where self-purification comes from not only self-effort but by through centring oneself to a personal identification and unity with the divine.  For the yogi, purification is connected with an inner transformation where one can more clearly see God.

 Through simplicity and continual refinement (Saucha), the body, thoughts, and emotions become clear reflections of the Self within. Saucha reveals our joyful nature, and the yearning for knowing the Self blossoms.
~
 Yoga Sutras 2.40-2.41

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Grace's Blog

Food, Fasting & Yoga

Recently I did a 5 day juice fast.  Before the fast I felt like my insides were clogged up and each time I ate anything, I felt it getting worse.  Bloating, feeling heavy and full despite how little I was eating.  I decided that it was basically best to get a dustpan and broom and do a good sweep of my insides.  So I went shopping and got a range of fruit and vegetables ready to be squeezed through my juicer.  I used a special program I had passed onto me by a friend.

I had 4 juices a day and the last night I had a warm broth.  The first day, I focused on sipping my juices slowly and mindfully and appreciated every nutrient my glass of juice had to offer.  The second day I was getting used to my routine and by the third day I felt it quite unusual that I hadn’t chewed with my teeth for a while! By the third day I was so mindful of every juice I consumed that I felt full on one glass of juice.  I did feel my energy low at times but also high other times.  After 5 days of a juice fast, I drank juice and pureed soup for another 5 days.  Consuming heavy food straight after a fast is not recommended!

The greatest reward of this fast that I felt was the ‘hollow’ yet completely content feeling in my belly and my entire digestive system.  My yoga practice deepened and I felt connected to my bandhas, my breath and my body on a much deeper level.  I have now made a personal commitment to do a juice fast regularly.  I am now due for my next one! It is a great way to give our digestive system a break and to connect with the body and mind on a spiritual level more regularly.  Even one day a fortnight is a great way to start and maintain a healthy system.

If you do decide to fast, it is important to find a good program with guidelines and the right juices.  The juices vary with fruit, vegetable as well as herbs.  Let me know if you’re interested in a fast and I can recommend what may be best for you.

Some of the benefits of fasting:

  • Helps promote physical and emotional health, by rejuvenating the body.
  • Helps lower cholesterol and normalise blood pressure. 
  • Helps overcome addictions.
  • Brings the mind awareness to the ‘divine’ and away from overconsumption and greed. 
  • Alleviates disorders of the gastrointestinal system, constipation, bloating and gastritis. 
  • Improves mental alertness – cleans toxins out of the lymphatic system and blood stream. 
  • Rejuvenates the digestive system, giving the digestive system a much needed rest. 
  • Quiets allergic reactions, including asthma and hay fever. 
  • Clears the skin and whitens the eyes. 

 “Fasting is simply a process of deep physiological rest. This rest period helps you rebuild functioning power and recover from the energy dissipation caused by hectic daily schedules and abusive living habits.” Frank Sabatino, D.C., Ph.D.