|[ Excerpt from The Science of Yoga, page 335 ]
We've completed our introduction to the yamas and now it's time to explore the second limb of sage Patanjali's ashtanga yoga system -- the niyamas.
Though the great virtues of the yamas help teach us to react to the situations and stimulations around us in a certain way, they, in effect, do not require us to really "do" anything.
However, in the case of the niyamas, the demands are quite different. The niyamas involve a set of practices which necessitate regular, intentional, day-to-day action. The niyamas collectively guide the re-organisation of the inner life, functioning to profoundly restructure the conditioned personality.
The first of the niyamas is sauca (pronounced sao'cha). Simply, it means "cleanliness" or "purity." This niyama implies purification of the body (both inside and outside) as well as mental purification -- the eliminating negative thoughts and mental agitation.
In a global sense, the practice of sauca means to purify not only one's physical self, but one's entire nature.
It is necessary to first examine what purity itself means. If we understand that everything in existence, both seen and unseen, is a mere aspect of the One, Supreme and Universal Consciousness, or Brahma, then nothing therefore can be considered as truly impure.
When we speak of impurity then, we speak in a relative sense, bearing in mind the highest goal of the spiritual aspirant, which is 'Divine expression' and 'spiritual evolution'. For instance, a thing is considered pure if it helps one's body or one's mind to effectively express the Divine Life. It is impure if it impedes the function of the body and/or the mind from the full expression of the highest ideal.
In this sense, purity is not absolute, but merely functional in that it allows one to continue to move towards higher stages of evolution.
Purification, then, means simply the removal of all the elements and conditions which inhibit the body and mind from attaining its highest goal, which for the yogis is kaivalya, or the re-unification of the jiva with the paramatman.
In effect, it is the 'vehicles' of the jiva: the annamaya kosha (physical body), the pranamaya kosha (energy body), the manomaya kosha (mental body) and vijnanamaya kosha (Buddhi), all of which contain inhibiting impurities, that our practice of yoga (and sauca) endeavours to cleanse...
NOTE: This yoga article is an excerpt from The Science of Yoga, an online yoga training program with streaming yoga videos and 600 pages of step-by-step yoga instruction.
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