The niyamas are 5 ethical principles which give us guidance in how to live a more conscious and fulfilled life as a yogi. The first of the niyamas, Saucha, meaning purity invites us to be clean and pure in our physical acts, the words we speak, and in how we hold ourselves and others in each present moment.
Saucha is a consistent reminder to “lighten our load.” In the outermost layer, you can think of cleaning your physical body and cleaning your physical space. A clean body and a clean environment can certainly help you cultivate a clear mind; think about trying to meditate after doing a mud run, or trying to do yoga nidra amongst piles of clothing and other belongings. It may be a little harder to concentrate on connecting with the divine!
Of course, this niyama does not only call our attention to our physical bodies and spaces. Saucha also reminds us to speak purely with ourselves and others. This does not mean being falsely positive, nor does it mean to be rude as justification for “honesty.” It means to speak without trying to change how we or someone else may be feeling. It means to express words free from judgment and it means to truly be present when someone else is speaking so we can respond purley and appropriately.
Lastly (at least within the context of this blog post), saucha allows us to recall the importance of being present with ourselves and others so that we can be fully alive in each moment. Instead of living our lives in fast forward, why not slow things down to enjoy one moment at a time…even if that moment is not what we would deem as “perfect” or even “pleasurable?”
So here’s an asana idea for YOU to practice bringing saucha into your body and your life.
Peak Pose: Upward Facing Dog aka Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
UFD is an intense backbend. Even though we take it a lot in the vinyasa practice, we have to ALWAYS be pure in our approach. If done with no consciousness we run the risk of injuring ourselves, and if teaching without lighting awareness on alignment, we run the risk of setting up others for failure.
Wide Leg Forward Fold (Prasarita Padottanasana)
Opening up the inner leg/groin muscles can help to create space in movement of the pelvis…which of course is necessary for our backbending practice!
- From low lunge, straighten your legs and pivot towards a long edge of your mat.
- Bring your hands to the ground or blocks if you can’t reach the ground.
- Lift the inner arches of your feet, the inner line of your legs, and the kneecaps to help lift the sit bones towards the sky.
- Walk your hands under your legs so they are in line with your feet as you pull the crown of your head towards the floor.
Crescent Lunge with Hands Clasped Behind Back (Ashta Chandrasana)
This will help to not only open up the hip flexor muscles, but will also help to broaden the chest by taking the arms behind the back.
- Step the left foot forward and lower the back knee to the floor (although we stepped the left foot forward first, we are doing the work in the right leg first; you don’t have to sequence this way but just an idea).
- Press your left foot and right shin into the ground to upright the torso.
- Press your sacrum forward to lift the frontal hip points towards the navel.
- Swim your arms around the back to interlace your fingers and firm your shoulder blades into your upper back to support upwards movement of your chest.
Revolved Triangle (Parivrtta Trikonasana)
Twisting supports backbends in lengthening the side bodies, broadening the chest, and this particular twist emphasizes the work in the legs…all necessary for upward facing dog.
- Face the front of your mat with your right leg forward, with toes going directly forward, and left leg back, with toes slightly out on an angle, about 2-3 feet.
- Bring your hands to your hips and use your legs to draw the right hip back and left hip forward so the left side of your ribcage can start to wrap forward.
- Take your left arm straight to the sky and your right arm out to the right side of your space.
- Hinge forward and turn your torso to the right as you continue to draw the right hip back.
- Bring your left hand to a block on the outside of your right foot and take your right arm straight to the ceiling.
- As you twist, bring your right shoulder blade towards your spine to help broaden the chest.
Peak Pose: Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)
- From your belly, take your flat palms to the floor or blocks (blocks help create space to lift the thighs as I probably should have done during this mini photoshoot).
- Lengthen your legs behind you and point your toes on the floor to create smooth ankles and shins.
- Press your hands down and the tops of the feet down as you straighten your arms to lift your legs, hips, and chest off the floor.
- Straighten your arms and firm the shoulder blades into your upper back to broaden the chest and pull the heart forward.
- Keep the outer ankles in and legs firm as you press your sacrum forward.
Sources: The Yamas & Niyamas by Deborah Adele