Self-care practices

based in the teachings of yoga

This is the 1st blog of a 5-part series that will cover each of the 5 self-care practices within the niyamas, the 2nd limb of the 8 Limbs of Yoga (click here to download a chart on the 8 Limbs).  I’m especially excited about this series because it will include practices that I feel everyone can benefit from, especially me!  These blog posts will provide detailed explanations of each niyama and offer a variety of ways to practice them in your daily lives.  So, let’s get started!

What are the Niyamas?

The niyamas are personal practices that teach us to respect ourselves on every level: body, mind and spirit.  These ancient teachings are still very relevant today and provide great self-care guidance that is so needed in our world.  I whole-heartedly believe that when we are physically and mentally healthy and we are content with our lives, we can give so much more to the world.   We are able to be more patient and compassionate with others and we have the energy and desire to be agents of change in our communities.  Just imagine how different society would be if each of us, in our own ways, made this shift. To obtain and maintain this type of health requires a commitment to ourselves.  A commitment to continuously practice the niyamas which breakdown into five habits:

The 1st Niyama – Saucha, Purity

“Purification also brings about clarity, happiness, concentration, mastery of the senses, and capacity for self-awareness.” – translation by Chip Hartranft, The Yoga-Sūtra of Patajali

 Intent & Benefits

Saucha (pronounced “sow-cha”) is the discipline of purifying oneself in all levels: body, mind and spirit. The intent is to remove heaviness and stagnant energy so that energy flows freely in and around us.  As described in Chip Hartranft’s translation above, this practice can bring about clarity and happiness within us.  It helps improve our concentration and enables us to have more control over our reactivity.  Sounds amazing, right? So how do we actually practice saucha?

To purify our bodies, saucha encourages us to cleanse ourselves inside and out to create health and vitality.  On a fundamental level this consists of basic hygiene and eating healthy foods. On a deeper level it promotes releasing emotional trauma stored in the body (somatic therapy).  Saucha also asks that our environments are clean and free of clutter which allows energy to flow freely.

To purify our minds, we need to eliminate negative and toxic thoughts.  This involves removing unnecessary distractions and harmful thoughts.  It may also involve resolving past grudges, judgments and outdated beliefs that we may be holding on to.

By purifying our bodies and minds we promote conditions for our spirits to be healthy as well.

Ways to Practice

How we purify our body, mind and spirit is unique to each individual.  There is not a “one size fits all” formula and there are numerous ways to practice saucha.  Some practices can be a bit extreme, such as fasting for days, but I think it’s more beneficial to focus on basic disciplines that we can easily incorporate into our daily lives.  Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

Cleanse your body – Inside and out. A practical place to start is to make improvements to your diet.  Eat as “clean” as possible and drink lots of water to flush out toxins.  Eat fresh (organic, if possible) fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains, legumes and limited amounts of free range, hormone-free chicken and meat and/or freshly caught wild fish (unfortunately, our oceans have become so polluted that most fish are contaminated, so do your research).  To make this a sustainable habit don’t strive for perfection.  Make this healthy diet your goal, but allow yourself a few treats now and then!

Regular exercise is also a key factor to aide in eliminating toxins from your body.  Moving the body helps circulate the blood which helps your organs to do their job more effectively.  Many toxins are released through sweating and breathing deeply.  A mixture of low impact and cardio exercises are suggested---yoga, spinning and walking are my favorites!

Because the body and mind are interconnected, sometimes past negative emotions, stress or trauma can be stored not only in our minds, but in our physical bodies.  It may show up as chronic pain in our skin or muscles.  Somatic therapy is a modality that could help.  It involves mind-body exercises and other physical techniques to help release the pent-up tension that is negatively affecting our physical and emotional well-being.

Declutter your environment – Applying fung shui principles to your environment can provide a profound effect on energy in your home and/or office which flows into the energy in your body, mind and spirit.  The first step is to declutter one room or area in your home or office.  Then give it a good cleaning, followed by a sage cleansing.  These basic steps should get the stagnant energy flowing which in turn will make you feel lighter and brighter.   The famous tidy-up guru, Marie Kondo, believes that “life truly begins after you have put your house in order.”  While I haven’t experienced this life-changing shift, it does make me feel great when my home is decluttered and clean! 

Purify your mind – One main goal with saucha is to free your mind of negative thoughts. A simple way to do this is to have a “go to” mantra.  When a negative thought pops into your mind, repeat your mantra of choice to yourself either silently or out loud.  This gets your mind off the negative thought and refocuses you onto a positive thought.  The Spirit Junkie, Gabby Bernstein, has a great mantra that I frequently use: “I choose to learn through love.”  I like this mantra because it reminds me to open up my mind and, more importantly, my heart, to let go of judgement and preconceived ideas.  It also helps me assume the best instead of the worst.  The more you repeat your mantra, the more you will begin to have positive thoughts pop up more frequently than the negative ones. 

Another way to help declutter your mind is to monitor what goes into it and when.  This entails limiting the amount of “noise” and interruptions that bombard you daily.  You can accomplish this by limiting your social media time---experiment with only checking it 1-2 hours a day, maybe an hour in the morning and an hour at night.  You can use the same structure with emails, texts and phone calls.  Don’t feel compelled to answer each piece of correspondence when it comes in.  Check it only a few times during the day.  If your job requires more from you, or you have children or family members that you must stay in contact with then, turn the phone off at 6:00 pm (when you work day is over and/or all the kids are at home) until the next morning. 

Your Individual Practice

Now, spend a few minutes developing your own saucha practice for the upcoming week.  Grab your journal and list 5 to 10 ways you can practice saucha.  Be sure to include ways to purify your mind, body and spirit.  After you’ve completed your list, circle 3-4 of the practices that most resonate with you at this moment.  Commit to practicing them for one full week.  Schedule your action plan in your calendar for the week.  For example, if you plan on taking a yoga class twice that week, sign up for the class and then schedule it accordingly.  If you plan to clean out certain areas of your home, schedule blocks of time when you can accomplish this over the next 7 days.  Be specific.  Also, make it enjoyable as this is a special self-care practice just for you.  Maybe light a few candles and put on some of your favorite music while you are cleaning your home or eating new nutritious meals.

During your week journal about your experience practicing saucha.  How did you feel after you completed each practice?  Write down the specific benefits you experienced.  For example, did it make you feel more energetic, did it give you more mental clarity, or were you more productive? What lessons did you learn?  Consider if these practices would be helpful to continue.  If the answer is no, are there others that you may want to try next?

 I hope you enjoy this practice of saucha during your week and that it helps give you clarity and happiness.  Click here to explore the 2nd niyama, santosha, which is the practice of contentment.  Namaste

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