We have observed how the five Yamas on the first branch help us to live in our true human nature of non-violence, truth, non-stealing, moderation, and non-hoarding. The Niyamas guide us towards the deeper spiritual side of our human nature. The five Niyamas bring us closer to our core. These practices encourage spiritual growth and our evolution towards harmony. The first Niyama is Saucha; purity, simplicity, and refinement.
Saucha is both physical and mental. The obvious physical purity of Saucha should go without saying; keep the body clean. Don't enter into a yoga space reeking of alcohol or with body odor. I'm not going to lie, I have definitely been hungover in Saturday morning classes before I stopped drinking. A perfect example, one time I had a newer practitioner show up to class with very dirty feet. Now, since he was a newer student, he was not aware of Saucha and how to practice it. It was a perfect teachable moment on the Niyamas. Now, I don't wear shoes in my house, in a yoga studio, or on my yoga mat since I place my face on mat regularly, so my feet need to be clean when they come to the mat. I have balanced many a times washing my feet in the sink before heading into the yoga room to practice. It is a sign of respect to yourself, your teacher, and your fellow yogis.
The mental purity of Saucha be can explained as keeping your thoughts, words, actions, and all the things you consume, pure. "We need to regulate what is allowed into our bodies and minds as well as to clean any toxic material already present," from Inside the Yoga Sutras 2.32. We need to monitor and stay vigilant in our practice of filtering out mental and physical toxins. If we put garbage into our bodies, guess what . . . we're not going to have a clean, healthy, fit body. The result will be equal to what we put in. Good, clean, healthy food = good, clean healthy body. You really are what you eat. When we are able to stay mentally pure, we can also be emotionally light and not take ourselves too seriously. After practicing Saucha, you may notice life is easier and more joyous. You are living your yoga.
Another way to cultivate Saucha in our lives is to live simply. We don't have to overcomplicate our lives to get closer to our spiritual selves. It's actually, quite the opposite. When we begin to live simply, we uncover all that's beneath the layers. That's one area where I believe this virus has helped the world. We are simplifying our lives, finding what is truly important, and what we value as in how we spend our time and energy. At least, that's my silver-lining so far.
There is need for continual refinement in our practice. And I don't just mean the physical asana practice. But we do use the physical practice to purify the body and mind with our different twisting shapes and various forms of pranayama. In addition, we need to continuously refine our thoughts. As we do this, we become clearer and clearer on who we are. We get to the innermost layer of our soul. It's like polishing some tarnished silverware; you keep polishing until you see yourself in it. This Niyama reminds me of a quote I recently read from Rumi, the Sufi poet, "If you are irritated by every rub, how will you be polished?" This one line says so much about our human nature. Instead of letting every "bad" thing rub us the wrong way, look at it as though it is helping us to uncover more about ourselves in order to be our truest self.
The tools we have are physical asana practice, pranayama (breath work), and meditation which all aid in bringing more Saucha into our lives. We use these practices to work through emotions, thoughts, and habits that are toxic to us. Mental toxins will keep us unhappy and angry. Allowing the practices to clean you mentally and physically can lead to a much happier, more balanced life.
Be well. Stay well.
P.S. It's all a practice and no one gets it right all the time. That is why we call it a "practice" and not a "perfect."