It’s easy for my eyes to glaze over when I think about the ethics of yoga. I can easily start to feel guilty about yet more things that can’t fit in to the schedule, or that I really should be better at doing. However, when I realised Niyama- the second ethical limb of yoga is actually a form of Radical Self Care, it became easier to engage with ways I might incorporate these teachings into my daily life.
The first two limbs of yoga, Yama and Niyama encourage us to consider our foundation. Yama encourages us to consider the attitudes we have to the world around us. Niyama encourages us to consider our relationship to ourselves. This is where the radical self care comes in.
Saucha: cleanliness and purity, is not just another call to make sure we turn up to yoga class with clean undies and deodorant. It’s a reminder that the home we inhabit is the body, and that in its essence it is pure. Diet, thoughts and toxins can all influence our experience of this purity so that we become more distant from our pure essence. Saucha is a reminder to connect with this whenever we can, to eat well, sleep well and stay away from nasty chemicals.
Santosha: experiencing peace and contentment is again, a call to remember that this is our birthplace, not something we have to struggle for. In this modern time of achievement based living we always strive for something better- bigger house, more well-paid job, newer gadgets. Santosha is radical in that it reminds us that we already have all we need to be content. We just need to shift our perception to see it.
Tapas, encourages us to live with the light of ourselves burning bright. To bring enthusiasm and effort to the things that we do. To see our own inner light, nurture this and tend to our own flame. I love the quote from Howard Thurnman to remind me of Tapas: "Don't ak what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive"
Svadhyaya: self study; is a reminder to always take opportunities to learn, grow and understand ourselves. It is easy to react with our shame bodies when we make mistakes, or feel disconnected in some way. This radical self care practice instead reminds us that we are constantly learning our whole lives, and that we can continually reflect on our behaviour. Not in a judgemental beat ourselves up kind of way, but in a way that lovingly allows us to connect more closely to our expression of essence.
Ishvara Pranidhana: celebrate the divine is also a radical practice. Encouraging us to celebrate the divine, it does not prescribe any particular religion or world view, but instead invites us to celebrate the miracle of life itself. Rejoice that we are alive, that we are here, that we are part of the rich tapesty of life, with all our quirky foibles we are still pure, peaceful beings of light, capable of self awareness and self reflection. What a great thing to celebrate!
If we give time in the day to eat well, experience gratitude for what we have, to do the things we have to do with passion and enthusiasm, to always learn and celebrate the miracle of life, then we are caring for ourselves in a very deep way.
Thanks Patanjali for the reminder.
Think of water and tell yourself that you can follow its example. Yes, water, which is so transparent, so innocent, comes down to earth to absorb all the impurities of the creatures here. Then, one day, it merges with the ocean, and recovers its original purity. If you complain of being defiled, taken advantage of, and diminished, it is quite simply because you think of yourself as a pond, or even worse, a small puddle. Instead of identifying with a puddle, identify with the ocean and you will feel that nothing and no one can soil you. Omraam Mikhael Aivanhov
Saucha is the first of the Niyamas of the Yoga Sutras. While many think of Yamas and Niyamas as ethics, I prefer to think of these, especially Niyama, as radical self care reminders. Yoga is about living with awareness in our body. Many of the asana practices help with inner cleanliness, especially twists and practices that encourage heat in the body, but there are also a range of lifestyle and breathing practices for self care that promote inner purity. Here are some of my favourite lifestyle/Yogic Cleansing Practices for inner health and wellbeing.
Lemon and Ginger drink
This is usually how I start my day. I chop a small amount of fresh ginger, put it in a cup, cover it with boiling water, add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, steep for around 5 minutes and drink. Some people add honey, I don’t. I couldn’t imagine not having this refreshing drink in the morning, in the same way many people can't imagine going without coffee. Ginger contains gingerol, which possesses anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties and aids healthy cellular activity in the gastrointestinal tract. It also helps fight off colds and is great for your skin. Lemons contain high levels of potassium and vitamin C. They support your liver and kidneys in their job of flushing out toxins.
This is a great practice for cleaning the sinuses and keeping the mucus membrane of the nostrils healthy, which are one of our first lines of defence against illness. I practice this at the first sign of a cold. It requires a neti pot, which is a special container with a long spout. I can help you find one if you want to buy one, or one of my earliest yoga teachers suggested you could use one of those plastic refillable sauce bottles- but I haven't tried this! The practice uses warm salty water- as salty as tears and as warm as blood. Using the neti pot, pour the water through one nostril and let it come out the other. You need to be at the bathroom basin for this! Repeat on the other side. It is really important that you dry the nose carefully afterwards, a few rounds of Kabalabhati or Bellows breathing works well.
Pranayama, or breathing practices are great for creating clarity and focus to the mind and freeing us from anxiety and doubt. These are some of my favourite......
Nadi Shodhana -Alternate Nostril Breathing
This pranayama practice is also cleansing for the nostrils and sinuses, and I also find it really good at the onset of headaches. I use the deer mudra, first two finger of the right hand folded in to the palm. We close off the right nostril with the thumb, breath in through the left, close of the left nostril with the ring finger and breathe out through the right. Breathe in through the right, close this off again and breath out through the left. This is one round. Make sure you are sitting in a comfortable position with the spine upright, and do 6-12 rounds.
Kapalabhati (skull shining breath) and Bhastrika (Bellows breathing)
Both of these practices involve short forceful breathing. Kabhalabhati involves an active exhale while pumping the abdomen in. The inhale is completely passive, while in Bhastrika both the inhale and exhale are active, a bit like a bellows. I am not going to give instructions here, we will learn and practice these in class, or you could perhaps have an individual lesson to learn these. These are stimulating practices that can increase metabolism and ease feelings of sluggishness and congestion. Kapalabhati also helps the mind feel clear and calm, and is one of my favourite practices when I need a pick me up.
Asana, especially twists
From easy rest position on your back with the knees bent, take the arms out to the side. Inhale here in the centre, and as you exhale allow the legs to fall over to the left and your head to the right. Inhale back and exhale to the other side. This revolved lying twist will help massage your internal organs, especially digestive and reproductive organs. It can be especially helpful to do this before the above breathing practices. You can move with the breath, or just hang out on each side for a few breaths, letting your body ease into the pose. This is also a great pose to do while lying in bed, even when we are unwell and really dont think we can manage anything else!