I have now broadly covered all of the Yamas of the 8-limbed Ashtanga path in previous blog posts. This brings us now to the five Niyamas (observances), which require regular, intentional, day-to-day rituals, if you will. The philosophy of the Niyamas is that the "enemy" is not on the outside but on the inside, in the form of resistance, dysfunctional conditioned neural pathways and fears.
The first of the niyamas is sauca (pronounced sao'cha). Sauca translates to cleanliness or purity and involves purification of all of our 5 koshas: the energetic layers, bodies or sheaths that make up our being. The grossest (densest) layer is the Annamaya kosha or food body, the physical body we bath and feed every day. Next is a subtler layer, the Pranamaya kosha (breath body), followed by the Manomaya kosha (emotional and thinking body), followed by the Vijnanamaya kosha (intellect/intuitive body), and finally the most subtle layer, the Anandamaya kosha (bliss body). All five layers are very intimately connected and if something goes awry in one layer, it affects all of the other layers. The last place for dysregulation to show up is in the Annamaya kosha or physical body. Conventional medical doctors and allopathic medicine only (attempt to) treat the Anamaya kosha for chronic conditions.
However……., fortunately the Vedas teach us how to take care of and keep all five layers clean/pure, by means of the following practices:
💮 Anamaya kosha (physical body): we purify this layer through Asana (yoga postures), pranayama (breath control techniques) and through kriyas (purification techniques). Then of course, we can also purify and detox the physical body by means of our diet and lifestyle. So then what does a “clean diet” entail? One that has the least amount of toxins and the highest nutritional value. I can talk for hours on this but some guidelines include a) eating organic foods as far as possible, so as to avoid the toxins from pesticides and herbicides b) avoiding eating processed food and c) avoid heating and storing food in plastic containers, d) running our tap water through a good quality water filter to remove chlorine and other chemicals or collect water directly form a spring. Bottled spring water contains micro plastics we want to avoid, so try to refrain from drinking that as well. e) using natural toiletries, cosmetics and household cleaning products.
BUT we cannot avoid all toxins – just the air we breathe in the city and the synthetic clothes we wear contain toxins, which is why it is necessary to give our over-taxed livers a break and detox on a regular basis. This can either be a major detox, performed once, twice or 4 times a year, such as a week-long fast, or a specific eating plan. Or you may choose to do less intense, day-to-day detox rituals such as a) drinking 1 teaspoon honey and 1 teaspoon organic apple cider vinegar in a cup of warm water every morning upon wakening, to aid liver function, b) to do dry brushing before showering, where you take a natural bristle brush with a handle, and start at the feet, brushing all the way to your neck, using strokes towards the heart, where the lymph system drains and c) to work up a sweat or treat yourself to frequent saunas.
💮 Pranamaya kosha (breath body), we purify this layer also by means of pranayama and kriyas (book a session to learn these techniques).
💮 Manomaya kosha (emotional/mental body), we can purify it by doing a) karma yoga, or selfless service where we do something good for somebody, without expecting anything in return. The emotional body is also purified through b) letting go of toxic emotions, c) maintaining clear boundaries with all the people in your life, and d) chanting mantra, of which the simplest one is AUM.
💮 Vijnanamaya kosha (intellect/intuition body), we can purify it through a) satsang (being in the company of like-minded “conscious” people, b) through meditation, and c) through self-study (observing and coming to understand our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, values, ect).
💮 Anandamaya kosha (bliss body), this layer needs no purification as it is perfect by nature. However, by keeping the other layers fairly pure, we readily gain more access to this layer, which constitutes deep inner peace and joy, also known as sat-cit-ānanda—eternal knowledge and bliss.