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Here at Indi, we’ve dedicated 2019 to a monthly study of themes and topics from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali—specifically the Yamas and the Niyamas.  Having spent the first six months of 2019 focusing on the Yamas (social restraints, or observations of behavior in relationships) July marks the transition into a focus on the Niyamas (personal practices or self-discliplines.) 

The first of these, saucha, is a Sanskrit term translating to “cleanliness” or “purity,” though the concept can (and often is) expanded to include notions of clarity—which could relate to maintaining clarity of mind, or even to holding clear boundaries in our interactions with others. 

As I dive into thinking about saucha, is the topic of holding clear boundaries that draws my attention most urgently. I wondered at first if that wasn’t expanding the term a little too far—the Niyamas, after all, are about self-discipline, whereas boundaries are usually thought of as something we create in relationship to others. 

However. In thinking about the way healthy boundaries function…they are about self-discipline, first and foremost. This is what distinguishes a boundary from a rule. Where rules are usually made in an attempt to control someone else’s behavior, boundaries are about managing our own. 

Knowing where your boundaries are—and how to address the experience of having them crossed—is a practice which many of us find challenging, and perhaps deeply uncomfortable. It’s a practice which requires observing yourself, trusting yourself, and showing up as an ally to yourself—even when (or perhaps especially when) someone else feels upset by you doing it. 

The saucha aspect comes in, for me, in the form of a deep, clear, uncompromised remembrance that:

  1. I deserve to have boundaries. 
  2. My boundaries are worthy of respect from others. And 
  3. I can survive—even thrive!—in the wake of someone else being upset by my maintaining my boundaries. 

Clarity around boundaries supports integrity in keeping them. Clear-mindedness is a strong antidote to the swirling fear that can come up when we fear other people’s judgement or anger. Even the interpretation of saucha as “purity” has a place here—not in any sense of doing things perfectly, however. The practice of identifying and holding boundaries is often messy—and we must accept that some of the best learning on this topic will come from having made mistakes. Purity here might instead relate to a purity of direction—heading consistently into healthier territory, even if we stumble repeatedly along the way. 

The beauty of having clear thinking, clear understanding, and clear action regarding boundaries is that, though boundaries are often expressed as limits, they actually make more things possible. When we are clear about what we must say no to, we simultaneously get a stronger view of where we’re saying yes. 

We hope your yoga practice offers you all of this: the space to get clear with yourself, and the strength to create a life based on what you find within. This takes effort, and boatloads of compassion, both for ourselves and others. We will all fail sometimes. But when we can make room for each other, while enthusiastically inviting healthy boundaries to be held, the pure energy that propels us forward, together, can be astonishing. 

Much love and thanks for reading, 

Erin H/Indi Yoga