Sunday, June 05, 2005

Clean Mouth, Pure Heart

I saw a cool ad on the TV today. Of all things, it was for a fancy toothbrush, a Sonicare (TM).

The ad was basically a woman, in front of a beautiful buiding, doing a headstand (sirsasana), facing the camera.

headstand, sirsasana, from photos.htm Posted by Hello

The camera pans all over her body as she moves from one variation of the pose to another. First her feet go wide apart in the splits. Then she brigns the soles of her feet together, as in bound angle pose (baddha konasana).

another variation on sirsasana from Posted by Hello

variation on sirsasana from Posted by Hello

Then the camera zooms in tight on her face. While she balances on one elbow, she reaches out with the other hand and grabs her Sonicare(TM) device.

The ad winds up with the voice-over announcing that "The mouth is the gateway to the body."

Like Forrest Gump, "I'm not a smart man." But I think maybe they're trying to tell us that people who are willing to do yoga to take care of their bodies probably should be willing to use Sonicare(TM) to keep their mouths clean, since...the mouth is the gateway to the body.

I found this lovely quote from the Dean of the USC School of Dentistry about the gateway in question. He says, "As the gateway to the body, a constant barrage of invaders - viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi - challenges the mouth." Pleasant.

The ancient yogis valued a pure body and prescribed many cleansing techniques to prepare the body for the proper flow of energy. These cleansing techniques include specific practices for the eyes, ears, nose, throat and beyond. Let's not forget the teeth, and tongue too. They were way ahead of Sonicare(TM).

But some of these practices, like yoga, aren't simply adopted under ordinary life circumstances. They must be taught by an experienced guide and learned by a dedicated student. The Gheranda Samhita says that some of these cleansing techniques "are difficult even for the gods to obtain."

But wait! The mouth is not just a gateway to the body, it's also a gateway from the body. And from the soul, too.

The Christian scriptures say, "...for the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart." (Matthew 12:34)

Pretty simple idea. Whatever is inside of you, often comes out of the mouth.

In the world of law, there is a rule of evidence based on what's called an "excited utterance." It basically recognizes that under certain circumstances (like immediately after a car wreck), we don't edit our words. What comes out is the unvarnished truth.

I'll point out three things Patanjali teaches in the YogaSutras that call us to make sure that what comes out of our mouths is pure, too.

Patanjali tells us about the eight-limbed path of yoga (ashtanga), the first two of which are yamas and niyamas. Yamas are restrctions, actions you shouldn't do (II.30). Niyamas are observations, practices you should cultivate (II.32).

The "mother of all yamas" is ahimsa. It means non-harming. (II.35) If your words are harmful, Patanjali says we should pay as much attention to those as our headstands.

The second yama is satya. (II.36) It's not unlike the 9th commandment,"thou shalt not lie." Tell the truth.

The third principle is saucha, purity. (II.40-41) Patanjali asks us to be pure. Pure in thoughts, speech and action.

I think that's easy to say and hard to do. But the other niyamas give us a clue about what we might to be purer in speech.

1) tapas, cultivate fiery discipline, work consitently and with dedication to develop mastery;
2) svadhyaya, self-study, pay attention to yourself, be aware, remember your commitments;
3) isvara pranidanah, dedication to the Lord, dedicate all your practices to the Divine, and then trust; and
4) samtosha, be content; do you work, trust God and be content with the results.

Yoga is a complete lifestyle that works from the inside, not just on the body. But we all know that if you really want to work with your body you must cultivate qualities that can't be measured by your ability to touch your toes.

Think about your New Year's resolution to exercise or lose weight. Following through with that resolution has little to do with your body and much to do with the niyamas.

Don't just read about it. Get up. Experience it. Experience yoga!

Kevin Perry

p.s., I want to say a special hello to all of the yogis I met at the Yoga Journal Conference in Wisconsin a few weeks ago, many of whom will be reading my Daily Yoga Tip for the first time today. Thank you for subscribing.

p.p.s., Speaking of excited utterances...I'm excited about the Experience Sanskrit workshop we're doing in St. Louis on June 25th at YogaSource. Sign up today at

Copyright 2005. All rights reserved, Mo Yoga LLC.


Blogger Cranky Ol' Lady said...

Funny, I just saw that same commercial today. Beautiful photography, exquisite grace and flow of movement. I do love my Sonicare, but what a letdown from grace to marketing!

1:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Kevin, I just want to thank you for dropping by my site to say hi... I am very glad to have found your site, especially since I have been unable to find a good yoga class over here in Japan as of yet... in the absence of class feedback, it's been a pleasure to have your musings to inspire my practice. Thankyou!

9:02 AM  

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