This is part 6 of a 10 part series that I'll be posting. Each post will be discussing one of the yamas or niyamas, which form the foundation of a yoga practice. To provide a little background: the path of yoga was described about 2000 years ago by Patanjali, in the Yoga Sutras- one of the most important texts on yoga. Here, Patanjali laid out the 8 limbed path of yoga. This means that there are 8 stages of yoga, starting with the simplest and moving to the most advanced. The 8th limb is Samadhi, which is enlightenment, aka when you become One with the universe. We can't just skip to limb number 8, however. We've gotta start with the basics. These days, we tend to jump right in at the third limb of yoga: asana (aka. the physical postures). Maybe we'll also dabble in the 4th limb, pranayama (conscious breathing, and control/ manipulation of breath). Unfortunately, we tend to skip right over the first two limbs: the Yamas, and the Niyamas. The Yamas are the 5 restraints; the things we should avoid, in order to be good yogis, and decent human beings. The Niyamas are the 5 observances; the qualities we should cultivate, in terms of how we treat ourselves. Each of the Yamas and Niyamas has important lessons to teach us, both on and off the mat. Here are my thoughts on each one.
OK, so have a shower, and you’re good to go.
Well, actually, it is a little more involved than that. Saucha does refer, in part, to the way we take care of our physical bodies. It’s an encouragement to take good care of yourself - bathe, brush your teeth, all those basics. Nobody likes to be stinky. Wear clean clothes that are comfortable, that make you feel good, and that are appropriate for whatever you’re doing. If you spend a lot of time barefoot, then please… cut your toenails, and scrub up your feet. Sometimes your yoga teacher will have to touch them, you know?
We should strive to keep not just our external bodies clean, but our inner selves sparkly and fresh too. What we eat is hugely important. These days grocery store shelves are absolutely overflowing with processed, chemical-laden, factory-produced “food” which really doesn’t belong in anyone’s bodies. Mother Nature has done an excellent job of allowing delicious, healthy, bountiful food to evolve, so we should really eat it. I’m really quite passionate about food and nutrition (more blogs on that to come). It’s a hot topic these days, but I actually think the whole thing is quite simple: eat natural things, and violate ahimsa as rarely as possible. When we eat a diet composed of mostly fruits, veggies, legumes, beans, seeds, and nuts, we’ll be keeping ourselves clean from the inside out.
To observe saucha we must also take care of our physical environments. I find it really hard to be productive or calm if my house is a big ol’ mess. I also think it’s a sign of respect to myself, my partner, and even my cats to keep the dishes done, the floor swept, the bed made, and the litter box clean. Keeping your living space (and your work space, and your car) tidy also shows that you’re attuned to your physical environment, and are aware of what’s going on around you. Of course, a big part of the yoga practice is to cultivate presence, and taking the time to clean up after yourself is definitely a part of being present, and tuned in to your surroundings.
I’m very lucky to work at a beautiful yoga sala here on Koh Tao. One of the things I love about it is that we (the teachers) are the only staff who work at Shambhala. So, the responsibility to keep the sala clean is ours, and it’s a job I really enjoy. I love arriving at the sala well before class starts and having it to myself as I sweep, water plants, lay out mats, put fresh flowers on the altar, etc.. Every month or so my boss (who happens to be one of my best friends) and I give Shambhala a good scrub; we get together and play some disco, have good talks, and clean from top to bottom and inside out. It’s kind of a bonding experience, with each other and with the sala, and gives us a chance to take care of the place that takes such good care of us, as well as all the yogis who join us for practice.
When we teach, we always make sure the mats are neatly arranged so everyone has enough space, and yogis organize their props so they are easy to reach but out of their way, and after class everyone works together to put everything back neatly. Keeping the sala tidy during classes is practical, as we’re not tripping all over each other and our stuff. More than that, though, it’s a good way of keeping the energy flowing in an organized way, and letting us focus on our practice.
The time we spend in asana practice is a perfect opportunity to cultivate saucha, physically as well as on a deeper level. We practice keeping our energy focused, rather than shooting out messy vibes all over the place. We do this by staying connected to our breath, and using the breath to anchor us into our bodies. When we get distraced and our minds start to get tangled up, we can just come back to the breath, and therefore back into the moment. The asanas are very cleansing as well - detoxifying, realigning, oxygenating, and calming our bodies. This is why we feel so damn good after yoga!
By taking the time to take good care of ourselves, and our environments, through upholding saucha we start to create positive energy flow, and an atmosphere of respect, which sets us up for success not only in our yoga practice, but in our lives off the mat as well.