I just returned from a Yoga Retreat on the beautiful grounds of the Kashi Ashram in Sebastian, FL and while it was lovely in all the ways, I found myself returning feeling lighter, more connected. We moved our bodies just as much as we meditated and savored delicious foods just as much as we savored the purity of such a spiritual place. The whole experience reminded me of a BKS Iyengar quote, “The body is your temple. Keep it pure and clean for your soul to reside in.” Isn’t that exactly what a retreat should do? Clear things out and make some space? I think so and this one in particular was clearing and cleaning in all the ways …basically it was an intense practice of saucha.
In yoga, we have the yamas and the niyamas which are ethical guidelines for life from Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga. The five yamas relate to how we respond to the world around us and the five niyamas are related to personal practices including the very one Mr. Iyengar alludes to. Saucha is the first niyama that can be translated as “cleanliness” or “purity.” It’s an intention that can help shape our yoga practice, our day, and our life.
First though, let me be clear that although saucha translates to purity, part of saucha is recognizing that we all have inherent goodness or purity, despite typical impurities we would turn away from. These impurities can be physical or mental but a really clear one is that, we all crap. Now hopefully that wasn’t news to anyone but because of this (and other things), none of us is any better than another. And sure, what we put into our bodies and how active we are can change our poo situation and make things “better” but judging someone for not doing the same (even if it’s terrible for their GI system and overall health) would be going against saucha of the mind. It’s a practice. 😉 PS: I like the poo example because it has a real way of putting things into perspective!
SO how do we practice cleanliness? First, accept the dichotomy that we are inherently good and there is nothing we need to change to be a better human. However, there are things that we can do as a human to live life fuller and if we have the awareness of such things, we should walk on …
Intentionality – Whether you show up for a 30 minute yoga session, a brisk walk/jog, or a meditation, it’s important in how you show up. If you intentionally direct your energy into the present moment or present activity, the results will come faster than if you distract yourself with your phone/computer/neighbor. Intentionally do whatever you are doing to find more clarity.
Environment – I remember learning in my first yoga teacher training that our environment often reflects our state of mind. So if our bedrooms/homes are messy, our minds tend to be messy and cluttered too. If we can learn to let go of possessions and clutter while simultaneously clearing the dust and dirt, it can give us a spacious feeling that helps clear our minds as well. Think about your activity space too – if you go to a sweaty smelly gym, it likely impacts how refreshed you feel at the end.
Daily hygiene – I feel like this is obvious but think about how when someone is suffering from depression, showering/bathing can pushed to the back burner. Aside from staying clean, it’s a sense of self-respect and I like to think of showering as a physical way to wash away something that no longer serves me. It may be as simple as, “I’m letting go of yesterday, today is a new day.” Water in and of itself has a very renewal property to it, so don’t deny yourself the shower (even if staying in your PJs sounds great!)…
Nourishment – From a very basic level, think about this…if the food we consume has a lot of preservatives, additives, pesticides, our body still absorbs those impurities. Sure, it’s not possible to only eat organic or only eat unprocessed foods, and I don’t even think that’s how we were designed to live this life. As if we create food rules or body expectations, it creates unnecessary pressure that steals from our joy. Eating food involves so many ins and out (that I adore!) but at the end of the day, we can have knowledge and awareness of what we’re consuming (and why) while making conscious choices to support a happy and healthy body/mind/spirt. That balance is nourishment.
Mind – Oh yes. The mind. Cleanliness here doesn’t mean that we only think about good things all the time. That’s ridiculous and unrealistic. Rather, saucha of the mind is an invitation to choose how respond to thoughts and the world around us. Where energy goes, intention flows. The thoughts you allow to bubble up again and again become your actions. What do those thoughts look like and can you change them into something that’s more positive or more productive? ….Undoubtedly managing thoughts takes practice (then some more practice). The realization here is that the mind is a powerful tool and if we can get our minds under management, our thoughts can become more powerful and positively impactful to our inner landscape and the world around us. We can’t control what goes on around us, but we can control how we respond (ideally with respect and kindness 😉 ).
Saucha is not about radically trying to conquer an ideal or be a certain way to be “clean.” It’s about directing conscious awareness into a space that drives choice and over time, why we do what we do and how we do it becomes clear and more impactful.
Now, I must say, aside from a clear head space, a happy belly, and a more spacious feeling from the yoga retreat, it also inspired me in other ways. For quite awhile now, I’ve wanted to launch a yoga + nutrition + mindfulness program inspired by saucha and the current time of year. It’s like spring cleaning your life but with actions that work. It’s intentionally designed for busy people who don’t have much time but want to cultivate real change and a deeper sense of well being. Simple yoga sequence videos for the beginner to inspired yogi. Nutrition that focuses on seasonal shifts. Short guided meditations. AND goodies I’m going to MAIL you because it’s important to connect in other ways than staying focused on our screens.
Stay tuned and comment below with any feedback/questions/comments you may have about saucha or the saucha inspired program with a TBD name 😉
Hugs and Gratitude,