Taken three years ago, this picture still remains one of my favorites. This was the place I truly began a journey that would deepen my practice and the way I both exist in my own being and interact with those around me.
I wanted to begin a 10-week series where I will speak about the Yamas and the Niyamas, as they are the first two limbs of yoga according to Yoga Sutras of Patanjali in order to live a more purposeful life.
I have decided to start with the Niyama’s. Niyamas are the actions and duties we direct towards ourselves, the relationship we have within, and the interactions between our mind, our body, and our spirit. And for that reason, although it is the second, I always find myself compelled to begin here. I believe it is important to find peace within ourselves, so we can find peace with the external forces that surround us.
The first Niyama is Saucha (Sanskrit), or cleanliness. Although it seems obvious, there is much more than meets the eye here. Yes, of course it is important to maintain cleanliness of the home and of the physical body to our best ability. It allows us to navigate the world with less clutter, less baggage weighing us down, to feel refreshed in our bodies.
It is often I find in the abundance of meaningless things, those with sentimental value are often lost both literally and metaphorically, buried beneath heaps of meaningless objects that weigh the spirit down.
To address this first Niyama on a very literal level, I want you to consider something for a moment, without judgement of yourself or onto others, but only bringing a level of awareness.
Is your home ‘clean’ if the chemicals you use to do so fill the air we breathe and coat the surfaces we touch with harmful toxins? Is your hair and skin ‘clean’ if your shampoo and soaps are filled with ingredients that poison your body. Does clean strictly apply to making everything sparkly on the surface, regardless of the harmful effects?
Our idea of cleanliness in the west, like many other things, is picture perfect, and it is based in consumerism, the marketing of an unachievable ideal in all aspects of appearance to sell toxic products. We are, and rightfully so, worried about the farming practices of our food, but what about the toxic chemicals we bring into our own home? The ones we pay for to bleach the shower that we stand in to get ‘clean’.
Flawless, what a vacant notion to work towards. Nothing lived in, nothing with character is perfect or flawless. Look at scars, or laugh lines, or the height marks on the wall at our house growing up. That is where all the heart is, the real sparkle, and there is nothing unclean about it.
This all being said, it is not just what we use externally that Saucha is referring to, but also how we keep the temple of our body clean internally.
To begin, how do we nourish and keep our bodies clean beneath the surface? Do we fill our bodies with fuel that nourishes the temple that is the body, or do we fill it with processed food?
Do we fill our bodies with food that supports local farmers, to the best of our financial ability? Do we know the type of life the animal products that we are eating had, as we are eating their energy?
How is the food we eat affecting our environment? Are we making a positive or negative impact?
Are we putting unnecessary substances in our bodies that are poison, artificial chemicals, drugs, and yes, even alcohol?
This doesn’ttranslate to eating a raw, vegan, locally farmed diet, and never having another glass of wine. If that works for you both economically and in terms of health and lifestyle, wonderful. I know for myself that isn’t the case, but it is being mindful that are bodies are walking miracles, and we should treat them as so. It means practicing moderation, finding balance and overlap in what nourishes the body and what nourishes the soul.
Despite all this, I believe Saucha’s main purpose lies in purifying the relationship we have with ourselves by finding cleanliness in our minds and in our thoughts.
Do your thoughts towards yourself and towards others reflect a purified, peaceful mind? You can drink all the kale juice in the world and go to yoga twice a day, but if your reasoning behind it is directed by the ego, it will be very difficult to find peace and clarity.
There is a big difference between when we nourish our bodies with healthy food because we love them, because we want them to grow big and strong versus, when we enforce a strict diet of ‘healthy food’ because we hate our body, to punish it for overeating or for not looking a certain way. I put healthy food in quotes here, as with this mindset, I don’t believe that the food continues to be healthy but poisoned by our own self-loathing.
I speak from experience.
Do we go to the gym or yoga or kickboxing because it makes us feel empowered and strong and at peace, or do we go to punish ourselves for eating too much over the holidays? It is no coincidence that January in the busiest month at most fitness facilities.
Saucha encourages us to find a purification of the mind, to witness ourselves, our limitations, our strengths with non-judgement, to end the negative self-talk. Saucha encourages us to keep a clean inner space by witnessing the harmful commentary that goes on in our mind about ourselves and about others, and by witnessing it, realize that it is not our voice. It is the egos.
It is only in this purified state we can begin to realize the ideals founded in that commentary are forged, created by fear, created by those with ulterior motives. Created by agendas in the dark side of consumerism and politics and power who latched on to the ego, asthey never stood a chance to penetrate the spirit, and they damn well knew it.
The spirit is similar to your home. Just as those sentimental objects became buried underneath the heaps of meaningless objects, our inner fortitude, our purpose, our reason for being can become buried beneath shallow ideals of status and appearance and wealth. Some souls have very little to clean. Some may have much more to clean and may take longer to unbury it. Some may leave it buried forever.
But that is the miracle of the spirit, and of Saucha, unlike the sentimental objects, you can never truly lose your reason for being. It is never too late. It lives inside you always, even when it is unseen.
The light in me honors the light in you.