by Danielle Schubert
When translated, Saucha means purity or cleanliness. The first of the Niyamas - the internal code of conduct and second limb of Patanjali's Sutras - Saucha can be taken at face value.
Often we think of cleanliness as bathing our bodies or the never-ending mundane tasks (laundry, recycling, scouring our toilet). As the old adage goes, first impressions (and second) count, therefore we keep ourselves clean to respect not just those around us but also ourselves. No one loves to be downwind from a scent that evokes, well . . . let's just say the ripe heat of summer (I'm attempting to be polite here, bear with me). Students and teachers alike have all been in a class when a funky odor reaches us . . . hence taking Saucha to heart in the literal sense and scrub-a-dub-dubbing the day (and all that quality Asana-induced sweat) away.
On the flip side, we often become obsessive about our bodies, our image, and our living spaces. "You can't come over… I haven't cleaned my house. It's filthy!" One of the most common phrases I hear from friends and students alike is their worry that their busy lives and spaces (read: hot mess, real lives) may show in the toys on the floor, dishes in the sink and that laundry hamper that has almost made it to the machine five times today.
But what about your mind? Are the most important corners of the space that you reside in every day being cleaned and tidied? Is the garbage and toxic buildup of thoughts being emptied as fervently? Are the crevices of the "unseen" mind and depths of the body being laid aside so that the material world around us takes precedence and remains "perfect"?
News flash, Tribe, perfect doesn't exist and (hush, hush secret here . . . ) perfect is phenomenally BORING! You'll find perfect/normal as a cycle on the washing machine, which is the only place it should be.
Imagine walking around with a live camera of your literal dirty laundry airing out for everyone to see, and I mean EVERYONE. Each person you greet on the street and in your yoga studio. Your neighbors and friends (and non-friends) alike. You would probably hustle on home fast to clean, lest we be "judged" for a dirty or disorganized living space.
Now imagine that same big-screen HDTV following you around, but this time with the thoughts and images streaming from your mind. We'll call it "Oh-No Flix." There's a flash of the way you really talk to yourself and how you truly feel about your body. Maybe it shows the sadness you hide, or ego's fear to ask for help. Wouldn't we want to clean our minds and bodies the way we clean our spaces?
This is where a little help from our friends comes in. We often ask for help to keep our physical homes clean. It can take a village to maintain our jobs, care for kids and pets, maintain personal relationships and self-care . . . let alone to take out the garbage, stock the fridge or scrub last night's caked on eggplant parmesan crust (now I'm hungry, but what's new). And if those toxins in the house build up, well, it's a giant mess that will take longer to clean. No one wants a stinky house, let alone a smoldering mind.
We often need help to detoxify our minds, support our mental clarity and sanity. And like that extra pair of hands needed to dry the dishes, we should be able to ask freely without guilt or shame.
So when you think of Saucha and the peace of having purity and cleanliness, maybe we can look past the immediate and peel the layers off ourselves. Because a squeaky-clean floor and bathtub feel divine under the toes, but a clean mind and body is freedom and your due right.
Eat Clean, Think Clean, my friends.
Incorporate Saucha into Your Daily Life . . .
Week One: Take a look around your apartment or home. Observe without judgement. Does the space feel open and clean to you? Notice how much time you linger on certain areas or tasks?
Can you now apply that same honest observance to the thoughts in the mind? There's no need to follow the thoughts down the rabbit hole, but instead just observe and be curious about them.
Are there spaces that have been ignored both in the body and in your surroundings? Can you dedicate an even amount of time to the seen (house/apartment/tasks) and the unseen (mental health/meditation/permission to pause)?
Week Two: Are there spaces in your tangible life and your mental space that parallel one another? We often shy away from the uncomfortable, but we are made to do hard things. Maybe by leaning into and paying attention to what isn't serving you (waiting too long to do laundry, over-scheduling your day, missing self-care) you can begin to choose the road that feels the best both inside and out.
Week Three: What does cleanliness mean to you? Picture your living or workspace (maybe your car if you have one) the way you desire it to be. See the light that bounces off the openness and the relaxation that follows in the physical body.
Now picture the same for the mind. What does it look like uncluttered? What does it look like when the open doors and windows of yesteryear have been gently closed and the floors swept clean of yesterday's work? Can you see today and the peace that comes with it? Feel the body fill with the warmth, light and peace you feel as the mind clutter separates from the current moment. Don't forget to breathe.
Week Four: We all want balance (even when we're not seeking it). Work and play. Rest and wakefulness. Ease and engagement. Now that your month has been filled with emotional, mental and physical cleanliness, how do the scales balance? Do they need to be reset? Don't be afraid to dedicate more time to the emotional state of your being, as the physical will always follow.
Incorporate Saucha into Your Yoga Practice . . .
Looking for even more ways to incorporate Saucha into your yoga practice and daily life? Each Niyama has a pose (asana) and hand gestures or shapes (mudras) associated with it as well as a mantra (sanskrit phrases or prayers). Try practicing the pose or the mudra while thinking about Saucha or while repeating or chanting the mantra.
The asana associated with Saucha is Legs Up the Wall or Viparita Karani.
This pose is often considered to be the most passive inversion; it can be practiced in a sequence, near the end as an alternative savasana, or on it’s own to reset the mind, body, soul and spirit. Sit on the floor and wiggle your seat as close as possible to the base of the wall. From there lie on your back and swing your legs up onto the wall with your feet toward the ceiling. The knees should be soft with zero tension in your hamstrings. Your legs will align directly above your hips. Your legs should feel weightless, your back relaxed and maintaining the natural curves of the spine. This asana facilitates the drainage of the lymphatic system and helps purify the body while boosting your immune system. Stay here for 5-8 breaths or as long as necessary to relax, restore and cleanse the mind from distracting thoughts and judgements.
The mudra associated with Saucha is Tattva mudra.
Spin your palms open toward the ceiling and place your thumbs against your palms resting your thumb pads on the knuckle pad of your ring finger; let your four fingers rest softly together. This hand gesture symbolizes the true nature of our Self, that our authentic essence is unchanging. We are, in our fundamental selves, pure and whole.
The mantra associated with Saucha is “Om aim hridayam namaha.” Hridaya means spiritual heart, or heart center. Use this mantra to focus on bringing awareness to, and then building heat to burn through, whatever blocks you from recognizing your true, unchanging, authentic, whole, Self.
Next month we’ll cover the second Niyama of Santosha or contentment/satisfaction.
Copyright 2019, Metta Yoga LLC