Friday, March 8, 2013

Saucha: Cleanliness & Purity

Before we begin our study of the second limb of yoga, niyama (personal observances), let us review the five facets of the first limb of yoga, yama (universal observances). The yamas acknowledge that we are social creatures living in a world full of other life forms. The five yamas invite us to see past our individual needs in order to consider the needs of the collective. Ahmisa (non-violence) turns us from harming self and others through the cultivation of kindness and compassion.  Satya (truthfulness) turns us from lies and half-truths to expressing our individuality and authenticity.  Asteya (non-stealing) turns us from theft to developing new skills and abilities.  Brahmacharya (non-excess) turns us from greed to a balanced appreciation of pleasure and joy.  Aparigraha (non-hoarding) turns us from attachment to intimacy without possession. These five universal disciplines form an inner compass that guides us into harmony and right relationship with the universe and its inhabitants.   The niyamas on the other hand develops our relationship with ourselves by shifting attention from a social focus to an internal focus through the study of five personal observances.

The first niyama, is saucha. The saucha is a twofold process that includes cleanliness and purity.  Cleanliness is a process of external scrubbing that affects our outer appearance. Purification cleanses our insides and affects our internal essence.

Often external cleanliness is defined by environment.  Soil outside the yoga studio is Mother Earth’s magic; inside the studio its just plain dirt!  The four walls of the studio create a boundary that defines it as safe and sacred space devoted to self-inquiry and study.  Cleanliness might manifest as studio etiquette that includes anything from a pre-practice hygiene regimen to “propasana,” the mindful replacement of props after class.  

Yogic philosophy places great emphasis on both external cleanliness and internal purification. Saucha is important in the yoga tradition because a great energy lies, mostly dormant, within each one of us.  This is the energy of consciousness or True Self.  We have all felt glimpses of this energy and long to linger in the residue of its movement.  I call them “ah-ha” moments.  My teacher, Richard Freeman, refers to them as aesthetic experiences: moments when beauty captures us in wonder; moments when love and gratitude fills our eyes with tears; moments when a deep sense of knowing guides us from within; moments when life-force electrifies the body; moments when contentment fills us with ease and well-being.  Yoga students spend a lifetime searching for enlightenment when in fact it is always here waiting, slightly obscured, and just beneath the surface of a very dusty awareness. Making ourselves available for these moments of Truth, is the work of saucha.  As we cleanse ourselves from the heaviness and clutter of physical and mental toxins we gain clarity and increase our ability to meet each moment with integrity and freshness.

Yogis have developed many elaborate purification practices many of which seem bizarre and uncomfortable by today’s standards.  Fortunately other, more approachable, purification practices exist. Yoga asana (posture), pranayama (breath techniques), dhyana (meditation) and the following of an ethical system such as the yamas and niyamas purify our vessel physically, mentally, emotionally and energetically. Cleansing need not be weird and extreme.  It can be as simple as drinking more water and setting aside quite time to process unfinished business. Cleansing also means being transparent with ourselves.  It means we neither hide nor cling to our thoughts and feelings so we are able to witness the fullness of the moment by allowing it to be as it is.  In her book "The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga's Ethical Practice," Deborah Adele offers, “ (saucha) asks us to subtract the illusions we impose on the moment, it also asks us to gather ourselves together so that our whole Self shows up.” Ultimately, saucha invites us to make full and honest contact with the moment so there is nothing lost and no regrets.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just spent a little too much time in front of the PC, but I am happy to finish it off with your blog. Now time for computer smog cleansing!! cheeers