During the fall and early winter (because winter has an early part, a later part, and a "where is spring?" part here in the upper midwest), we explored the Yamas of yoga in our weekly blog posts. As a reminder, Patanjali, the yogi sage from a couple thousand years ago, taught them as five "constraints" that will reveal our true nature to ourselves. The Yamas are sort of thought of as "do nots." On that 8-faceted path of yoga, the Yamas come first, and Asana comes third (the poses and flows of yoga). In between, comes the 2nd path......the Niyamas.
The Niyamas are constructive tools for cultivating happiness and confidence. That is how Yoga International (.com) describes the Niyamas, and it was so perfect for our purposes here, that I chose to use their definition. We all have daily opportunities to practice the Niyamas to benefit ourselves, those around us, and the world at large. The trick is to recognize those opportunities and to act on them. The Niyamas can really lead us on a "happy trail" if we pursue the five habits for daily living that they represent.
The first of the Niyamas is Saucha, Sanskrit for cleanliness. Saucha is a pretty big umbrella that involves cleanliness of body, spirit, and mind. The idea is to work toward purity in our lives in order to be able to maintain a more tranquil state of meditation. Even if you don't meditate, the peace and calm that Saucha promotes can benefit us all. It has been said that Saucha is one of the primary aims of yoga.
I was thinking about Saucha the other day during a wonderful yoga class that I had the opportunity to take from my yoga teacher Mara Campbell. As I rolled up my mat, I noticed that it wasn't as clean as it could be. I've used it outdoors, and there were still some old stains from grass and soil. Your yoga mat is your space. It's like a rectangular-shaped sacred nest to grow, contemplate, and work things out. Stepping on someone else's mat while it's unrolled for yoga practice is a personal invasion. When your yoga mat is dirty, your practice can feel lacking. In keeping with Saucha, I went home and gave my mat a good soak. The fresh and clean quality of my yoga mat just makes me feel better about practicing on it.
During college, I had to have a neat and clean dorm room or apartment before I could sit down to write a paper. I had never heard of Saucha back then, but I knew that my mind felt cluttered if my space was cluttered. It rings true. My college apartments (and early professional life apartments) weren't what you would call beautiful. They were old and dingy. However, keeping them clean made them feel prettier and lighter to me. As a result, while I was home, I felt more organized and just more at ease in general. I felt like I was in my own little haven.
Besides keeping our personal and professional spaces neat and clean, another way to promote Saucha in our lives is by being kinder with our thoughts. Thinking more along the lines of "the glass is half full" (rather than half empty) and promoting positive thoughts in our lives is practicing Saucha too. I'll even go further and suggest that you try to go for the glass being more full and and containing a chocolate milkshake or something equally delicious. There's a lightness in positive thinking that can encourage us to carry more joy and less emotional junk.
Saucha encourages us to make mindful choices about what food we put into our bodies, what ideologies we choose to embrace, and how to spend our time. As your body embraces Saucha, there is a benefit of greater health. As the mind embraces Saucha, there is more clarity, peace, and happiness within us.
Here are a yoga pose and a mudra to help with your quest for Saucha:
This is the Lotus Mudra. Aidan was kind enough to demonstrate it for us. This mudra is intended to detoxify the body and mind. Breathe mindfully with equally-lengthed inhales and exhales while you practice it. You could easily do this mudra while practicing the pose below.
Legs up the wall is a great pose. It helps us with our circulation, reduces swelling, aids in digestion, and is calming for the nervous system. This pose offers the benefits of an inversion without turning yourself upside down. Place a cushion underneath your sacrum (that flat part of your low back) to increase the health benefits and comfort level. Delaney is demonstrating the pose as a mermaid.....so this variation can be called "Mermaid Tail Up the Wall." Very intermediate level :)
I hope you enjoy a little contemplation on Saucha this week. See you next week!