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The Niyamas | Saucha | Cleaning and Cleansing

As I spend more time on my mat, I realise it’s a relationship. And when I get disheartened, lost, frustrated, and even ask myself ‘why’. I come back to the core reason of stepping onto the mat. And that’s often found, for me, in the philosophy. It was where I started to truly heal, learn about myself and make positive changes in my life to help me feel better, stronger, safer, healed.

So, I thought I’d add some blog post that reflect what I’m teaching in class in the studio. There won’t necessarily be a structure, I tend to call upon any of the eight limbs or chakras if they reflect what I feel we, as a class, need to focus on that week.

I landed on Saucha, which often translates as ‘cleanliness’, the first Niyama, of the second limb of Patanjali’s yoga sutras.

I first thought of mental health, when we feel low, our cleanliness might faulter. If we think of being clean, it is an act of love. Washing our hair, putting lotion or oil on tired legs, exfoliating our rosy cheeks… the idea of cleaning away the old and feeling fresh and new.

There is also some effort here, I don’t know if it’s just me, but I find doing a daily self-massage (abhyanga in Ayurvedic tradition) really rather strenuous! But worth it, if you can find the time.

I also picked this subject, after an August that might have been rather unstructured, perhaps less water was consumed and some nutrition or exercise neglected, it’s a really good time to step into September, with a little more discipline(this is Tapas, a whole other limb so I won’t go into too much here) so we can feel refreshed, clear and clean.

I always feel we have to tread ever so carefully around these subjects, the last thing I want to do is to make anyone feel shame, or like there are even more things ‘to do’. But the simplest way is to look at it like energy.

Energy can get blocked, tight, restricted, and stagnant. This idea of cleanliness is clearing this old energy from the body.

Imagine walking through a wood, and you find a stream, it’s running smoothly, cool to the touch, and clear, but near the end of your view there’s a build up, of waste, branches, and piles of old dry leaves, you investigate to find a collection of pebbles has been built up to make a damn. Let’s say each pebble represents an emotion, thought, muscle pain/tension, or spiritual block. You slowly lift the pebbles, some are light and some are really heavy, you might have to try a few times before it budges, but then the water starts to trickle again, slowly at first, then a clear path is created allowing new clear water to tumble forth, at this moment you might woop with joy, or possible jump in the stream to cool your feet.

Anyway, you get the idea.

Every thought becomes an action and each action creates the life you are in. Again, I say this within the confines of living in a capitalist society that on the whole is sick. Not all of us can free ourselves by learning to manage the mind. But that’s a whole other conversation, but I do feel I need to say it from time to time.

Well, that’s my philosophical take on Saucha.

But a more practical way of learning about this limb, is that Patanjali put the Yama’s and the Niyama’s before the Asana practice, so we step on the mat with more clarity, discipline, and passion.

Traditional texts would talk about impurities, another area we have to linger around with some compassion and caution. I try not to step into the realm of naming things or habits as bad or good, but I’m sure you can think of an action or habit that does not serve you, might make you feel tired, sluggish, or anxious. I’ll share it here with you, for me, one might be sugar. I don’t have an overly sweet tooth, but when I get tired, anxious, and emotionally drained I’ll reach for a biscuit or two. I’m not going to wash myself with shame for this, but I can notice that it makes me feel worse, makes my skin break out and my jeans a bit tighter. It is then my choice to notice and observe, what can I do about this, and whether I do it from a place of passion rather than shame and self-ridicule. So this might be a habit I can choose to change, through the eight-limb practice. We carry the eight limbs from the mat into life. So, my point is that we might call this an impurity, something that needs to be cleaned or cleansed, so we can deepen our yoga practice.

In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, there’s a series of cleansing techniques or shatkarmas, I did a few in India, you can try a neti pot, or Kappalabhati breathing, Nauli (abdominal massage).

Other ideas that feel more accessible:

· Saucha at home: Tidy cupboards, spring clean your wardrobe, dust behind the sofa. A clean and tidy home can feel really good. Creating clarity and order.

· Saucha at work: tidy your desk, organise photos, sort through your inbox (eek this might take a minute!). But again, the mental clarity and clean feeling will be felt!

· Saucha in your diet: If foods contain lots of preservatives, additives, and pesticides, our bodies must work hard to detoxify and eliminate these unnatural chemicals before even being able to absorb the goodness from what we eat and drink. Not everyone can afford organic, but if you up your veggies intake, your body and system will be Saucha-fied!

· Saucha the mind: take time to practice mindfulness, find compassion for your thoughts, notice the energy and weight of your thoughts, catch them with kindness and breathe them away.

· Saucha of loneliness: This is an extra JoJo addition, If things are really hard, reach out and ask to talk to a friend or therapist, there’s a lightness that comes when we voice what’s happening, sharing it and asking for help. I think this is a kind of cleaning, when things are left inside for us to fight on our own, it can feel heavy, dirty, and so far from fresh. Think of those pebbles again in the stream, perhaps there’s a rock or two that are too heavy to lift on your own.

So for now, that’s Saucha. Let me know your thoughts on this, and please Subscribe to stay up to date or get the app for automated updates.

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