Philosophy Series: Do You Have to Be Tidy To Be a Yogi?

NIYAMA: SAUCHA/SHAUCA

Meaning: Cleanliness/Purity

The Niyama ‘Saucha’ is often translated as ‘cleanliness’ or ‘purity’ and may cause alarm bells among us yogis that are missing the “tidying up” gene.

I am naturally a messy person. I often use the floor as my wardrobe and haven’t seen the bottom of my handbag for months due to the mounting debris of receipts, hand cream, roll-on calming balms, battered notebooks and just general and often unidentifiable mess.

But surely this won’t knock me off my path as a yoga student and teacher?

Yet this concept of “cleanliness” does persist in elements of yogic philosophy. The term Saucha/Shauca is often translated from Sanskrit as “cleanliness or purity”. It is the first of the Niyamas as outlined in Patanjali’s sutras – the ancient ‘guidelines’ said to govern a yogi’s behaviour. [this post is part of a series to accompany the yoga course running in Earlsfield].

It is a concept that can be interpreted many ways and you see the idea and belief in cleansing rituals thread throughout cultures and religions.

While it is perhaps hypocritical for me even attempt to advise you on tidying and cleaning techniques, I am going to at least try to give you some insight into this term.

You also see in current contemporary life the use of “clean eating” and “detox” as aspirational goals to attain. That somehow through deprivation and discipline we will unveil a better, more glorious version of ourselves.

I am going to steer clear from giving any advice on what ‘clean’ food you should be eating or making any unsubstantiated claims about the “detoxing” effects of yoga. This blog will endeavour to avoid the negative ramifications of labelling things “clean” vs “dirty” or “toxic”.

I do not think this terminology is that healthy or useful when it comes to diet or lifestyle.

For the purpose of this blog, I would rather interpret it as inviting us to consider what we can do to nourish ourselves? What helps us flourish?

This could relate to food, drink, or even the magazines and books we read? It could relate to our sleep and our interactions with others?

There is this idea in yoga philosophy that at the heart of who we are there is this spark of light and goodness.

Yet, this inner brilliance and love becomes shrouded by stuff and unnecessary baggage. This could be negative thoughts towards ourselves and the belief we are unworthy.

It could be that we fuel ourselves with food/media/friendships that don’t help us shine.

It could come down to the fact I probably would concentrate better when working on a writing deadline if I didn’t have to wade through so much paperwork and empty coffee cups on my desk every day. Hmm… perhaps tidiness could be of some benefit to me?

It is worth considering how Saucha applies to our lives and their interconnectedness with other people and our environment.

We could go on endless juice cleanses and have an immaculate home – but if we don’t also participate in maintaining the ‘cleanliness’ of our world – then it is all rather pointless – isn’t it? What is the point of being the perfect image of fasted health in the middle of a polluted toxic world?

Overusing our cars, not sorting out the recycling, or throwing litter on the floor are all actions that are not necessarily in line with this concept of “Saucha”.

I don’t think it is helpful to have a list of do’s and don’ts – particularly when it comes to diet and health. There are so many individual and societal circumstances to consider.

But I think yoga invites us to explore what is true and useful for us.

We are all capable of working out through experimentation and experience what helps us live a balanced life – both in terms of our physical and mental health and our relationship to others and the natural world.

The following are some ways you could put “saucha” into practice this week – perhaps you might have your own suggestions.

  • Create specific tidy corner in your home that you put aside for yoga/meditation or just for reading a book or for staring out the window time. Perhaps make it a tech-free zone? It could just be a tidy corner with a cushion!
  • Check in with your thoughts? Are you beating yourself up over something that really isn’t worth the energy?
  • Reduce your packaging for a week. Choose more loose vegetables? Buy less plastic-covered snacks (make your own at home if time?).

Let me know how you get on.

Right, I’m off to find out where we keep the hoover – I may be some time.

Background reading:

The Yogi Assignment – Kino MacGregor

Living the Sutras – Kelly DiNardo & Amy Pearce-Hayden

Yoga FAQ – Richard Rosen [This is a useful book if you want to dig a lot deeper into the roots of yoga. Some of the original interpretations of these philosophical terms don’t sit that easily with modern life – for example some translations of the sutras suggest Saucha is related to feeling “distaste” or even “disgust” for the body and our material world. Interpretation is everything – and there is always space for you to explore these ideas yourself]

This blog post is the third in a series exploring the Yamas and Niyamas set up in Patanjali’s sutras. To explore these themes in further depth – book onto this term’s classes at JIVA HEALTH in Earlsfield. 

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