Surely, given some of the promises of hatha yoga–health and longevity–making disease prevention into a spiritual practice would be efficacious.
It amazes me how few of my colleagues follow this simple tip, though there are signs everywhere. What would be a better motivator than scientific evidence that washing your hands well helps keep you healthy?
One of the yoga practices in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is sauca, which means cleanliness or purity. It does have a basic aspect of physical cleanliness, which has lead me this year to do an especially vigorous spring cleaning. I think following the principle of saucra also applies to the clarity of our intention for the practice of yoga: are we seeking to experience and act from a place of deep connection to spirit (or good or oneness or divine or whatever you name it)? In practicing sauca, I think the most basic question is whether we have dust on the mirror that reflects the good in ourselves obscuring our vision, whether there are blockages to the energy flowing to bring us to optimal physical and emotional health, or whether anything is getting in the way of our manifesting our intention?
When it has been too hot to go into the garden over the past month, I have been reorganizing and sorting through old papers. As a once every five or ten years spring cleaning, it is lasting longer than usual. I tend to be good about keeping on top of these things, but there are crevises of old records of my life that seem to just get stuck back into a folder to be decided on some other time. This afternoon I came across intimate letters from a friend who, not long after we went our separate what had become cross-continental ways with regret on both sides, discovered he had brain cancer. There were a few notes not in envelopes. I reread those, but did not open the envelopes. Back into the miscellaneous file until the next time. The same with the print-outs of emails to and from Peru right after 9/11. It wasn’t avoidance. Over time and distance, regret and grief have faded. I did not have the need or the time to read them now. They went back into the file because I am curious what will be my reaction to these documents when I am 87 should I be around in this body then. I find that when I see them after again more years have passed, I can see how much the yoga (asana and meditation) as a steady practice over time has shifted how I relate to my past, to all the decisions better or worse that brought me here today. I am more at peace with the various detours and convolutions for the teachings and the good at the time, even if they do not appear to have been squarely or most efficiently on the path.
Just as most of us have pieces of paper or things that for some reason get saved, but spend most of their time in a drawer or a file cabinet or a closet, we have thoughts and emotions around past experiences that can emerge into memory at what can seem to be the oddest of times. With a strong meditation practice, it can sometimes feel like we are cleaning out the closets of our mind. With a therapeutically focused asana practice, it can seem as though we have found old energetic entanglements, and it may feel that it would have been easier never to have practiced at all. If we stay steady and keep coming to class and our own practice, we witness how much change can be wrought. When we remember to bring our clear intention to the yoga mat, the meditation cushion, the garden and the kitchen, the laundry, work and commuting and everything we do, then we in an ever more refined and deepening way open to grace, the fundamental AnusaraR principle.
I am happy to let you know that I am now E-RYT 500. My spring cleaning on the physical level motivated me to do the paperwork with Yoga Alliance. My carrying the designation E-RYT 500 means that teachers taking my classes and workshops can get Yoga Alliance continuing education credits, in addition to Anusara study hours.
I am looking forward to studying with Christina Sell at Willow Street Yoga next weekend. Come join fellow yogis for what promises to be a joyously challenging weekend of classes. The following weekend, I head up to Vermont for the Anusara Grand Gathering. If you are going, let me know and we can try to connect.
Special June Location Information for William Penn House Classes: June 14 and 28, William Penn House will be completely taken over by conference groups. Class will be held at the house location. RSVP’s are required. For those who have been regulars, but who have been full up with other things in life than class, it is a sweet way to get back.
Hope to see you soon.
Peace and light,
My friend and Willow Street colleague Natalie Miller taught a lovely class on Monday night, using sauca as her theme. She said that she had recently read a book that described the yamas as things we do to be better persons, but that the niyamas were precepts for our spiritual practice to lead us better on the path. In that sense, she suggested, sauca is about clarity or purity of intention.
What I love about contemplating and practicing with these concepts is that they are so pregnant with meaning; they have so much to offer wherever we are in our life and on our individual path of spirit exploration. The more we contemplate and visit and practice and discuss, the more we will discover both about the meaning of the concept and about ourselves.
The first of Patanjali’s niyamas (part of the ethical precepts that are precursors to the practice of asana, pranayama, and meditation) is sauca — purity or cleanliness. The practice of sauca includes in it a literal exhortation to be physically clean. I think it also carries with it a sense of order, a cleaning out of physical, mental, and emotional clutter, so that we have more clarity. When we find more clarity, we can be more in the flow with the inexorable sequence of time and space.
Experiencing how we fit into the pulsation of time and space is one of the exquisite joys of gardening. This time of year, avid gardeners are eager to get int the garden, and it is tempting to get started to soon, to start new things without cleaning out the old. When we are more experienced (and know better the optimal sequencing of starting the garden with the shifting of the seasons), we also know that we might have gotten a few days in the 50s F, but it is still winter.
Emphasizing the practice of sauca now will serve the whole gardening season. When it is still cold, but the heart yearns for the garden, is the time to be planning, reorganizing, and cleaning to get ready for the days when it will stay warm enough for growing outside a cold frame or protected area. As I use a lot of containers, now is the time for me to see what containers need repairs, removal of perennials that did not make it through the winter, and new soil. It is the time to prune what is better pruned now than in the fall. This is not just trashing everything, but seeing what should be preserved, what should be repaired, what should be cleaned, and what should be discarded or given away. It is cleaning out what gets in the way of an optimal flow of energy to experience the greatest effulgence of nature. By practicing the cleaning and clearing out phase with intention and enthusiasm, I am present with the garden and also in sequence with the light and the temperature. In this way, just as I am when I practice these principles on the mat, I get the bliss of yoga.
When I googled (that should not be a verb) “holiday madness” this morning, I got one million three hundred thousand hits. Yikes! Most relevant websites are about surviving shopping, over-eating, family, and travel. Madness in such a situation is a choice. We can choose what to consume, how much, when, and with whom. It is a choice whether “celebration” requires consumption beyond what our financial, physical, and emotional means permit.
The yamas and niyamas as revealed by Patanjali provide beautiful structure for thinking about the holidays.
Ahimsa–non-harming. Don’t consume more than is harmful to yourself, those who have created what you are consuming, and the earth.
Satya — truthfulness. Be honest with yourself about what is right for you to celebrate and observe and what brings meaning to you as a holiday celebration.
Asteya — non-stealing. Consuming beyond your means, especially financially, is a form of stealing (look at what generated the recession).
Brahmacharya — moderation (aligning with Brahma). Enjoy the offerings of the earth in a way that uplifts rather than sickens or detracts from spirit and self.
Aparigraha — non-greediness; non-covetousness. Enjoy what you have without coveting or trying in a detrimental way to have what others have and you do not.
Sauca — cleanliness, purity. Consume in a way that is healthy for yourself and the planet, that does not create illness, refuse, and waste.
Samtosha — contentment. Wherever you are, whatever you have, whatever is going on in your work and family life, think of that for which you are grateful, that which brings you happiness, and focus on what you have. Contentment is a practice.
Tapas — fire, ardor. Be on fire to practice, to shift, to make this a life-fulfilling year of generosity and compassion.
Svadyaya — study of text, self-study. Take the holidays as an opportunity to deepen your understanding of yourself, society, and your spiritual beliefs and how they interrelate.
Ishvara pranadhana — surrender, recognition of the spirit. Let go a little. Surrender to a sense of fullness. Allow the abundance and recognize it as a wondrous gift. Remember the word “holiday” is really two words: “holy day.” Make this time holy, whether or not you observe a particular religious tradition at this time of year or any other.
I have noticed over the years that I sleep more deeply and peacefully if I have made the bed before getting into it again. Smoothing out the sheets and the covers and fluffing the pillows after waking, releases the energy of the dreams from the previous night. This helps make sure that each returning to sleep is a new experience, an opening to the possibility of entering a wonderful state.
The principle of sauca (cleanliness or purity) invites us to be clean and clear before and as part of our physical and meditative practice and all our living. Imagine trying to practice yoga on a dirty mat and going into savasana (corpse pose/final relaxation) on a tangled blanket. Would you think it possible to become deeply relaxed? Probably not. If we want our space smooth to lie down for a yoga pose, how could we not need the same for a good night’s sleep, for a planned visit to another state of consciousness?
It was wonderful to visit another city, to enjoy a change in climate and scenery, to see friends, and to study. I am happy to be home, though, even with the responsibilities and obligations. That I am always happy to come home from a trip away (even when I have gone to places perhaps more spectacular or interesting than where I live and met people who are able to do things that are outside of my reach) is one of the things that reminds me that my unassuming life suits me well enough. Part of this delight in coming home is my having for the past decade steadily practiced the principle of sauca or contentment.
I remember having a talk with a friend a number of years ago about practicing sauca. She expressed surprise that contentment could be a practice. She said she had always thought that happiness was something that just came to you. Happiness may come more easily to some than others, just as some are born with physical beauty or material comfort and others are not. It is my experience, though, assuming our basic needs are met, that by practicing sauca, we will be happier both with what we have chosen and what we have been given.