“Through cleanliness and purity of body and mind (shaucha), one develops an attitude of distancing, or disinterest towards one’s own body, and becomes disinclined towards contacting the bodies of others.” ~ Yoga Sutra 2.40
Embedded in Patanjali’s second limb of yoga, saucha, or cleanliness and purity, is the one niyama that seems easiest to grasp.
After all, we have often heard that “cleanliness is next to godliness.” At its most rudimentary understanding, saucha is about proper personal hygiene and making sure we keep our living space uncluttered.
But if we take a more profound look into saucha, it extends deeper than its superficial application that most of us learn in our yoga teacher training.
Swami Sivananda spoke of two types of saucha: external and internal.
It is the external saucha that motivates us to take our daily shower, brush our teeth, and keep a clean living and work space. The practice of external saucha is the harbinger of internal saucha, which is more profound and has deeper implications.
This internal saucha is harder to practice because it is more deeply connected to our internal desires and our ego, requiring extensive behavioral changes. Some of these changes require altering behavior that is deeply engrained in our psyche since birth and embedded in our culture; therefore, an understanding and practice of vairagya (detachment, dispassion, and renunciation) and/or brahmacharya are almost imperative if we are to make any progress in this ever-changing and evolving practice of saucha.
Moving us to a higher state of consciousness in our yoga practice, internal saucha is intimidating and even threatening, requiring major behavioral changes. Its practice requires us to eradicate the external temptations that are so hard to release and that so many of us are unwilling or struggling to release.
What are vairagya and brahmacharya?
Vairagya is nonattachment, dispassion, detachment, and “indifference to sensual enjoyment.” It is the opposite of raga, or attachment to worldly things. The more attached we are to those things that bring us pleasure, the more likely we are to clutter our physical and mind space with those things we don’t really need, but desire. In addition, once we are attached to objects, the more likely we are to suffer in their absence. Therefore, the more we practice vairagya, the less likely we are to suffer.
Brahmacharya is one of the yamas, the first limb of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. In its purest form, brahmachaya is “absolute freedom from sexual thoughts and desires.” However, in the West, it has come to refer to non-gluttony and avoidance of overindulgence of food, drink, exercise, and even sex. Brahmacharya and saucha are very closely connected, and we cannot have one without the other.
In many ways, vairagya is connected to the practice of brahmacharya but goes one step further. While brahmacharya implies moderation versus excess, vairagya is the complete detachment from those things that bring us pleasure. For most of us, vairagya may be too much too soon; therefore, brahmachaya is a stepping stone to the more extreme nature of vairagya. Making polar and sudden changes in our lives too soon may lessen our chances of success when we are trying to incorporate more saucha into our lives.
Either way, both of these practices can help understand and ignite the practices of internal saucha. The ways that we can declutter our inner spaces and help motivate us are connected to the way we spend our time and thoughts. Even the way we use language and our sleeping habits can be connected to how successful we are in finding our internal saucha.
The saucha of language—clean thoughts lead to a clean mouth:
What comes out of our mouth in the form of communication is a direct result of our mental state and a clean or cluttered mind. Positive and pure thoughts yield positive speech and negative and unclean thoughts yield negative speech.
If someone remains in a constant state of confusion, he cannot organize his thoughts well enough to communicate effectively and could create chaos and confusion for others. In addition, negative and impure thoughts can lead to language that pollutes the air and creates negative energy around us.
We’ve all been around the negative thinker and talker who is constantly spewing profanity, negative self-talk, and constant criticism of others. In reality, these people are sometimes the worst polluters of all.
These energy suckers have a profound effect on us all. They interfere with our positive attitudes, and we can even find ourselves falling into their bad habits.
Perhaps the most authentic assessment of all in regard to negative speech is to ask ourselves if we are engaging in behavior that interferes with another’s sense of peace. Do we delight in hearing and voicing negativity? If so, it is time to make an honest evaluation about how our speech is polluting the world around us.
Attachment to drama and conflict is one of the first ways to interfere with our serenity and that of others. Let go of the sense of satisfaction that comes from hearing and speaking of another’s misfortunes. Divert that energy to more positive endeavors like helping others, engaging in a productive hobby, and signing up for an online course to start to change your thought patterns. The result will be more positivity. Some good advice is to use words sparingly. If they aren’t going to produce something positive, refrain.
The saucha of technology—limit social media and news:
We are bombarded daily with technology. From social media to 24-hour access to news in our global society, we are joined at the hip with technology, resulting in constant over-stimulation.
The prodigious amount of information we take in daily is bound to send our brains into overtime and overdrive, not to mention that much of the information we process is often faulty and not credible.
One of the major problems with overstimulation from media is that we begin to skew the lines between what is reality and what is someone else’s perceived reality. In addition, social media has created opportunities for us all to showcase our negative behavior, thought patterns, and speech. How easy it is to get drawn into a conflict or argument on social media, spending countless minutes or even hours engaged in negative conversation. By shutting off or at least limiting media, especially social media, we can begin to slow down and take the time to live in the present moment.
The saucha of relationships—tell some people goodbye:
One of the hardest practices in saucha is releasing people who are simply bad for us.
This could be the person who is constantly speaking negatively of others, borrowing money from us, never to pay us back, or even those people who steal our time by being chronically late. Sooner or later, we must learn to detach from them.
This process can be especially painful when our emotions are involved and attachment is strong and long-standing. And while the initial phases of disconnect may be painful, over time, we will find greater stability and comfort not having them in our lives or at least limiting the impact they have on us.
This process can be even more difficult when the offending party is a family member; after all, we are bound to family by blood. Letting others go doesn’t mean that we don’t love them or we won’t help them if a sincere need arises in the future. Letting go simply prevents them from occupying valuable space and time to the degree that they have. Decluttering and detaching in this sense are gifts to ourselves where we can invest time in more positive pursuits.
The saucha of sleep—get the necessary zzz’s:
In his book, Why We Sleep, Matthew Walker states, “Sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day.” I will go one step further and say that sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to declutter our brains.
REM sleep is instrumental in helping us to process and make sense all the information and experiences that we have amassed during our waking hours. In a world where we are over-stimulated by technology, sleep offers up a much-needed service. It helps us to decide what information is worth retaining and which needs to be discarded. In essence, sleep is like our own mental housekeeper, helping us trash what doesn’t serve us.
Depriving ourselves of sleep, we may continue to live in a state of confusion, with a cluttered and confused mind. Over time, continued interrupted sleep will interfere with our organization and productivity, both of which are important in the practice of saucha.
In fact, what we do awake impacts our sleep and vice versa. Indiscriminate use of language and engagement in unnecessary drama can cause restless nights and insomnia. Relationship struggles with those we should let go can do the same. To truly get a clean, restful sleep, we must refrain from activities that cause us avoidable pain and suffering.
The practice of yoga extends far beyond the mat, and the more we seek to examine the inner relationship among all the limbs of yoga as well as how practically applicable the Yoga Sutras are to our lives, we will continually evolve to higher states of consciousness. Deeper analysis yields deeper results.
Author: Angela Still
Image: Emily Mucha/Flickr
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron
Social Editor: Nicole Cameron