Who actually looks forward to cleaning?
At home, I grudgingly scrub the toilet or take out the trash. (When you live and work in the same place, things get pretty weird if the janitor slacks off.) My work-trade experience at the yoga studio where I practice is slowly changing how I feel about cleaning, and it’s teaching me how to be mindful.
Like many of you reading this, I came to yoga because of an upheaval in my life. My spouse joined the military, I chose love over my career, and I quickly became a country mouse in the big city. I’d done some yoga on my own, so when I discovered that there was a place to practice within walking distance, I worked up the nerve to cross the threshold. This, I decided, was where I’d find my community and weather the first deployment.
The practice helped me grow stronger and feel better, but the recent move and my new career as a freelance writer made adding another bill to our list of expenses out of the question. Fortunately, my home studio has a nifty system in place for work-trades. In exchange for some of my time and elbow grease, I’ve been granted the privilege of taking as many yoga classes as I want.
What I do around the studio.
Sweeping and steaming the floor, folding blankets, cleaning the bathroom, and organizing props are among the host of small tasks I perform in a given shift. After cleaning, I unlock the front door, take up my perch at the front desk, and wait for students to arrive. I greet them and do my best to learn everyone’s name. At the appropriate time, I lock the front door and head to my mat.
When cleaning becomes a meditation.
One of the first things I learned about cleaning the studio was that it had very little to do with me. Sure, I was tidying things up for the sake of being able to practice, but as yoga began to do what yoga does, I realized I was cleaning for other people too. They carried their joys and sorrows, the stress of working and living in the city, and that darn monkey mind through the door. I watched them walk out less encumbered than when they had arrived. We all have stuff, and the studio is often a place we go to take out the proverbial trash.
Nobody wants to practice on a dirty floor or look at a messy collection of props. Clutter causes stress, after all. The yoga studio may be the one place students can go where the expectation is that they ignore their incessantly buzzing phones or temporarily block out the barrage of noise competing for mental bandwidth. Making the studio sparkle was a humble way I could help decrease the suffering of others.
Every action is a reflection.
One of my teachers, Rex Dean Villena, ends each class by saying, “The way you do anything is the way you do everything.” At first, this just sounded cool—but over time, the gravity of what he was saying fully registered. I started to think about everything I was doing on and off the mat. When I was cleaning for work-trade, I took notice of how I approached each task.
The practice of cleaning evolved from an expression of gratitude for being able to practice into something bigger. This contribution to the community became a meditative practice.
I stopped blasting music while I tidied the place. Instead of using the time to stew over the slings and arrows of a complicated modern life, I allowed myself to be fully absorbed in making sure that the tassels on all blankets were facing the same direction. In the quiet, I could fully appreciate the natural light flooding the space. As I ran the steamer across the floor, I observed the new marks that appeared on its surface every week.
The time commitment to these tasks has also changed. I now budget more time for cleaning so that so that I don’t have to rush. On my most efficient days, I perform additional tasks or set up the steamer for the person on the next shift. Giving myself more time also enables me to approach the students at check-in with a more calm and cheerful demeanor. By taking care of myself in this way, I’m better able to take care of others.
There’s peace in order.
As much as it may sound like it, cleaning is not a compulsion of mine. Keeping clutter out of my workspace is a daily struggle that I do not often win. Scrawled notes about plot points, binders of notes and rough drafts, and a stack of letters awaiting responses vie for my attention. I routinely go to war with mountains of paperwork.
Maybe it’s time for a paradigm shift, though. The antagonistic approach of eradicating clutter like it’s a communicable disease doesn’t seem to be serving me. I’ve already taken many lessons off the mat and into my life. Perhaps it’s time for my cleaning meditation to leave the studio and come home with me.