Cleanliness is next to Godliness
When the pores are clogged, so is the mind. When the body is soiled, so is the mind. When the stench of the body becomes perceptible, its stench reflects the obvious stench of the mind. When the energy of the body becomes physically stale, it reflects the state of the mind.
As the new year approaches, newness, freshness, and an easy, fluid transition is upon us…or not. It is ultimately our individual choice.
The practices of yoga are here to purify the body/mind, and as long as we are housed in these body/minds, we are subject to the filth of our karmas and to the world around us, which is inherently dirty. It is up to each individual will to continually work to clean, purify and detoxify the stuff that has been soiling us since birth, as well as the stuff that continues to soil us as we live in this world. It is through the daily practice of the 8 limbs: social restraints, personal observances, asana, pranayama, sense control and meditation that we find the continuous blossoming and embodied understanding of our own filth and purification.
So this brings us to the first Niyama (the second limb of yoga), the first of five practices in yoga in personal observances, or simply modes of living and relating to our body/minds on a daily basis.
Sauca (pronounced sh-ow-cha) is translated as cleanliness and purity in body and mind. As the body is a gross manifestation of the subtler stuff in the mind, the issues ARE the tissues. And if the body is unclean, stinky, unattractive, dark, negative, hedonistic or distasteful, it is a direct manifestation of something deeper and more subtle, whether we want to admit it or not.
Sauca is a practice of understanding how important it is to keep the body and mind clean, clear and focused.
On a gross level, this includes, but is not limited to daily cleansing of the body and skin and its immediate surroundings, in addition to mindful, careful consumption of all that goes into the body through the senses. On a gross level, this is taste and touch. It is simpler to understand cleanliness on a physical level: you wash your body well, and daily. This includes the cleansing of the pores through sweat, and the cleansing of the blood and organs through vigorous movement in all bodily angles and directions to ensure proper blood flow and healing.
In addition, keep your home clean, your car, your office, wherever you spend time and wherever you have control over your environment, you ensure its cleanliness as a refection of yourself in the world. Purity in consumption on a physical level includes mindfulness in what goes into the gates of the body, and on a physical level, this means cleanliness of the physical items that directly enter your body. Indeed, in Indian culture, the devout priestly caste (those that were born to practice spirituality as a way of life) is so particular about purity of foods and relationships, that only members of the priestly caste mix together as far as cooking and relationships. Any other mode of living would be considered impure.
As far as food is concerned, it is important to eat foods that are free of disease or chemicals, plant-based, colorful, alive and fresh, in season and are easily digestible. The digestive system needs to be clean and clear as well, not housing rotten or inert food, but quickly digesting to ensure the turning of high-quality food into energy.
On a subtler level, sauca is a lifestyle practice of purity. It includes the subtler things that enter the body through the senses: the eyes, the ears, the nose, and even subtler, through the more subtle and less measurable of the senses, through intuitive connection. This is everything that you see, hear, smell and intuit. So sauca includes the quality of the books you read, the action involved on the screens you stare at, the lyrics and energy of the music you listen to, the mundane vs. high-minded conversations you are involved in, the light vs. dark energy of the people that you consume.
Every moment of life is a practice of sauca, and every moment is an opportunity to compassionately accept what exists without necessarily participating in it. Indeed, we are very capable of soiling our own minds and bodies without the help of anyone or anything else as well. And so sauca is also a continual checking in on our own thoughts and actions. This is to say that anything (including your own thoughts) unclean is something that will need to be washed away at some point, and the longer it hangs around, the dirtier and stinkier and messier it becomes.
And here's the clincher: you can’t hire someone to come in and clean these kinds of messes. These messes can only be cleaned through intentional daily spiritual practices like yoga. Good news is, with a daily practice of yoga, you are quite well on your way.
Often, when students are new to spiritual practice, there are many layers that need to be shed, and these are the dark (and potentially stinky!) ones. The gates of the body shed the layers of impurity for days or weeks or months, depending on the karmas of the student. This is a churning and burning environment, however, and the more you practice, the more you let go of all the gook that has built up over lifetimes, for some.
This isn’t to say that you must protect yourself from the world. In the householder lifestyle, it’s not about protecting yourself. It’s about maintaining purity through practices, and limiting consumption of the impure so that you are neither hiding from the world nor taking showers (proverbial or literal) all day long.
It is said in the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras and the Upanishads that the sattvic yogi has a sweet aroma, a natural beauty, a taste for light foods, a cheerfulness, a strong and graceful form, a lightness, a swiftness and an overall delighted focus.
A mindful yogi is very aware of the circumstances around him, and very aware of the amount of purification that will be necessary to continue on the path, or to restore a sense of purity.
Yoga Sutras 2.40-41…
2.40: By cleanliness, one develops distaste for the physical form as the source of satisfaction.
2.41: With sattvic purification, one attains a cheerfulness, a mastery of the senses, a one-pointed focused mind, and a fitness to perceive the Truth of Self.
So as we move into the new year, pay attention to your body/mind.
First, do no harm and ensure that your impurity and its manifestation is not affecting someone else’s purity. In the Yoga Shala, it’s important to respect the space and other practitioners in the room. Offer nothing for anyone else to consume, unless it is of an energetically sattvic nature.
Second, take a look at your mess. Cleanliness indeed, is next to Godliness. Celebrate the divine in you! Accept it as it is, and get cleaning.