Yoga offers ancient solutions to modern problems. But you could also say yoga offers ancient solutions to ancient problems, because when things go sideways in our lives, the themes are as old as the sun. Grief, loss, disappointment, illness, anger, pain, frustration, loneliness: none of these are unique to the modern world. Your girlfriend may have broken up with you over Snapchat, but there’s nothing newfangled about the heartbreak you feel.
In this series of blog posts, I discuss yogic practices that we can use to navigate difficult times. In previous posts, I looked at the five yamas: ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya, and aparigraha. Today I’ll be focusing on the first niyama: saucha (“SOW-cha”).
Saucha can be understood as “purity and cleanliness”. How can we practice saucha during times of difficulty? Here are some thoughts:
A literal interpretation: As with all of the yamas and niyamas, it’s possible to understand saucha at its most literal level, and extrapolate from there. For example, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the classic Sanskrit manual on hatha yoga written in the 15th century, advises the hatha yogi to practice in a clean hut that is well-plastered with cow dung, and free of stones, fire, dampness, rat holes, and bugs. While the specifics of this recommendation may no longer be relevant, the spirit of the advice is timeless.
When times are tough, personal hygiene and orderliness can be the first to go. If you find yourself feeling helpless and paralyzed with indecision, small acts of self-care can be a place to begin. Shower. Brush your teeth. Comb your hair. Put on clean clothes. Take out the garbage. Open a window. Go slowly, one small act at a time.
Thought, word, and deed: A broader practice of saucha goes beyond personal hygiene. Saucha in thought, word, and deed means cleaning up your act in every sense of the word.
Saucha-in-thought: Is your inner dialogue polluted with self-criticism? Do you harbour old grudges and dwell on petty conflicts? Do you secretly resent your peers’ successes and enjoy their failures? If so, ask yourself: What is the energetic cost of these mental activities? Do they foster connection and compassion or drive disconnection and isolation? What if you adopted a kinder tone with yourself? What if you gave people the benefit of the doubt and celebrated their successes the way you hope they would celebrate yours?
The Marie Kondo Method of decluttering suggests you hold up every item in your home and ask “Does this spark joy?”. If the answer is “yes”, you should keep the item. If it’s “no”, out it goes. What if you made a similar practice of examining your thoughts? Mean-spirited thoughts that only fuel the fire of disconnection could get mentally tossed into the trash, while kind-hearted thoughts that motivate connection and self-compassion could be placed front and centre.
Saucha-in-word: The things you say and how you say them have an energetic cost. While gossiping and backbiting can act as social currency in many situations, they can also make you appear untrustworthy. Likewise, blaming and fault-finding can be a convenient way to shift accountability, but they can also make you appear unscrupulous. Frequent complaining, while useful as a way to vent frustrations, is draining for the people around you.
There’s a Rumi poem that speaks (ahem) to a practice of saucha-in-word perfectly:
Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates:
At the first gate, ask yourself “Is it true?”
At the second gate ask, “Is it necessary?”
At the third gate ask, “Is it kind?”
If the answer is “yes”, go ahead and speak. If it’s “no”, hold your tongue.
Saucha-in-deed: Just like negative thoughts and words can pollute your life and have real energetic consequences, so can your actions. When life is a struggle, you may find yourself running low on patience and tolerance. Aggressive behaviours such as door slamming, road rage, or provoking confrontations are not going to make life easier for you. A saucha-in-deed practice can be as simple as counting to ten before you act, or taking a step back from a situation before you lose your cool.
Like any practice, it’s much easier to develop a practice of saucha when things are going well. That way, when life becomes a struggle, you already have the habit in place.
How else can you practice saucha in difficult times? Let me know in the comments section below.
Image © 2016 Erin Bidlake