Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Niyama 1 - Saucha

Back to the Yamas and Niyamas gang!

Whereas the five Yamas (covered here, here, here, here and here!) are focused more on how we react within the outer world, Niyamas bring it on home, dealing with how we act within our own inner world. The first of these is Saucha, which means cleanliness or purity.

When we think of cleanliness we tend to think of external things, such as tidiness or washing. Saucha encompasses this, but adds the idea of mental or internal cleanliness and clarity. Yogis think of the body as the keeper of the spirit or soul - so it makes sense to keep this vessel clean and healthy. The postures we do in class (asanas) are one method of doing this, as they circulate oxygen and lymphatic fluid which helps remove toxins and keep our bodies clean. Alongside this there are other methods such as Pranayama (yogic breath), kriyas (cleansing rituals) and practices such candle gazing meditation.

Saucha enables us to examine the quality of what we are putting into our bodies and minds. Is the food we are eating helping to keep our body pure and clean? Or is it full of chemicals, pesticides and ingredients created in a lab rather than in a garden? Do we maintain good sleeping patterns, keep our body healthy with exercise and avoid excessive consumption of alcohol or stimulants such as coffee (or worse!) Michael Pollan has some great simple rules for healthy living (including "Don't buy your food where you buy your gas" and "Don't eat anything your grandmother wouldn't recognise as food") but sums it up best with this one:"Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much"

When the body is clean and healthy we are better able to then focus on the real yoga - taming and controlling our wayward monkey minds. Our heads are generally filled with a constant chattering internal dialogue, pulling our attention in every direction and distracting us from experiencing (and enjoying!) the present moment. Yoga aims to tame this constant dissipation of thoughts, enabling us to achieve a clearer, calmer - and happier - state of mind.

By using the concentration and attention needed to fully participate in a yoga class we can bring this mental chatter back under control. An example of a tool we use in class to do this is 'drishti' or the single pointed focus which helps maintain our equilibrium during balancing poses. Drishti trains the mind to be able to hold a single thought or focus at a time, rather than allowing our thoughts to be scattered and distracted by the demands of unhelpful additional "chatter". A ridiculously difficult thing to do in today's modern world (damn you facebook/ twitter/ emails/ text messages etc etc!) Another one would be the inbuilt meditation that is our own breath. There is a reason I harp on about it in class you know :)

As we gain more control over our wayward minds we begin to notice  habits that no longer serve us. With our newfound focus we are easier able to identify and remove that which holds us back from being emotionally and physically healthy. We can practice keeping our minds clean from useless and repetitive thoughts - which only serve to take us out of the moment, and increase our worry and stress. By clearing the mind of this chatter and baggage we gain the clarity to make better decisions and choices; and can enjoy the freedom of living in a present uncluttered by negative thoughts from the past, or projected worries into the future. 

To bring more of the qualities of Saucha into your life, start by gently observing the quality of that which you allow to enter your mind and body. Think about the physical body, but also the mental and energetic one. Do you let negative or distracted thoughts constantly invade your thinking, making you stressed and unhappy? Do you engage in gossip or trash talk? How do you speak to others... and yourself? Is it with pure intention or do you allow criticism to creep into your words? 

Aim to start replacing toxic things (junk food, junk thoughts) with healthier, more sustaining alternatives. Watch where your mind takes you and practice bringing it back to a single point of focus without distractions - even when you're not in a yoga class. You don't need to be in tree pose to reap the benefits of a clear, focused mind!

Hopefully with a little effort and observation Saucha can bring a little more calm and clarity into our busy and cluttered modern lives... and minds. Let me know how you go Brogis :)


Some resources to help you practice Saucha:

Unfuck your habitat - "Terrifying motivation for lazy people with messy homes" (LOL)

10 Simple Ways to Unclutter your Mind 

You vs You - fascinating radiolab podcast on quitting bad habits, and battling ourselves to do so!

Michael Pollan's Food Rules - simple, easy to follow advice.