search button
Clean Beach2

Maitri musings: saucha (purity)

  • by Claire Ferry - Feb 11, 2019

In week six of these musings I'm moving on to the niyamas or personal observances which constitute the second limb of yoga. Whereas the yamas (how we engage ethically with others) might be regarded as the "don'ts" (although I have attempted to shed light on positive action in each case), the niyamas are the "dos" and relate to how we engage with ourselves.

Saucha is translated as cleanliness or purity. In the first instance this refers to bodily or external cleanliness. We can simply encourage practice in a clean space, uncluttered and with no dust bunnies in the corner to distract. Keeping our bodies, clothing and equipment clean and tidy has practical benefits for health and hygiene and to help concentration by removing potential distractions. As someone whose nickname Clarry caused my husband much amusement given its meaning in Ulster/Scots/Northern English (mucky, muddy, e.g. "you're clarried to the eyeballs" after coming in from a wet and muddy walk), this is not something that came particularly naturally to me! I think I particularly learned the value of tidiness and cleanliness when working and travelling in Sri Lanka, where food left out attracted ants, and dodgy tummies (or worse) were caused if hands weren't washed properly. Even here, in our often hyper-cleansed world, no-one wants to smell someone else's (or indeed their own) feet during class, and as a teacher around many people I am conscious of washing my hands between classes to lessen the likelihood of catching a cold or spreading germs.

We can take this a little further with considerate behaviour around equipment: not stepping on another's mat, taking care with folding blankets and tidying away props. I'm not only writing this as a studio owner who often end up having to tidy the equipment (although that is a bugbear of mine!) but it is true that equipment will last longer, stay cleaner and act better as the prop intended if treated with care. Such practices show care for self as well as others, and there is a link to last week's post about aparigraha and de-cluttering our surroundings (as well as our minds).

We move on to inner purity of body, including what we choose to consume (our diet) as well as cleansing practices such as pranayama for the respiratory system. A sattvic diet of light foods will be more conducive to healthy digestion and therefore asana practice. While this is traditionally vegetarian you need to consider your own intentions and bodily response to different foods - not everyone copes with a diet of pulses and rice in the same way and across the world there are or course geographical and cultural differences. The asana practice itself is cleansing as it acts on the organs, stimulating or calming the digestive, circulatory and nervous systems amongst others.

The third aspect develops from this - inner purity of mind. This is how we nourish ourselves - our relationships with others, our language, what entertainment we take on board.

"But more important than the physical cleansing of the body is the cleansing of the mind of its disturbing emotions like hatred, passion, anger, lust, greed, delusion and pride. Still more important is the cleansing of the intellect of impure thoughts.... This internal cleansing gives radiance and joy. It brings benevolence and banishes mental pain, dejection, sorrow and despair .... When the mind is lucid it is easy to make it one pointed. With concentration one obtains mastery over the senses. Then one is ready to enter the temple of his own body and see his/her real self in the mirror of his/her mind." (BKS Iyengar, Light on Yoga)

In this way, we avoid suffering. Judith Hanson Lasater (yogi, teacher, founder of Iyengar Institute in San Francisco and of Yoga Journal) speaks of saucha "If anyone embraces impurity in thought, word, or deed, you will eventually suffer...I now see saucha as a reminder to constantly examine my intention behind my actions. It is the intention to act from compassion. When I focus on acting from compassion there is a space for saucha to arise from my heart” (reported on this blog).

As always, much food for thought, and hopefully action. Reflecting on this as I write and research I am certainly inspired to practice a little more. I will leave you with a link to this little video from experienced Iyengar yoga teacher Felicity Green...I love the bit about paying attention less to what we put in our mouths, and more to what comes out of them!

Contact Us

Maitri Studio Limited
4 The Mount, Belfast, BT5 4NA

Tel: +44 (0)28 9099 2428

Company number: NI635546