While in yoga the yamas deal with what we observe of ourselves in society, the niyamas deal with personal observances. The first of these is saucha, translated as ‘cleanliness’, although the western understanding of this word doesn’t give one the whole picture. When we think of being clean, we probably think of taking a shower and putting on fresh clothes. Although personal hygiene is important, saucha also refers to the cleanliness of our surroundings and the energy with which we interact with the world. As with everything in yoga, there is an inner and an outer dimension to our understanding.
Saucha can refer to the order in which you keep your house, how often you brush your teeth or go for a jog and the food you put into your body. If your immediate environment is a mess, it is very difficult to cultivate the clear, compassionate thinking that allows you to see the world as it is and appreciate the moment you are in. Likewise, if you don’t take care of yourself physically it is very difficult to feel comfortable in your body. Being unhygienic, not getting enough exercise and eating badly contribute to negative emotional states. Yoga teaches us that is it necessary to take care of the grosser, outer manifestations of our spirit before we can reasonably expect to deal with our more subtle inner world.
As we become aware of the grosser aspects of our existence and their effect on our psyche, and we begin to take care of them, we naturally start to become aware of the more subtle aspects of ourselves. We might become aware that our friend’s boisterous social behavior is simply a coping mechanism designed to offset her nervousness, or we might ask why we feel so drained and slimy after we talk to some people. Awareness of this sort is awareness of the energetic exchanges between ourselves and the world, and once we begin to understand how our energy interacts with the energies that surround us, we are able to remove a lot of negativity from our lives.
Our inability to live in the here and now is often due to a lot of clutter, both physical and mental (ever tried to just sit and breathe for a few minutes without thinking about what you have to do today, unpleasant past experiences or your fears for the future?). All this ‘spring cleaning’ naturally allows a lot of space for us to consider our lives and what is necessary for us to live well, but it also enables us to observe the inner workings of our minds. When we turn our attention to the cleanliness of our thoughts we truly start to understand how much of our behavior isn’t actually under our control. It’s not so much dirty thoughts about the guy next door that are the problem, but our patterned responses to the world, as most of the time we are not interacting with the world itself but rather our preconceptions and limited understanding of that world. We see the world through the haze of our fears, inadequacies and personal prejudices. The greatest step towards happiness is giving yourself the space to see things clearly. Only then can you understand yourself and your place in the world.