Hurricane Sandy has left her mark on so many lives here in the Northeast. The degree to which this storm has turned lives upside down goes from loss of power, loss of homes, to loss of lives. It has left our region with a big mess on many levels. When everything is out of place, when we lose access to the things we depend on (heat, electricity, running water, help from others) we quickly lose our balance and scramble to find some equilibrium and to return to our “home”. It is clear that the physical “home” represents a sense of place- with deep emotional roots, very much attached to our sense of self.
Observing all this, and having had friends and family affected by both Irene and Katrina, I have been reminded that my body is my home; and how well I care for this body and mind determines whether this “home” will be my refuge or a source of despair. Talking about the niyama Sauca seems a little silly or lacking in compassion- in light of a disaster like Sandy. Why worry about cleanliness when things are upside down? Yet on a deeper level, the practice of Saucha can be profound. (A niyama is considered an “observance” and it’s one tool in the enormous Yogic toolbox to help us to live a more ethical life.)
On the surface, Sauca is a no-brainer. When our environment is clean and in order, we feel better, we function better, we are more at ease and life has balance. But if we use Sauca as a metaphor for how we get our internal house in order- both our emotional and our physical house, that’s when “cleanliness” gets more interesting! Donna Farhi in her book “Bringing Yoga to Life” says “…unlike so many traditions that have viewed the body as something to be transcended, the Yoga tradition tells us to make the house of the body a fit place to live”.
Through our practice we learn to work in postures by organizing our thoughts, organizing the angles of our hands, limbs and feet, by placing things “where they belong”. We use the breath when things get out of balance and we bring ourselves back for another try. Sometimes we literally find ourselves being challenged to hold ourselves upside down and then work to find ease and lightness there. We stand on one leg when we might prefer to be standing on two.
All of this brings focus and attentiveness to the present moment. There is an orderly process that unfolds on our mats which leads to its own kind of Saucha. We are caring for “the house of the body”. This care can lead to other side effects like kindness, compassion and a growing capacity for calm. When we extend this kind of Saucha to the world we live in, others benefit from our attentiveness. How I extend myself to others, how I speak, how I act are all ways that order my life. How we step onto our yoga mat matters, this practice is our home.
Sauca brings with it an intention of purity. In an imperfect world, as a perfectly imperfect being, this practice helps us to find ways to act from the better part of our humanity. When we practice Saucha on the mat, we keep the house of the body in order. Over time, we are better able to be at home anywhere and everywhere even in the midst of chaos and hurricanes and in doing so, help others to feel the calm within the eye of the storm.