Well, we finally made it past the Yamas, the very first limb of the yogic system. Now, on to limb #2: the niyamas. Like the yamas, there are 5 niyamas. Unlike the yamas, though, the niyamas aren’t about things NOT to do, but rather things TO DO. Whereas the yamas were “restraints,” the niyamas are “observances.”
The first niyama on our list is Shaucha, or purity/cleanliness of body and mind. As my teachers in India explain in our training manual, “physical purity [i.e., shaucha] is a symbol of our goal for our bodies and minds in yoga.” In other words, simply keeping the body clean can help us keep our mind clean and focused on the moment.
If you know me at all, you know that the practice of cleanliness does not coming easily to me. As a child, it took my whole family to corral me into the bathtub every evening. Brother, sister, and parents chased me up and down stairs and through the back yard just to pin me down and jam me into the tub. As an adult, I still tend to be very comfortable being dirty because it makes me feel honest, like I’ve worked hard at something and have the sweat and grease to prove it.
To practice shaucha, my teachers suggest wearing light-colored clothing, bathing in lukewarm water, and cleaning oneself after using the toilet. As corny as it may sound, I believe the clothing thing really works. Think about your winter wardrobe. It’s navy blue, gray, and black, isn’t it? Think of how good it feels to break out the spring wardrobe–green, yellow, lighter blues, perhaps pink and purple, maybe even white. The idea is that wearing these lighter colors helps to lift our mood, and I think there’s something to that.
As a terrible American who enjoys lengthy, hot showers (I know, I know), the bathing in lukewarm water thing is really tough for me. In India, I bathed at about 4:45 in the morning by scooping lukewarm water out of a bucket. And, yes, it really did wake me up to bathe this way, but I had no other way to bathe. In the comfort of the United States, I have many ways to clean myself, including a lush, warm shower. I know, I know.
As for the bathroom self-cleaning practice, again, this was something I did out of necessity in India and enjoyed it but did not successfully transport the practice back to the States with me. [If you’d like to read a possibly humorous story about my attempts to wash myself after using the toilet, click here.]
I’m not sure what else to add. I do believe that as goes the body so goes the mind. Keeping the body clean and healthy helps to maintain the cleanliness and health of the mind. To me, a clean mind is one void of petty resentments and perpetual reenactments. A clean mind lives in the moment and knows neither the affliction of the past nor the anxiety of the future. Given how dirty and stinky my body usually is (although, at least I don’t fill it up with a lot of sugar and animal flesh…I do have that working in my favor) and how jumpy my mind is, I figure I have a long way to go to be clean.
I have to add that today is my birthday and it seems fitting to say something about purifying or cleaning the self for another year of life. But I’m not sure what that cleaning would look like (and even though I’ve showered today, I’m pretty sure I’m wearing a dirty shirt). We have so few rituals in this culture to mark our time.