The niyama we’ll focus on today is Saucha – or cleanliness. At the grossest level this is about keeping our living and office spaces clean. At a little more subtle level this is about wearing clean clothes and keeping our bodies internally and externally clean. At a still more deep level this niyama is about living as truthfully and purely as you can. Your behavior, words and actions should reflect the truth and purity you believe in. Is your house really clean and organized? Or are there cupboards you’d be mortified if your guests saw? Do you have beautiful laundry hampers that contain months of of dirty laundry? When you go to your yoga class, do you make it a point not to step on other people’s mats and props? At a deeper level, do you constantly share your feelings of helplessness, anger, hurt, depression etc with others? We all go through a hard time once in a while, but do you constantly crib whenever you find a listener? Analyze why you do that, and then stop doing it. You are disturbing someone else’s peace and creating an imbalance in their energy. Look around you and analyze if you live clean, think clean and eat clean. If you don’t, make the change today.
Saucha can be divided into internal and external saucha. Today we’ve covered how we can implement saucha externally. From tomorrow we’ll look at internal saucha. To maintain internal cleanliness and purity we must get rid of: kama, krodha, lobha, moha, mada and matsarya. One each day, so tune in every day! 🙂
So we’ve looked at what, according to yoga, we can do without in our lives. But what about the rules that yoga tells us to live by? Starting tomorrow, join me for #7daysofniyamas. Niyamas literally translated means rules. I believe that the fundamentals of all cultures, religions and philosophies are basically the same. To be good, to be kind etc. So many of you may already be incorporating the niyamas in your lives. Lets take a look at the niyamas and see how yogic philosophy transcends race, cultures, countries, class, caste, religion etc.
Today’s yama is Asteya. Loosely translated this means refraining from taking/stealing. At a deeper level, this yama implies controlling desires and reducing wants, because as well all know, desires and wants are infinite. This yama is also about freedom from avarice. So come all ye hoarders and give away everything gathering dust in your corners. According to Feng Shui, accumulated clutter attracts negativity. Indian homes get a face lift once a year during Diwali when we start white washing and dusting our homes. Instead of making it a yearly routine, focus on de-cluttering periodically. You’ll be surprised to know that de-cluttering your surroundings has a calming effect on your mind. Today take a good look at your closets (we all have skeletons of sizes and fittings past) and pull out something to donate or give away. I did this in February, and a friend of mine did this a week ago. Trust us, you will feel lighter. If lightening your load by one item of clothing feels good, re-assess the rest of your wardrobe. By now you may feel exhilarated (hopefully), so take a look at your kitchen cabinets and your bathroom cabinets as well! Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.
The yama we’re focusing on today is Satya or Truth. What we usually think about this yama: I don’t usually lie about things. What this yama is all about: the imperceptible truth. Be truthful about situations. Are you really over-weight, or are you comparing yourself to an impossible image in the popular media. Are you making the most of your time orf just looking for an excuse not to attend my yoga class :)? Are you actually trying hard enough to eschew negative thoughts in favour of positive ones? Practice looking at yourself and your environment truthfully and objectively. Today look at how your days pan out. And think about something that you’d like to fit into your day such as a workout, or reading the paper…or meditating. Ask yourself if your ‘I don’t have the time’ excuse is really true. If it is, then accept this truth and live with it. You don’t have the time for a short workout, or to read a bit of the paper, or to sit quietly for 5 minutes. Period. Stop whining about these things NOW. But if you find that you can pencil in some time by waking up just 10 minutes earlier, or turning the TV off and sitting in silence before sleep – then change your life today by making time for these activities.
The first yama we’ll look at is ‘Ahimsa’ or non-violence. The person who comes to my mind when I hear ‘Ahimsa’ is Gandhi. But eons before 1947, the great sages of the Indus Valley civilization realized that a truly fulfilled individual (healthy in body as well as mind) had to consciously follow the practice of Ahimsa in their day to day life. Most of us think, well I don’t go around beating people up and have never killed (or come close to killing) anyone…so I’m good to go with this yama. But in the kind of world we live in, there is a LOT more scope for Ahimsa (believe me). Today, think about how you can go beyond the usual things such as physical violence and vegetarianism as illustrating Ahimsa. Think about your mind. Do you sometimes feel irked with yourself because you believe you are lazy/overweight/weak/under confident/unsuccessful etc? If you direct any of your energies towards putting yourself down (even if its only in your mind), then you are violating the principle of Ahimsa. Non-violence extends to the people around you, but I feel that now there is a great need to ensure that we are non-violent towards ourselves as well.
In a society which is largely consummerist in nature, do we think about Ahimsa when we buy our vegetables and clothing? If you buy your vegetables from the closest Big Bazaar, have you given a thought to whether the farmers employed to grow the vegetables are suitably compensated? Is your money going to the farmer who sweats it out to grow the produce, or is it going to the spectacled guy sitting in his AC cabin, reading data about his supply chain off of his laptop? Important disclaimer: I have no idea how Big Bazaar obtains their produce, but I do read about farmer suicides in the paper every day (and no I’m not saying Big Bazaar is responsible for it!!!). When you sit down to eat, do you think about the people who grow your food? Today, send a thought out to the faceless person who watered and watched your potatoes grow, who planted the palak and the methi, and who is fundamentally responsible for the food in your plate. Instead of thinking about the taste of the food, hope that your food is sourced with Ahimsa.
The clothes that we wear – do we think about the garment worker who sat down to stitch the buttons? At a superficial level we all know that garment factories employ a lot of little kids who should be going to school, that they don’t give adequate compensation, that there are no employee rights etc. But when you try on a shirt, do you spare a thought about the living breathing person who took a pair of scissors and ensured perfect measurements? Who perhaps accidentally jammed a needle into their thumb stitching a button on? Today, instead of looking at your clothes as disposable commodities, hope that your clothes are made with Ahimsa.
So practice these three things today: 1. Stop directing negative and critical thoughts towards yourself. 2. Before you sit down to eat, take a second to hope that it was responsibly sourced. 3. Be grateful for the clothes you’re wearing and hope that the person responsible for them is ok, wherever they are!
I met Louise in Wellington, when I first started teaching yoga. After a couple of months, I held her up as an example of ‘balance’ to the class. She is in her early 40s, has two beautiful childern, a rocking career, wonderful marriage…and she still found time for her yoga, tennis, hiking, reading etc. The credit for making her life so rich and full goes to no one but Louise. After all, she could also sit back and complain that she had wanted a career/tennis/amazing body/(fill in the blank) but had to give it up because of: children are too small/husband has a transferrable and demanding job/has other familial obligations/(fill in the blank). Granted Louise comes from a culture and country different from 95% of my students, and many who are reading this are thinking “well you know in our culture (fill in all the perceived limiting factors of being a married woman with kids in India)”.
Now I have an example of an Indian woman (yes, married to a man who has a demanding and transferrable job; yes, has two growing children who demand/want time/attention; yes, has all the familial obligations that come with being from our culture) who reminds me of Louise. Sharmishta Vardhan has been regular in my class from Day 1. When I got to know her better, I found out that she’s a Bharatnatyam dancer. When there’s no yoga she goes for a walk. She’s an amazing swimmer and has been swimming since she was 8 years old. (Incidentally, she taught me how to swim within 10 days. I’m confident standing on my head on land, but 10 days ago I would list drowning as my biggest fear.) Here’s an Indian woman, in her 40s, married for 9 years, two crazily energetic boys (I’ve seen them in the pool), who defies the ‘Indian woman married with two kids’ convention. She reads, sometimes travels to pursue her hobbies, gets in her daily swim before heading home for dinner, cultivates her own friends circle with whom she goes for movies, exhibitions, fairs etc. You can see the results of daily yoga in her before-after.
So next time you think you don’t have time for yoga remember that there are women like Louise and Sharmishta who are busy living the lives they love, and making time for yoga as well! 🙂
Today is the last day of our gratitude challenge. Today lets take a moment to appreciate all the mistakes we’ve made in life. After all, mistakes teach you a lot about yourself and the world around you. Mistakes help you understand what you actually want in life. They take you on adventures that make you who you are. If it weren’t for mistakes we wouldn’t have so much to be grateful for!
We’re almost done with the #10daysofgratitude challenge. Today lets be thankful for the interests that make us unique. These interests give us something to pursue, they make life colorful and make sure that we’re constantly stimulated.