Sauca is the first of the yamas, or codes of self-regulation or restraint, within the eight limbs of yoga. Sauca translates as cleanliness or purity; both of these words tend to be shame triggers for me.
Even Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati’s translation of sutra 2.40 gets my back up a little.
“Through cleanliness and purity of body and mind (shaucha), one develops an attitude of distancing, or disinterest towards one's own body, and becomes disinclined towards contacting the bodies of others.”
I was forced to rebel against our clean-obsessed culture during my two-year struggle with an autoimmune condition. My immune system reacted to nearly every personal hygiene product out there. For a while I was limited to Dr. Bronner’s unscented baby hemp-oil soap. I couldn’t wear any deodorant. Three times a week I received IV therapy, which encouraged substances to leave my body via my sweat glands and there was nothing I could do about it. By the time I finished my treatment, my sweat smelled good and I didn’t mind not using deodorant. I was a hippie rebel.
In an effort to engage with this yama in a meaningful way, without judgment, I’ve decided to unpack these words and their antonyms.
What does it mean to be clean and pure? Dirty is the opposite of clean. What is dirt? Soil is made from minerals, gases, microorganisms, and water. One to five percent of the composition of soil is dead and decomposing cells from plants and animals. This is probably the part that grosses most people out and, ironically, it’s an indicator of the fertility of soil. Minerals, gases, and water, that all sounds clean. In fact, we need to ingest those substances for our own survival. What about microorganisms? Well, we’ve learned that as humans, our microbiome or the microorganisms living on and within us out number our human cells. Our human bodies are giant transport ships for microorganisms. And in return, in a symbiotic relationship, they provide so much for us.
So if dirt is not inherently bad, then the virtue of cleanliness must also be more nuanced than my feelings of shame and reactive rebelliousness would have me believe. Perhaps it’s as simple as non-cleanlines, impurity, or asauca, being that which does not serve me. Sauca would then be the practice of aligning myself with that which does serve me and my community of micro-passengers.
Perhaps I can reframe Sauca away from the shame triggers of cleanliness and purity and toward the practice of self-care. – Sauca as self-care.
This reframing is having a snowball, rollercoaster effect. Chores are now “Self-Care Opportunities”. Dusting is a way of reducing stress on my lungs. I remove dust from my breathing environment, preparing for pranayama. Picking up dog poop from the back yard is a series of forward folds, in addition to limiting opportunities for non-beneficial bacteria to grow and spread.
I have several opportunities for self-care throughout each day. I focus on those that I choose rather than the ones that were left undone. In fact, for 2018, I’m considering making myself a sticker chart, to provide a visual of my self-care abundance.
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After burning out from a long career as a middle school/high school reading/math/science teacher, I returned to school to study massage, hypnotherapy, mindfulness, aromatherapy, and yoga.