Clean living (‘Saucha’ in Sanskrit) is part of a yoga lifestyle. The path of yoga is actually a process of ‘cleaning up’ our lives – body, breath, mind, heart and relationships – so we can experience peace, harmony and freedom. It is REALLY hard to find peace when your life and relationships are a mess.
If you want it, you gotta roll up your sleeves and do some work to CREATE it. When you clean, reorganize and let go of things that stand in the way of harmonious living, you clear a path that leads in the right direction.
There are so many ways to engage in saucha as a practice. You don't have to do them all. But, as you read on, notice which suggestions make you feel inspired. That's the perfect place for you to begin.
FOR YOUR BODY
Adopt a Daily Movement Practice
Movement stimulates circulation and delivers oxygen to every cell in your body so it can work optimally and thrive. Regular movement allows your cells to ‘breathe’, keeps your tissues hydrated, improves your immune system function, lubricates your joints and helps to keep your body healthy and strong. Good movement ‘hygiene’ is critical to your health and well-being. Commit to moving every day in the same way that you commit to brushing your teeth. Your health depends on it!
Eating ‘clean’ means eating foods that nourish and contribute to good health and avoiding foods that don’t. When you can, opt for fresh foods, rather than processed. It’ll do your body and your health a world of good.
Skin and Bodycare
Pay attention to the kinds of products you use on your body. A lot of cosmetics are toxic. You can avoid many of the harmful ingredients in personal care products by making a trip to your local health food store or natural beauty shop to find soaps, moisturizers, makeup, and hair products created specifically with your health and well-being in mind. This minimizes harm to both you and the environment (another key tenet of yoga is not causing harm).
FOR YOUR MIND
A wonderfully refreshing breathing practice that calms, clears and cools your mind.
ADDED BONUS: the cooling effect of Sitali also makes you feel minty fresh on the inside.
-it boosts your ability to think clearly
-reduces your risk of anxiety and depression.
-helps you to work more productively
-improves your mood and sleep (which improves memory and thinking).
If you’ve got a mental block and need to clear your head, a simple remedy is to just get up and move.
FOR YOUR HEART
The famous activist/designer William Morris said “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” Apply the same rule to your relationships. Welcome and nurture relationships that are beautiful and beneficial. If you’ve got relationships that are past their ‘best before’ date, clean them out. Put up healthy boundaries.
FOR YOUR COMMUNITY
We can’t just ‘om’ life’s problems away. Yoga doesn’t work like that. Racism, social injustice, pollution and climate change: these issues require our attention and our action if they’re going to get better. And yoga IS A PATH OF ACTION. You are meant to take yoga philosophy to heart - and bring it to life. Actively cleaning up our communities is a form of embodying ‘cleanliness’ and ‘harm prevention’ (another key tenet of yoga). As yoga practitioners, we are required to roll up our sleeves and use our own two hands to create a peaceful living environment – not just for ourselves, but for everyone.
By all means, recharge on your mat and create peace in your own body and mind – but don’t let your practice begin and end there. Spread peace.
FOR YOUR ENVIRONMENT
Marie Kondo the heck out of your life! An clean & organized living/working environment improves focus and mental clarity. It allows you to be more positive and productive. And it generally makes everyday functioning go more smoothly. When you don’t attend to your TO DO list, when loose papers take over your home and disorganization rules, you compromise your ability to focus on what is important. The dishes in the sink, the unpaid phone bill, the report you should have submitted yesterday, etc. It all gets in the way of getting to work on the things you really value. Don’t let that pile up!
Clean your home or your workspace. When you’re finished, notice how you feel. (and in the midst of your cleaning frenzy, consider using natural products that don’t contain chemical ingredients that will harm you or the planet).
A yoga practice extends beyond the edges of your mat. It is a lifelong journey that helps bring balance to every area of life. When you pay attention to cleanliness, and actively participate in cleaning up your little corner of the world: your body, your breath, your mind, your heart, your community, your environment - you improve the quality of life for yourself and for others.
It’s easy to feel content when everything is going your way. But, as you know, life doesn’t always go your way. As a human being, you are guaranteed a mixed bag of experiences. Some of them, you’ll like; others...not so much. Births, deaths, loves, breakups, financial wins and losses, and someone eating the potato chips you were saving for later … it’s all par for the course.
In yogic terms, practicing contentment is a process of intentionally waking up to the good things in your life RIGHT NOW, regardless of whatever else may be going on. Even when life is less than perfect. Because life is always less than perfect. Contentment will elude you forever if you wait around for perfection. Practicing contentment means taking matters into your own hands. And here's a great place to start:
It is a natural remedy for dissatisfaction. And to start a gratitude practice, all you need to do is make some time each day to identify things you have to be grateful for. It could be something as simple as having a giggle at a ridiculous Youtube cat video. I mean, who can’t use a giggle right now? It could also be for something bigger, like a loving relationship or your health. Every. Little. Thing. counts when it comes to counting your blessings!
Taking up a gratitude practice does not ask you to deny the difficulties you’re experiencing.* What it DOES do is help you notice the good that’s sitting right alongside your problems. Gratitude can’t take your problems away, but it can provide a counterbalance to your mind’s tendency to ruminate about whatever is lacking in your life. So you have a more balanced perspective.
Here’s what science has to say about how gratitude breeds contentment. It:
- Opens the door to new relationships. Of COURSE it does! Everyone wants to spend time with someone that demonstrate love and appreciation for you
- Improves physical and psychological health
- Increases empathy
- Improves self-esteem
- Helps to overcome trauma
Here are 7 practices you can do to experience more gratitude & contentment in your life starting now:
1) SET AN INTENTION
Say to yourself “I have everything I need in this moment. I have enough. I do enough. I am enough.” Write it on a post-it note. Place it on your mirror where you’ll see it every time you visit the bathroom. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
2) RECOGNIZE EACH BREATH AS A GIFT
Take a walk, find a handsome looking tree, stand next to it and take a few deep breaths. As you inhale be aware that the oxygen you’re taking in is a gift to you, courtesy of the trees. As you breathe out carbon dioxide, know that your tree will inhale it and transform it into more oxygen for you. Breath is an easy gift to take for granted – because we do it so frequently (20,000+ times a day). For just a few moments, practice being conscious of the fact that you and the tree are exchanging the gift of life. Sit and breathe together awhile. And while you’re there, appreciate the beauty of nature.
3) FIND THE GIFTS INSIDE YOUR PROBLEMS
If 2020 were a factory, it would be in the business of manufacturing fear and discontentment. And business would be booming! To get personal, 2020 really did a number on me. 2021 isn’t looking like it came to play either. I’m a full-time yoga teacher working on my last year of a Kinesiology degree. What has allowed me to do be a full-time yoga teacher/student in the past is the fact that I spend my weekends and summers travelling and teaching workshops and trainings. They were ALL cancelled in 2020. ALL of them. That was, and IS, very bad for me financially. However, life is made of more than dollars and cents.
As a direct result of this tremendous loss of work, I found myself with A LOT of free time (the gift sitting alongside my problem) … to practice yoga, to write, to lift weights, to hike with my dog, to think about what I wanted to do next and to start building an incredible new online yoga business. Time is a precious gift. I would not have had any time for those things had I not lost so much work!
Since the pandemic started, I have leaned HARD into my gratitude practice. It’s the spoonful of sugar that helps me swallow some of the harsher realities every day.
4) START AND END YOUR DAY WITH A GRATITUDE MEDITATION
This is the practice that starts my day every day.
5) PRACTICE RESTORATIVE YOGA
A soothing supportive pose offers you the gift of enjoying a quiet restful moment of solitude. There is nothing to do or get or achieve in restorative yoga. Simply savor the simplicity and sweetness of the moment as you lie down and practice doing nothing. Nowhere to go; nothing to do, but let go of ‘doing’ mind and let yourself ‘be’. It’s a practice in contentment.
6) KEEP A GRATITUDE JOURNAL
Write down 15 things you are grateful for today! You could post the list on your fridge where its visible and you can give yourself frequent reminders of the good tings happening in your life. Read it often and add to the list whenever you think of something more to be grateful for. This could be a fun activity to do with the family. Everyone keeps adding to the list.
7) THINK OF SOMEONE WHOSE PRESENCE IN YOUR LIFE YOU ARE GRATEFUL FOR THIS PAST YEAR
Tell them. Specifically, tell them what they did that made you so grateful and how it impacted you positively. When you do, you give them something to be grateful for too: someone noticing the good in them.
Gratitude, as a practice, comes from actively looking for whoever/whatever is good in your life and expressing appreciation for that. When you practice gratitude:
1) You affirm that there ARE, in fact, good things in the world. When life’s not going so well, reminding yourself of this can give you a much-needed psychological boost.
2) You recognize that you are the lucky recipient of gifts and blessings in life.
3) You recognize that the source of many of the good things in life is outside of you. This means that you are part of something bigger, and can spark feelings of community, connection, belonging and joy!
4) Gratitude creates an abundance mindset. If you believe ‘I have enough’ that is the springboard for so many other wonderful qualities, like contentment and generosity.
Wherever you find yourself – whether in circumstance good or bad; pleasant or unpleasant, remember that every challenging situation also has a gift and a lesson in it.
We can’t know the ultimate consequences of our current situation. Try to keep a balanced and open mind, and keep looking for the good.
*Denying your problems under the guise of spirituality is called 'spiritual bypassing.
Read about ‘spiritual bypassing’ here.
If you’ve ever driven home from work and realized you have no idea how you got there, you have experienced life on autopilot. Routines are great for keeping you organized and on task, they can also get you stuck - in expectations, thought loops, and habit patterns.
The Sanskrit word for a deeply ingrained thought or behaviour pattern is ‘samskara’. It literally means a ‘rut’ or ‘groove’. Just like a tire that travels the same path over and over wears a deep groove into the ground, ‘grooves’ or ‘ruts’ get worn into your neurology through repeated thoughts and behaviour.
This is good in the sense that it makes you more efficient at doing everyday things. When your brain automates a task, like walking, it saves you a ton of time and mental energy. However, repetition and routine can also leave you in the doldrums and wondering how you can become more present and interested in your own life.
Worry not! You CAN restore your feelings of curiosity, amazement, wonder, and feel more connected in your relationships. You can jolt yourself out of a life on cruise control by cultivating a Beginners’ Mind that is present, open and without preconceptions.
I’ll walk you through 9 WAYS TO TUNE INTO 'BEGINNERS' MIND' RIGHT NOW.
1) SET AN INTENTION
For example: “I meet each moment with openness and curiosity.” Say it often and mean it.
2) BANISH YOUR SELF-LIMITING THOUGHTS
“I’m….too old, too fat, too stuck in my ways, too (insert negative thought here).” Whatever it may be, you have the power to stop these self-limiting and habit-forming thoughts. Whenever you catch yourself thinking this way return to 1) and recite your intention. “I meet each moment with openness and curiosity.”
Be open to the idea that if you give up your self-limiting thoughts, you might astonish yourself.
3) PRACTICE MINDFULNESS
You take 20,000 breaths a day. That’s crazy, right? I know you’ve been far too busy doing dishes, creating Power Point presentations and making Zoom calls to count breaths. Which is WHY you simply must stop and pay attention your breath NOW. Prepare to be stunned by how interesting your breath actually is and how much there is to notice: texture, smell, sound, location and depth, asymmetries, pauses, and so much more! And it’s been going on right under nose this whole time. Try this mindfulness practice and get a fresh perspective on your breath.
4) SHAKE UP YOUR YOGA PRACTICE
Has the novelty and wonder of your yoga practice worn off? Try:
- a pose you’ve never done before.
- a different yoga instructor
- a style of yoga you don’t normally practice (with an open mind)
- reversing the way you normally inhale/exhale in sun salutations.
The possibilities are limitless! Get curious and experiment in your practice.
5) SLOW DOWN
When you drive by a field at 100 km/hour, you will see a green blur. If you take a leisurelywalk through that same field, you will see individual blades of grass and a variety of vibrant and colourful wildflowers. Same field, different perspective. Life is like that too. Details are what make life interesting and you can’t see them if you’re rushing. Practice noticing the details by taking something you normally do quickly and slow it waaaaaay down.
-put down your fork between mouthfuls and savour each bite.
-slow down your yoga practice.
-explore that beautiful place you have driven past and always wanted to see up close. Get out of your car and walk through. Real slow.
Notice the details.
6) DO AN EVERYDAY ACTIVITY IN A NEW WAY
-take a different route to work.
-brush your teeth or eat your breakfast with your non-dominant hand.
-have dinner for breakfast.
-next time you go grocery shopping, start at the opposite end of the store than you normally do.
Notice how small changes alter the quality of your experience and your attention.
7) RECLAIM YOUR CHILD-LIKE CURIOSITY
Every child goes through the “Why?” phase. Why? Because the world is new to them – and so full of mystery and wonder. When my son was very young he asked me whether eagles, seagulls and beagles were related. That question stopped my mind in its tracks. I could see why he thought they might be related -but I had never made that connection myself. Like a thunderclap, I was jolted out of my know-it-all mind and invited to appreciate a connection between things I had never noticed before.
A question is an invitation to look at the world through new eyes. What have you always wondered? Go find an answer. Learning expands your perspective.
Speaking of learning…
8) LEARN A NEW SKILL
Appalachian clog dancing, painting rocks, how to do an oil change…
Notice what it feels like to try something with no preconceived ideas. Just be present as a
complete beginner - and absorb.
9) DUST OFF YOUR JOURNAL AND START WRITING
You might be surprised by what flows out of your pen and onto the page when you sit down to
write. Try not to censor yourself. Just put your pen to paper and go. You can use journal
prompts or write free-form and see what comes up for you. If you like prompts, try these.
When you cultivate a Beginners’ Mind, you’re more open to possibilities, you become more creative and you can connect with the people in your life more intimately. Those people get the thrill of experiencing your renewed interest in them, and they become more engaged in sharing their thoughts and ideas. Call it a positive feedback loop.
Beginners’ Mind also frees us from expectations about the future based on our past experiences. What’s next? Nobody knows for sure! How’s that for a mystery?
So, get outta cruise control and get tuned into the present moment - like you do when you’re driving down a dark, unfamiliar road at night and can only see as far ahead as your high beams. Stay open and alert. That’s Beginners’ Mind.