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Mary E. Vandenack: Saucha • How We Treat Ourselves

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This article shifts from my examination of the yamas of yoga to the niyamas. The niyamas are the second limb of the eight-fold path of yoga. The niyamas are observances and relate to how we treat ourselves. The first niyama is saucha, defined as purity or cleanliness. Yoga is a practice designed to unify mind and body. The concept of saucha thus relates to the purity of the physical, the mental, the emotional and the environment.

On the physical level, there is the basic of taking care of one’s body. How we take care of ourselves externally often represents how we feel about ourselves internally.

There are times in our lives - when we are ill, when we are grieving, or when we are faced with significant challenges such as unexpected financial hardship - that the simplest physical self-care may seem challenging. It is during these times that basic selfcare is crucial.

My longtime practice has been to keep a simple list of those things that are really important. If they are not happening, I know life is out of balance and I need to retrack. Most recently, after many challenges within a year, I started crossing many things off my calendar so that I could do a better job of taking care of myself. Exercise is also an important part of saucha on the physical level.

Exercise keeps energy moving within the body. Exercise and care of the physical body supports the ability to clear the mind.

Saucha also refers to our physical surroundings. When items sit in our closet unused and undusted for years at a time, past energy remains trapped. There is a reason that it feels great to clean out closets and donate to thift stores or have a garage sale. It is a way of clearing energy and cleansing.

I have been a fan of a combined physical and mental detox on a regular basis. I am not, however, a fan of intense detox practices. I simply take some time each season to change the ways I’m eating and to eat lightly. I usually eliminate processed foods and sugars and anything else that may have snuck into my diet that I deem not in my best interest. I take some time to notice what I have been eating and how it is affecting me. We all have our dietary culprits. My way of removing them is to cut back to basics for a few weeks. Personally, I turn to ayurvedic principles of detox for my body type.

For me, the only way a detox works is if I clear enough time that the focus during that period can be the process of clearing. I take time out to do more yoga and meditation, spend more time sitting on the deck and more time with friends, as well as other activities that relax me. Detoxing usually does not work well in periods of high stress. While it is important to seek to eat well to help support oneself through times of high stress, going to the lengths of a detox during that period can be counter-productive.

Mental purity is about how we are thinking and speaking. What thoughts are we holding on to? What things do we say repeatedly?

What are we listening to? What type of music do we play? What type of television channels do we have turned on? What do we focus on when we read the paper or blogs? What magazines are we picking up? When we are checking out at the grocery, are we reading the celebrity tribulations or the magazines on healthy cooking? Are we putting into our mind information and thoughts that will improve our internal energy?

What are we thinking? When we are driving to work, are we grateful that we can still afford the gas to get there or are we ticked because the new driver or old lady in front of us is driving too slowly?

What are we saying to ourselves? I listened to myself while golfing recently. Golf is a difficult game and I am struggling with my inability to shoot par every round. Choosing to listen to myself was a good decision. I was sick of the conversation after three holes. During those three holes, I must have called myself and my golf coach losers several times. That was pretty ineffective. For the rest of the round, I decided to adopt the practice taught to myself and my son by a friend. His approach was to yell “perfect” whenever you have a shot that is less than you are hoping for. The technique works rather well. I did have to yell “perfect” several times but I was laughing rather than getting frustrated and ended up enjoying the round even though I shot well above my average that day.

I have begun to apply the “perfect principle” in areas of my life off the golf course as well. If you can’t get yourself to use “perfect,” at least go for “okay,” but speak well to yourself, no matter what. You are not a moron because you had too much on your plate one day and forgot to get one thing done. If you have too much on your plate, you need some loving kindness and it starts with how you treat yourself.

What are we saying to others? Are we letting people know that they matter to us? Are we aware that the conversation we are having with someone can be the very last one that we might have? I recently had a “last” conversation with a friend who collapsed later that day and died of a stroke a few days later. Are our conversations uplifting or are we complaining about the color of Jane’s shoes? If we are finding the need to say things that make someone feel “less,” why are we doing that?

I was recently getting ready to teach yoga at a studio where the locker room is shared with a gym. It was a Sunday morning and I was trying to create a positive mindset that would support those who showed up for my class. In the locker room, I ran into a lady who had been working out vigorously and was sweating on a very hot day. She said to me, “Don’t you just hate the heat? I just hate the heat?” I looked at her and said, “Actually, it seems to suit you really well. You look invigorated. I’m sure that as soon as you cool from your workout, you are going to feel great and have a fabulous day.” I ran into her later that morning and she thanked me for shifting her mindset. Imagine if we could all offer that to others just a little more often.

Mary E. Vandenack, while a lawyer by profession, has studied extensively in mind/body areas of fitness and wellness. She is Yoga Alliance RYT-200, Power Pilates certified, ACE certified and has completed her Stott Pilates comprehensive studies, as well as a variety of work in nutriition.

-end- metroMAGAZINE





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