RSS Feed

Yet more “why I practice yoga”… vol 67

Yesterday, I had a dentist appointment. This is hardly earth-shaking business for most people. In fact most people, it’s a semi-annual, rather routine event. I am not most people. I am what you call a ‘dental freak’ — phobic to the extreme. I think my dentist is a wonderful, compassionate, kind person. I want to faint in her chair. The thought of having a dental appointment makes me nauseous. You get the drift…

My dentist, God bless her, deals with this minor personality quirk of mine by regularly prescribing batches of Ativan for my dental crazies. The night before my appointment, I take 3 tablets and an hour before my appointment, I take another 3. I am, in the words of Pink Floyd, comfortably numb. It’s really, really hard to mount a full-blown anxiety attack when you’ve got that much chemical “chill” in your system.

This has been a regular practice for the last decade. My dental freakiness has improved. I can now go and get my teeth checked and cleaned without being stoned but for anything that’s going to involve needles, drilling or other dental like practices… pass the Ativan. It’s all I can do to resist washing it down with a good single-malt whiskey.

Being a complete and total dental freak, I made sure I had my handy-dandy prescription for the magic pills in my hand on the Thursday before my appointment. I was busy so I put off going to the pharmacy. I’d get it filled on the weekend. Guess what? I forgot.

Forgot? How the hell did I manage to forget? And what did I forget? The prescription? Or the appointment itself? Yeah, I know, technically, it’s called repression. Whatever you’d call it in psychology class, the upshot was the same. It’s 9 pm on Sunday night, I’m getting ready for bed and I have NO FRICKIN’ DRUGS. Not only is my drugstore closed, every drugstore within 5 hours drive is closed because it’s Sunday. There will be no procurement of same tonight. I am on my own.

So what to do, what to do? First, my inner yogini whispers, BREATHE. And it dawns on me, slow learner that I am, that this is why the hell I’ve been practicing yoga forever and six minutes. I’ve been doing it so I can learn to control my inner freak-outs. This, dammit all, is the purpose of all that practice, practice, practice… well, that and enlightenment but right now, I’ll settle for being able to breathe at the thought of a drug-free dental experience.

So I ran through a few Moon Salutations and went to bed. I can’t say I slept like a baby because I was restless and I awoke several times but when I was awake, I wasn’t fixated on how many nanoseconds remained before my appointment. I got up at the usual time and ran through my morning routine in a completely mindless state. I was so ‘out of it’, I overshot my insulin by a factor of 3 and then had to calculate how much sugar I’d need to compensate. I got caught in traffic long enough to make me 15 minutes late. Traditionally, being tardy turns me into an emotional basket case. But I was approaching this morning with a yogic attitude – what do I have control over and what do I have no control over. An accident on the only functioning bridge in town was decidedly out of my control – so I called the dentist office, left a message that I hadn’t forgotten my appointment and I let go of it.

Was I nervous in the chair? Yes, I was. I’m not going to lie and tell you that I was the portrait of relaxed. I can tell you that I wasn’t a basket case. My body wasn’t rigid. I wasn’t holding my breath. I wasn’t in a state of panic. What I was in was a state of slight unease. When I felt myself tightening up, either in breath or body, I consciously relaxed those muscles. I let my body release into the support of the chair. I reminded myself to stay in the present moment and not add to my anxiety by projecting my fear into the future. I continuously brought myself back and back and back again to my breath. Present moment; wonderful moment. After the appointment, my dentist remarked that I did a great job. “You were positively Zen”, she said. You have no idea how Zen, I thought, as I filled out the cheque.

Since I am not writing this column from the afterlife, it’s obvious that I survived, but more than that, I helped unwind a little of my dental freakiness. My dental phobia is learned behaviour and all learned behaviours can be unlearned. We can replace unskilful habits with skilful ones. There is no permanence to the things that live in our mind unless we work at making them ‘permanent’.

According to my dentist, I’m going to need a root canal and crown on the teeth that’s been repaired. In the years when I ground my teeth in my sleep, I literally cracked and shattered the enamel on every one of my molars and this tooth in particular, has very little structural stability left in it. I can’t say that I’ll be able to do that procedure Ativan-free but it’s a possibility. I can actually visualize this happening by resting on my breath, in the present moment.

Present moment; wonderful moment. And that’s why I practice yoga.

Thanks for reading and Namaste,

Kate

 

 

 

 


 

Advertisements

You would be wrong, M. Descartes: YSP 2.6

2.6 drig darshana shaktyoh ekatmata iva asmita

Bouanchaud: Individual ego consciousness of “I” sees mental and physical activity as the source of consciousness.

Desikachar: False identity results when we regard mental activity as the very source of perception.

Swami J: The coloring (klesha) of I-ness or egoism (asmita), which arises from the ignorance, occurs due to the mistake of taking the intellect (buddhi, which knows, decides, judges, and discriminates) to itself be pure consciousness (purusha/drig).

Cognito ergo sum – I think, therefore, I am. Those are the famous words of 16th century French philosopher Rene Descartes. Although arguable, people have gone to hell with the joke, this famous philosophical statement has frequently been pointed to as the ‘ground zero’ of the mind-body split that dominates contemporary Western thought. Personally, I think laying all of it at the feet of Descartes is a bit much, but he did manage to nicely sum up what has become a dominant meme in my culture, namely that I am my mind. My body, on those few and infrequent occasions when I think of it, is for the purpose of carting my mind around. And I, my consciousness, my own true self, am a product of my intellect. I am, to put it simply, a brain on a stick.

Why this heartfelt identification with my mental activity? I suppose because being totally identified with my body would be just plain silly. If I was in a traffic accident and had my leg amputated, I wouldn’t be less myself than I was before the accident. When I had my gallbladder removed, it didn’t make me less of a person. Clearly, my Self is not my body.

By default, my source of “I” has to be my mind. Personally, I fell for this one for years. I was pretty proud of my ever-analysing, ever-thinking, ever-planning, judging, knowing, discriminating mind. Brain on a stick. How much I identified with it became very apparent over the last year. Between the heart condition and the drugs they use to treat it, I’m simply not as smart as I used to be. Details confuse me. I have difficulties remembering things that I’ve just read. I really have to work much harder at my school work because I don’t retain ideas or concepts like I used to. Forget about details – I’ve just thrown in the towel on that one. I really feel the decline in my cognitive function and it frustrates me. As I tell my husband frequently, it’s hard when you can remember what is was like to be smart.

So, if my brain and mind capacity has lessened markedly in the past year, does that make me less of a person than I was previously?

Put that way, it sounds downright silly. I’m still Kate – a slightly more dimwitted one than the previous version – but I’m still me. To me, it stands to reason that my Self, who I am, my identity, is neither my body nor my mind because I can lose parts of each and still be me. Now this is a point where the Buddhist traditions and the yoga tradition part ways. The Buddhist tradition argues that there is nothing else – anatman. The yoga tradition has maintained that underneath mind and personality, there is an essential universal Self – atman but that’s a discussion for a later day.

But here’s the point of this sutra – referring back to the previous arguments that the root cause, the field in which all the kleshas grow, is avidya – ignorance. Part of that general ignorance discussed in the last section was the mistake I’ve made for years – letting my ego confuse my physical actions and my mental actions with sense of consciousness. And now that I’m more involved in yoga practices, this is starting to make sense to me.

When I’m meditating, I frequently use breath anchored meditation techniques, and my mind likes to wander. I’m all “Breathe in, Breathe out, breath in, did I remember to take the garbage out, do I need to make a bank transfer, when is the oil change due on the car…. “. At some point in this soliloquy of mundane household management, something notices that I’m not “Breathe in, breathe out…” anymore. I’m way to hell and gone in some other direction, at which time, the something else calls my wandering mind back on task, namely paying attention to my breathing.

The question is: What is “Something Else”? I’ve read elsewhere in the Sutras about the Seer, the Observer, or the Watcher. My only guess is that is the “Something Else” who is paying attention when my mind wanders off. Atman, perhaps? I don’t know but it’s my ambition to find out.

Thanks for reading and Namaste,

Kate


Attitude Counts: The Shaucha Project pt 2.

Last month, during my annual teacher’s training, we were concentrating on Chapter 2 of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – the chapter on method. It’s in this chapter where we find the famous 8 limbs of yoga, namely

  • Yamas – morality in my relationships with others
  • Niyama — personal observances
  • Asana – postural practice
  • Pratyhara – withdrawal of the senses
  • Pranayama – breath regulation and control of the life force.
  • Dharana – concentration and cultivating inner awareness
  • Dhyana – devotion and meditation
  • Samadhi – union with the Divine.

While we were sitting in the beautiful comfort of my teacher’s home studio overlooking the banks of the Nashwaak river, I realized that while I’d managed to get myself fairly straight on the yamas – issues of basic morality – I’d fallen down big time on the niyamas – my personal observances. The first of them is shaucha – cleanliness. For the record, I bathe on a regular basis – just wanted to get that one out of the way. It was housework that was my buggabear. I never been a huge fan of it – like who is? It’s always been a necessary waste of time that I begrudgingly did because I had to… and did again, because I had to, and did again, because I had to. Probably the number one complaint about housework is it is a never-ending job. We do it, knowing while we labour, it needs to be done again in a day, a week, a month. There’s an element of futility associated with it.

Last August when my heart condition came to a head, followed by the treatment protocols which are possible worse than the illness in the short-term, housework hit an all time low. My husband and daughter did the basics on a regular basis. The dishes were always done, the bathroom was clean. There were clean clothes to wear – sometimes even hung up and put away. The clutter and the general debris of human existence, on the other hand, never went away. Stuff accumulated. Dust accumulated. And as more stuff accumulated, the clutter took its toll on my sense of equilibrium. Even as my energy improved, I’d take one look at the overwhelming pile of clutter and sink back into the couch in discouragement.

So what is my clutter? Some of it was sheer slothfulness – too lazy to physically walk over to a garbage receptacle and junk the offending item. That is the easy stuff to clear away. More problematic were the accumulated crap that had its origins in emotional and mental turmoil in my head. And there’s the big point – clutter isn’t about in intermittent bout of untidiness. It’s a physical representation of the emotional and psychological uproar of my mind. Clutter happens because I’m mentally incapable of letting go of things I no longer need. It’s when I try to fortify my physical existence with the accumulation of things, like books and bric-a-brac and yoga accessories. It’s about my unresolved emotions surrounding a persons who is no longer in my life but that ‘thing’ has some connection to them and I don’t know how to throw it out without losing hold of them (or my memory of them).

And so my life has slowly been an accumulation of more and more and more and I realized this summer in class that it had become a burden and I no longer have the strength or the desire to carry this burden any further. So little by little, at least twice a week, I tackle what I call a ‘shaucha project”. It’s the cleaning of a closet or a cupboard. It’s about throwing out what is no longer useful to anyone, and sending what I no longer use to places where it can be reused or recycled. I keep the projects small so I don’t become overwhelmed. Rather than do these chores in a resentful way – my normal mode for doing housework – I’ve decided to turn things around by doing these chores in a yogic manner –with joy.

Years ago I read a book by one of my favourite authors Thich Nhat Hanh called Present Moment Wonderful Moment: Mindfulness verses for daily living. In it he collected or wrote many gathas – little poetic reminders to be attuned to each action, infusing sacredness into the most mundane moments. Here’s one that goes with washing the dishes:

Washing the dishes

is like bathing a baby Buddha

the profane is the sacred

Everyday mind is Buddha mind.

While my particular brain sucks at remembering any sort of poetic verse for more than 90 seconds at a stretch, the use of gathas is a wonderful reminder to stay present in the moment. What has stuck is the spirit behind them – to be fully present and awake during a ‘routine’ activity and not using the tediousness of it as an excuse to escape into the fantasy worlds of past and future.

There’s something very beautiful about being able to turn my ‘ordinary moments’ of everyday life into extraordinary moments of practice. Yoga is not confined to the yoga mat or the studio. Yoga happens whenever we bring ourselves fully to the present moment, to truly live life on its own terms instead of trying to negotiate for a better deal, or in the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, when we allow the profane to become the sacred.

What’s been transformative for me is that this ordinary housework has ceased being a chore. It is neither good nor bad. It simply is. The results are neither good nor bad. They simply are. I don’t start the project with a grumbling heart and I don’t start manufacturing my resentments over it. Let’s face it, one of the leading complaints about housework is that it is never DONE. At best, it’s done for now. The next meal will mean more dishes. Tomorrow, the floor will need to be re-swept… again. There is not inherent, lasting sense of accomplishment in these tasks.

The real question is: why was I looking for a lasting sense of accomplishment in these tasks? That’s ridiculous. The nature of floors is that they need to be swept. They don’t stay clean. They accumulate everything that was subject to gravity since they were swept last. So why would I be resentful of this? That’s just silliness on my part. Furthermore, with all the time and energy I consumed being resentful over the intrinsic nature of “floor”, I could have swept the damned thing 18 times and still had time for a coffee.

Oddly enough, there are plenty of daily living tasks that I don’t get weirder out about. I don’t resent my shower time or my tooth-brushing time because I’ll only have to do it again tomorrow. In fact, I enjoy the sensations of warm clean water running over my body, the smell of my soap, the feel of my skin when I get out. A shower is an extremely pleasant experience if I let myself be present to it. So how is it different than cleaning the floor?

In a word, it’s attitude. I start housework with a negative attitude. I start my shower with a positive one. I accept the shower for what it is – I’m going to get wet. I don’t accept the floor for what it is – the place where falling stuff lands. In other words, the problem has never been the housework – it’s been my piss-poor attitude around all along that caused my suffering over it. And I know from other yoga practices that when I change my mind, I change the moment. By cultivating shaucha as a practice, I change the nature of my relationship to the floor – the profane becomes sacred.

Thanks for reading and Namaste,

Kate

Ignorance is very expensive: YSP 2.5

2.5 antiya ashuchi duhkha anatmasu nitya shuchi sukha atman khyatih avidya

Bouanchaud: Ignorance is the confusion of the temporary with the permanent, the pure with the impure, anguish with the pleasure of being, and the relative with the absolute.

Desikachar: Misapprehension leads to errors in comprehension of the character, origin and effects of the objects perceived.

Swami J: Ignorance (avidya) is of four types: 1) regarding that which is transient as eternal, 2) mistaking the impure for pure, 3) thinking that which brings misery to bring happiness, and 4) taking that which is not-self to be self.

Avidya (ignorance) is a fundamental confusion about our own nature. Unlike some philosophical/ religious / spiritual traditions, yoga doesn’t see this as being any body’s fault. It’s simply part of the human condition. This is actually an important point because it starts from the premise that none of us did anything wrong to find ourselves in this predicament. I do not suffer from this foundational state of ignorance because I have sinned nor has anyone in my ancestral apple tree, for that matter.

Again, like all the kleshas, there’s no cure for this condition. It’s a function of being human, part of the programming, and we just have to learn to deal with it. Dealing with it would be a whole lot easier if we knew the nature of our ignorance and Patanjali nicely steps up to the plate on that one. Here is the problem, in 25 words or less…

We confuse the temporary with the permanent, the pure with the impure, anguish with the pleasure of being and the relative with the absolute
– thank you Bernard Bouanchaud.

There it is in a nutshell. In case you’re looking for a few examples to make it more concrete, here’s a few out a possible bazillion…

Thinking that my body is going to last forever;

Thinking that my feelings about this subject are going to be how I feel about it forever;

Thinking that a bigger TV, a bigger house, a nicer doo-dad is going to make me happy;

Thinking that I’d already be enlightened if only I’d lose 60 pounds;

Thinking that I already know all this (whatever THIS should turn out to be) and so I don’t need to open myself to learning;

Being ridiculously stubborn about a political or sociological or cosmological or theological ideology;

Using food (or any sensual distraction) as a drug to numb myself from discomfort;

Using the little improvements I have honed in my personality as “proof” that I really am better than the unwashed masses;

Hardening my heart to the suffering of others because I think I have found the solution;

Thinking that because I have cleaned up my act in some respects that I don’t have a lot of work to do yet;

Off the mat, and when I’m not reading a lot of mish-mash from a bunch of dead sociologists, I’ve been reading a book by Dan Gardner called Risk. It’s about all the many, many ways we scare ourselves witless because, as a species, we really are terrible at calculating risk. Seriously, we suck at it, as individuals and as a society. Although (so far), he hasn’t said as much, the problem arises from our ignorance on how our own minds work. We spend billions of dollars on airport “security” measures, strip search old ladies wearing Depends(tm) because they might be smuggling a bomb in their incontinence underwear, won’t allow a sealed bottle of water on an airplane, expect people to endure ‘body scans” – all measures which in 100 years won’t stop ONE attack yet… yet… the baggage handlers in major airports can be made members of the Hell’s Angels and other organized crime groups. Apparently there’s no security risk there…

No wonder the commentators on this sutras keep stressing that it’s our ignorance that the foundation for all the forces that make us suffer. A former professor of mine used to remind his students when they were griping about rising tuition costs “If you think education is expensive; try ignorance”.

He’s right. Our ignorance, from our ability to assess risk, to not knowing how our mind works, to our lack of understanding on our own spiritual nature, exacts a high price from each of us. It’s time for me to stop paying that highwayman and resolve to eliminate some of my ignorance.

Thanks for reading and Namaste,

Kate


OOOOOooooppss, I forgot: Why I practice yoga vol 637

Yesterday, I never actually got around to practicing yoga. By that, I mean I didn’t do postural practice, breathing practice, meditation practice, no saucha practice, no self-reflection, or surrendering to God. There was no yoga yesterday. I forgot to do my practice. Okay, you’re right, that’s a total lie. I didn’t forget, I neglected and there is a difference between the two.

How did that happen? Well, first off, I woke up late. I was supposed to meet my daughter to go to market. I had enough time to brush my teeth and throw some clothes on and get into the car. I left in such a hurry that I forgot my morning medications. That is just plain ridiculous but there’s a classic case of a mind in a state of total disarray – unfocused and forgetful.

And when I got home, I did a bit of this and a bit of that. I spent a good chuck of the afternoon reading (trying to read) an English translation of an essay that was published in 1912 about the structure and function of religion. It was 30 pages of hard slogging and I was finding it difficult to concentrate on the topic at hand. Again, the mind wandering, not wanting to work and reading of this nature can only be described as work. For those of you wishing what you might want to strike off your reading bucket list, the work in question was Emile Durkheim’s “The Elementary Forms of Religious Life”. I’m trying to finish up my long-abandoned Sociology degree before my daughter starts her undergrad degree…well, maybe before she finishes said degree.

We went for a walk, admired the fall crop of mushrooms and came home to make supper. I was semi-confused in the kitchen and managed to forget part of what I had intended to cook. Again, the flitting monkey mind, unable to concentrate on any one task, just here there and everywhere, instead of doing what needs to be done. I’m surprised I didn’t chop off small body bits because concentration is a particularly useful attribute when wielding a razor sharp 10 inch chunk of finely honed German steel, but no neglectful yoginis were damaged in the production of last night’s dinner.

I suppose I could have practiced in the evening but I was feeling slothful and I didn’t bother. I went to bed in decent time, slept moderately well and woke up this morning with the monkey mind in high-rev.

Today’s practice (technically yesterday’s) was a simple one written by Claude Maréchal, my teacher’s teacher. The principle posture was that weird supine twist I’ve only seen in Viniyoga practices where one lays down, walks the heels a few centimetres to one side and then breathes that position. The lead up was simple: prayer, child, cat combinations. There was nothing physically challenging in this practice. It was literally a practice one could safely teach to a drop-in beginner level class where no one knows the postures nor how to modify them.

Could I concentrate? OH HELL NO. My mind was on my class readings, my teacher (have to call her today), what’s for dinner, what’s for breakfast, I need to remember to transfer money between accounts…ohhhhh, I need to sweep under the bed…

I’ve been trying to develop the use of ratio breath in my postural practices – I’m mostly working at a simple 6-3-6-3 ratio. Some days, when my energy is down, I have to cut it back to 4-2-4-2. Do you think I could concentrate well enough this morning to count to 6? That would be a big, fat negative. I lost my mind more times in today’s practice that I could shake a stick at. Let’s put it this way, I think I did most of the postures for 6 (or so) breaths.

Of course, what has put this monkey mindedness in sharp relief is that I’ve been on a regular daily practice for the last three weeks. I’m practicing morning and night (moon salutations before tucking in). My body and my ever-blessed mind have got used to having this morning restructuring of my life energy. After all, a postural practice is about reorganizing prana in the body, opening up the places where it’s stuck and smoothing out the places where it’s in turmoil. And without it, I’m literally driving myself nuts, at a time in my life when I need all the cognitive capacity I can muster.

Okay, new breath, new moment – but here it is… I practice yoga because when I don’t, I make myself crazy.

Thanks for reading and Namaste,

Kate

And this would be why I practice yoga – Vol 137

I live in Canada which means my basic medical coverage is covered through my taxes (and the taxes my neighbours kindly pay). Every five years or so, I get an application to renew my Medicare coverage which expired in May of this year. There’s been some kind of administrative foul-up in the Medicare office which resulted in a lot of people’s renewal cards not being processed in time. Nobody panicked – doctor’s offices and hospital took the expired cards, knowing that at some point in time things would get caught up. Apparently, there are still a few bugs in the system – my medical coverage was cancelled.

I discovered this yesterday when I checked the morning mail, to find a bill from the hospital for the colonoscopy/gastroscope I had done at the end of August. For the sole purpose of making my American readers cringe, the bill was a grand total of $260 – a sum which I know won’t cover your parking fees in an American hospital. Obviously, the bill was issued because Medicare had politely declined to cover it for me.

Five years ago, this would have been cause for a complete and total freak out first-class. I would have sworn. I would have ranted. I would have flipped my gourd. My blood pressure would have spiked and I would have been mentally rehearsing all the arguments I was going to have with all the faceless bureaucrats I had yet to meet. That was me pre-yoga or as I like to dub her Kate 1.0. Ego would have run wild with this one … oh the “I, I, I” stories that could have been spun from this snafu.

Kate 2.0 is a different creature. She avoids having fights with people she hasn’t met, involving issues that haven’t arisen yet, in a future that exists solely in the fertile fields of my imagination. Kate 2.0 has abandoned paranoia and conspiracy because they turned out to be piss-poor travelling companions. What I did do upon the receipt of this bill was put myself into my car, drive downtown to the government services office and spoke to an incredibly helpful and courteous civil servant who directed me on the proper course of action in these circumstances. Within 20 minutes, my renewal application notice had been faxed to the Medicare office and I had a receipt showing I had made my renewal application. Even with stopping for a bit of lunch and into the used bookstore for a brief browse (purchase is presumed), I was back home within 90 minutes. Mission accomplished and without all the drama.

I’ll be honest. I’m glad to have walked away from the drama. First off, it was exhausting – mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritual draining. In retrospect, approximately 98.7% of the stuff I got ramped up on wasn’t worth it in the first place. Most of my self-generated drama was just crap I’d made up. I imagined that the situation would go THIS way and then I started making arguments to defend my position… but if it went THAT way, then I needed a whole new set of arguments to counter… My Lord, that sounds suspiciously like work.

And nothing is exactly what it was because all these battles were being fought in the future that lived solely in my imagination. These were my fears projected into the future. Totally, absolutely 100% fiction. Sounds pretty silly when I put it that way, doesn’t it? So why did I expend all that energy on my imaginary future? The simple answer is “Ego”. My ego would get bored and would spin off some far-fetched wild stories in an attempt to entertain itself. It was the producer, director and writer – not to mention STAR – of its own little soap opera. And that’s all it ever was – the self-generated soap opera of my ego.

Kate – meet Asmita, your ego. Asmita, meet Kate… And as we know from our studies already, Asmita (ego) is one of the five kleshas that cause our suffering when they hijack our minds. Why was I suffering in the past with all my tension, stress and trauma? Because my ego was spinning this increasingly wild soap opera that I was caught up in. How does one stop suffering? Weaken the kleshas. In this case, it’s dialling down the hold the ego has on my mental processes.

And how is this done? Practice, practice, practice. Patanjali tells me that the sustained practice of yoga will increase my contemplation and decrease the effects of kleshas on my mind, and if it isn’t obvious by now, I’m sorely in need of both.

So why do I practice yoga? I practice because sometimes things just get screwed up and processes don’t always go the way they should. Sometimes you open the mail and there’s a bill for $260 that you actually don’t owe. Yoga doesn’t mean less crap lands in your life. It just makes you better at dealing with it constructively on the days when it does.

Thanks for reading and Namaste,

Kate

 

The Saucha Project

This summer at Yoga School, my colleagues and I tore into Chapter 2 of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. This is a chapter I’ve gotten a lot out of and it’s been less than two weeks since the course finished. No doubt about it, I’m a through and through Chapter 2 kind of yogini.

What appeals to me is it is a very pragmatic chapter. It talks about METHOD. What’s the cause of suffering and how do we end up there and most importantly, how we get out of suffering. How do we make it stop?

It’s also been a very “uncomfortable” chapter for me to read because it’s put the mirror right in front of my nose and there’s been no way to avoid where I fall ‘short’ of the yogic ideals that live in my head. For me, the week’s study was a huge exercise in ‘getting real and keeping it real”.

Now way back when I did my original 200 hour teachers’ training, like every other aspiring yoga teacher, regardless of tradition, I studied the yamas and niyamas. They’ll be discussed later this year in this blog column because they are part of chapter 2 but they’re frequently ‘extracted’ for early study because they form the backbone of the yoga code of ethics. Most yoga teachers, regardless of tradition, have implicitly ‘signed on’ to using the yamas and niyamas in daily life. The yamas are about codes of conduct in relationship to others while the niyamas are the codes of conduct for my relationship with me. Saucha is the first of the niyamas and it translates to “cleanliness’. Now in yoga speak, cleanliness means more than having a daily shower. It’s about cleanliness of our surroundings, our body, and our general environment.

In the past year, since my heart disease diagnosis, I have seriously fallen off the saucha truck. While my family have done a good job at keeping up with the basics of the day to day – dishes are done, bathroom is done on a regular basis – the rest of the house has gone to rack and ruin. I’m currently awash with clutter. There isn’t a square centimetre of this house that couldn’t do with a good scrubbing. For the record, this isn’t about some imaginary Martha Stewart, Good Housekeeping Standard. The disarray of possession and plunder is sapping my energy. My house is full of tangled energy and I really feels it’s taking its toll on me – mentally, physically and spiritually. I’m already behind the proverbial 8-ball on the energy front given that a considerable chunk of my heart doesn’t work. Clutter and messiness everywhere I look feels overwhelming. I feel very fractured and when I sit down to rest, I feel anything but restful. Although fatigue is and remains a real daily challenge for me, I’m really starting to appreciate how important saucha is to my state of well-being and I don’t mean that in a germaphobic way.

So, one of my projects from this coming year is what I’ve dubbed The Saucha Project. It’s a practice, as much as meditation or postural work is a practice. Every day I tackle a new little project. This weekend past it was new bed linens and starting to organize a dedicated yoga space for my daughter and me to use this winter. There are closets to be cleaned and many accumulated things to be purged. It’s time to let go of things that no longer serve me well. I’ve hung onto too many things for too many years because there were memories attached to them.

I’m posting this practice because this year I’m really trying to emphasize to people that yoga is not JUST postural work. My saucha project is as much yoga as rocking a full scorpion. The key to making it yoga, as opposed to just another chore list, is presence. The idea is to not turn on the radio and speed my way as quickly as possible through the ‘to do’ list. My intention is to do this clean-up in a yogic manner; that is, to be present and aware though the entire experience. When I’m vacuuming the floor, I’ll really be vacuuming the floor – body, mind and spirit, fully present and aware in the experience.

I’ll keep you posted on how this experiment works out. Thanks for reading and Namaste,

Kate