The practice of yoga (and pranayama and meditation) cleanse and purify the body and mind. But we must also work at limiting the impurities that we come into contact with - through our food, relationships, entertainment, homes and other external influences. In yoga philosophy we call this Shaucha and it is the first of five internal observations or practices. It literally means purity, cleanliness and clearness and the practice refers to purity of mind, speech and body. One of the ways we can observe this teaching and practice it in our daily lives is through clean spaces.
When I did my Yoga Teacher Training the lead teacher was pretty into creating a clean and pure environment in which to hold class. To be honest, the bulk of the work was done for us. I did my training at a gorgeous villa in Bali. Our studio space was a huge tiled open aired room overlooking rice paddies and rich tropical gardens. Frangipanis scattered the lawns and ceremonial incence burned all around us. You couldn't ask for much more.
But not all yoga classes are held in big open aired rooms overlooking rice fields and tropical flora. Regularly our teacher would talk to us about how we can create a welcoming environment for our students. What should be present and what shouldn't be. How the space should feel when you walk in. He talked about everything from cleanliness to beauty to layout.
To be honest, I thought lining the yoga mats up with the grain of the wood or the lay of the tiles was a bit much, but I certainly understood where he was coming from. The feeling you get when you walk into a room - any room, not just a yoga studio - can totally affect your experience in that space.
One of my favourite things about teaching yoga is preparing a space for my students that feels comfortable, welcoming, warm and inspiring. Here on the island I am somewhat limited to what I can and can't do in preparing for a class, but when I have a student at home the first thing I do is clean the space. I sweep the floor, light incense, put a nice fabric cloth over the table. I creat a space that is both nice to walk into and nice to practice in.
But when I don't have a student I don't do any of those things. I just throw my mat down. The cleaning comes after practice. I started to wonder about this one day. Why? Why do I do this? Why am I so ready to give to others what I can't seem to give myself? I decided, in that moment, that my morning ritual EVERY DAY would include preparing the yoga space - whether I had a student or not!
I'll be honest, you guys, It didn't save the worlds problems. But it is changing my yoga practice, and it is changing my relationship to myself. House work (and in particular, for me, sweeping) can be a lovely meditation when done mindfully. By making a ritual from these practices I am already in a clearer state of mind when I come to the mat. I also have a few less things on the to do list that likes to play itself over and over and over in my mind during my practice. And the gift of a lovingly prepared yoga space has not gone unnoticed by my spirit. Like a hot bath or a bowl of dhal on a chilly day it just makes my heart happy.
I practice in our living space so my preparation includes clearing dishes, tucking in chairs, tidying up anything that has accumulated on the table and putting a nice cloth over it. I also light my favourite incense and play music if I can get the speakers to work. A few small things can go a long way. This week, I encourage you to spend an extra minute or two preparing the space in which you practice.