THE 1st 2 Limbs Of Ashtanga Yoga
The Code Of Ethics
The practice of yoga embraces every moment of our lives, and so our ethics—our guiding principles of conduct—are, of course, essential to reflect upon and study.
The way you conduct your outer life compliments your meditation. With a balance of inner development and outer restraint, a sense of strength, peace, and clarity stays with you all the time. Right conduct is the foundation of spiritual practice.
Meditation without morality is useless; morality alone, though admirable, is not the goal of life. Because right behavior is often a struggle, the strength of mind afforded by regular meditation is a necessity.
The guidelines of Yama and Niyama are thousands of years old, developed by the yogis as a way of bringing spiritual realization into a social context. They are not so much “commandments” as guides that should be deeply contemplated and rationally adjusted.
Yama refers to ethics regarding the outside world, and therefore is particularly important in social contexts. It comprises non-harm, truthfulness, non-stealing, universality, and greedlessness.
Niyama refers to ethics regarding the inner world. It comprises purification—or cleanliness—contentment, service, education, and surrender or devotion to something greater than oneself. As such, the ethics suggested in yoga are devoid of religious connotation. They are not based on moral value judgments of right and wrong but are rather seen as actions that help to quiet an overactive mind, regulate emotions, and enhance prosocial and skillful behaviors.
SEE ALSO: Yoga For Stress Relief: The Best Prescription In An Over-Medicated World
Healthy Practices: Niyama
The principles of Niyama helps to build a lifestyle that supports the values of Yama. These are practical steps we can take to make our lives richer and more spirit-centered.
Shaoca (pronounced sha-OH-cha) is traditionally defined as “cleanliness.” Through Shaoca, we get some sort of handle on the mess in our lives, both in a practical, physical sense and in the spiritual sense. It is possible to have a clean house and a messy, complicated mind. And it is possible to have a clear mind and a messy home—but not for long.
I define Shaoca as “clarity” rather than “cleanliness,” because it encompasses the whole range of behaviors around the value of being clean, clear, simple, and direct. It’s about cleaning the bathroom, but it’s also about how our minds get cluttered with nonsense, how our world gets poisoned by the waste products of greed, and how all of these seemingly different things are connected.
Cleanliness is next to Godliness; it’s true. However, Godliness may not always be next to cleanliness. While a saint may look at filth and see God, if you inspect her personal life you will find the utmost care for the cleanliness of her body and surroundings, even if those surroundings are in the worst slum in the world. You will find an orderly life, an orderly mind, and a sense of peace gained from this basic value of herself.
Shaoca in Practice
I once spent some time at Mother Teresa’s baby hospital in Calcutta, India, and the practice of Shaoca was apparent everywhere I looked. Each room was simple, aesthetically decorated, and clean. All the nuns and helpers were clean and had clear, direct faces.
The hundreds of babies, lined up in group cribs that stretched from one end of the large room to another, were clean, and their linens were fresh. It was a safe and comfortable place to be. All this came out of Mother Teresa’s love for God and her respect for everything and everyone as an expression of God.
To practice Shaoca, first of all we pay attention to our bodies and our surroundings. Do they reflect a mind at peace? We needn’t cultivate the controlling personality that shrinks in horror from a little dirt and spends hours ironing towels and scrubbing the tile with a toothbrush.
Rather, we can check in with our bodies and take a look at our homes, cars, property, and workplaces now and then and ask ourselves if they reflect and support our state of mind. While we can learn to accept the mess of a work in progress, taking steps to organize our workplaces and clean up our homes empowers us. It is yet another aspect of bringing consciousness to our choices and peace to our hearts.
The Importance of a Clean Environment
Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, “He who values his body more than dominion over the empire can be given custody of the empire.”
Accepting clarity as a value, we keep our bodies and environments clean; we try to reduce the amount of garbage we produce, and we recycle what we can. We care for the beauty of our world and delight in creating beautiful, simple spaces in which to live.
Just as dirt and clutter can destroy the serenity of our homes, selfishness, pride, jealousy, greediness, and rage can destroy and serenity of our minds. Embracing Shaoca means we commit ourselves to healing and “cleaning house.”
Having clean, clear relationships takes work. It requires being honest all the time and having the courage to talk about what is in our hearts. When we live our lives trying to avoid pain, we take the crooked path.
We don’t realize that honesty is food for our spirits. Our spirits begin to die of starvation when we lie to hide our true selves and cover our feelings with a mask of invulnerability. Sometimes, we need to move in the direction of pain in order to release it and find joy.
Questions to Ask Ourselves Regarding Shaoca
Embracing the value of Shaoca, we become aware of how we interact with our environment and what impact our personal choices have on it. We can ask ourselves:
- How much garbage do I produce each day? How can I reduce it? What measures has my community, my state, and my country taken to address this issue? By using food scraps for garden compost, recycling paper, plastic, glass, aluminum, and whatever else we can, we contribute a great deal to the future health and cleanliness of our communities.
- How much water do I use, and how much do I waste? Where does my water come from? How clean is it? What steps can I take to conserve water and ensure it will be clean and available in the future?
- How much of what I own serves a valuable purpose in my life? How much is unnecessary and not of use to me? A good way to clean up our homes is to recycle the clothing, tools, kitchen items, toys, and other “stuff” we no longer use by donating them to charities that can repair and give or resell them to others.
- How clean is the air I breathe? What steps can I take to reduce air pollution, both inside and outside my home?
- Are there environmental hazards in my region? How can I effect change and help protect my area from these hazards?
- Is there beauty and simplicity in my life? How do I feel in the atmosphere and physical setting of my home, my vehicle, my property, my workplace? Does it enhance my mental peace? Can I introduce artwork or other objects to beautify it? Would plants or animals like to share my space and add to its wholeness and balance? (And can I commit to serving them?) Is there a special place I can go to meditate and nourish my spirit?
SHAOCA IN PARENTING
With our children, Shaoca is more than bathing them every day and making them clean their rooms. If you watch children play in areas with and without fences, you will see that in a fenced playground, they freely play in all the available space. They pop into the world of their imaginations and explore. But without a fence, they clump together and fight, restricting the area they play in and avoiding the perimeters.
Children need the clarity of boundaries. The rules we set in our homes are like the fence; within these boundaries, they are secure and free to extend themselves. With no boundaries, they cannot explore; their spontaneity is limited, and they either become fearful and withdrawn or reckless and aggressive. They will begin to act out in a subconscious effort to find the missing boundary line.
When boundaries do not exist, or when rules are arbitrary and enforced with rigidity, criticism, and shame, children grow up with boundary problems and find it difficult to know how to act appropriately.
Fences and Consequences
Rules help children see where the “fence” that protects them starts and ends. There are both natural and logical consequences to all behavior. Logical consequences are those that are imposed when the natural consequences would be too dangerous or inappropriate.
For example, the natural consequence of a toddler pulling the cat’s tail would be getting scratched or bitten. But this is not a good risk for parents to allow, so a logical consequence needs to be clearly given by the parent. Logical consequences are best given in two or three stages. In this case, the parent could say, “No,” physically remove the child’s hand from the cat’s tail, and show the child how to pet the cat gently, saying, “Kitties are for petting. Pet the kitty gently,” smiling, and rewarding gentle petting with strokes and kisses.
If the behavior continued after a few of these efforts, the parent would move on to the next stage, saying, “No. Kitties are for petting, not for hurting,” and remove the child from the cat. The third stage (depending on the age appropriateness for the child) could be time to sit in a chair away from the cat. Rules require both clear (but non-abusive), negative consequences for breaking the rules, and positive consequences for succeeding.
Giving structure to our children’s lives is one of the trials and gifts of parenthood. The cleaner and clearer we are able to be in all our communication, the the better we can make safe, serene homes for our kids. for our kids.
AFFIRMATION OF SHAOCA
Today, I choose to be clean and clear in thought, word, and action. I behave with clarity in all my relationships. I contribute to the beauty of my world.
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