The present moment is a gift: to just be.
It is also the truest way to clean
The doldrums, the emotions, the memories
they are not me.
Saucha- cleanliness in mind body and speech
Writing is an excavation and an evacuation of the mind. I scribble the angry, the insane, and the horrible onto the paper. It is an act of Saucha- not to ignore my putrid thoughts, illicit cravings, and ominous dreams. Rather, the cleanse occurs when we bring the obscene to the light. What is this dirty thought really about? What does my spirit really need?
Scribbled two months ago in a Buddha bound diary:
“I love it here in Puerto Escondido….but, I would do dirty, dirty things for a long, hot shower….”
I could write a book on Saucha. These past three months- I’ve delved deeply into the cleanse. Arctic showers amidst radiant skies. Plunging into the pool a spiritual ritual rather than pedantic exercise. Body absorbs in waters- weightless, effortless, momentarily without sin or circumstance. Sometimes, I wish to exist within the metaphor.
Saucha- we yogis carefully orchestrate our bodies in harmony with our breath. We salute the sun and detoxify from our waking weariness, We fly, bend back, and land more focused than ever before. Saucha- sweat cries out our toxins.
Saucha- breath drowns out the mental debris.
Roll up your mat. You’ve done your yoga for the day. Drink your water and a eat your vegetables. Cloak your body in fair trade fabric and float into dream-time beneath the bamboo sheets.
You swallowed unkind words. You smiled and you served. But something was missing.
Cleanliness is my speech, body and mind.
I implore you to explore the state of your mind. Travel a layer beneath the skin – to the valley where mischievous thoughts lurk. Because Saucha is not a superficial procedure. It is a inventory of your honesty. Distance yourself from the bad/good dirty/clean dichotomy. Instead, consider the inconsistencies. The heaviness in your chest. The tightness in your jaw. The lingering beliefs that you are not good enough and nor were you ever lovable. Saucha is not about perfecting your diet or showering fifty times a day. Rather, this niyama invites you to clean house. What thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are preventing you from seeking union from yourself and others? What negative thoughts and barriers would you like to wash away?
To cleanse is superficial
Brush your teeth
eat your vegetables
sweat it out
oh would you, please?
but there is something more
cavernous that we must seek
what is your intention
when you wash
do you want to wash away
do you want to scrub clean
what are your intentions for
because if they aren’t there
set in your heart
your heart is after all flesh
so malleable and sensitive
not some stoic stone
if you cleanse just to cleanse
just to start fresh again
you wash away in vain
there is nothing wrong with you
you need love
in body and mind
would you mind
taking some time
to cherish yourself?
This article is the 6th entry in the blog series covering the traditional 8 limbs of yoga, written for It’s Yoga International.For an introduction to the series, please visit, “Intro to the 8 limbs.” The author, Randee Schwartz, shares her own personal journey as a yogi and what it means to stay true to her own path. She’s currently living in Mexico and supporting the It’s Yoga International family with her creative writing skills.
“I’m not my car, I’m not my house, I am my breath.”
Finally, a yama I have mastered. I do not collect things. This is where I lay my head to sleep and unroll my mat to practice. There is no room in my budget for new clothes or sexy shoes. When I go to the store, I try to buy only what I need to feed myself for the week. Too much stuff makes me feel claustrophobic.
I mastered the art of not hoarding.
But then one day, I packed up my life to move to Mexico.
Moving is a yoga practice of its own kind! You bend, lift, and climb. You sort through your life. Everything is emotionally charged: even the shoebox of W2’s and 1099’s. You say sudden goodbyes to attachments: people, places and things. After three years of living in one home: there are SO many things.
Have you every moved before? How do you practice yoga when you move?
I have fifteen thousand pairs of yoga pants, two hundred and fifteen bottles of lotion, and a million earrings and socks that do not match. I have broken necklaces that I kept meaning to fix. I have ripped dresses: I kept meaning to stitch. What am I going to do with my $200 “rocket” vacuum cleaner (can you see why I bought it)? I keep all of these letters my mom wrote me. I sort through this alphabet of tax forms in a shoe box. But, now we are in the thick of it: the clothes, the art, the jewelry. It all reminds me of my ex-boyfriend: of a relationship that I recently ended. I sit on the floor and cry.
The goodbyes: they add up. Goodbyes, to my beautiful students, coworkers, bosses, my sacred friends. There is a goodbye to this beautiful life I created from nothing. This house: this room: this sky light that I practiced under each morning. There is fear: I am leaving something I worked so hard to cultivate. I am stepping into the unknown and living in the question. On paper: how sexy! In reality: how terrifying! But, this is not the first time, I’ve packed up my life and “vinyased.” I am simply out of practice. I have forgotten how to practice Aprarigraha.
Aprarigraha does not just entail hoarding clothes, food, or other material possessions. Aprarigraha refers to non-possessiveness in relationships and jobs. Can you be content with all you have, or do you mourn a loss?
Do you stay at a job that doesn’t serve you? You tend to your duties with neither enthusiasm nor intricacy. Perhaps, this company is better off with an employee who functions at her highest capacity. Perchance, it is time for you to look for a different opportunity to not just work, but serve.
Every twenty-seven days, our skin regenerates. We are dynamic creatures in an ever undulating universe. Relationships change form. Suddenly, you no longer have anything in common with a friend from high school or college. You put effort into the relationship, but it doesn’t seem bring either of you joy. Do you need to cling to this friendship?
Or perhaps, there is a friendship or relationship that no longer feels healthy. You cannot put your finger on it. Maybe, you feel like you give: your time, money, energy, and love. But, what do you get in return? Maybe you ran past so many red flags, that you feel forced to commit. You love this person so much, more than words could ever articulate. But there is a distortion in the palpitation of your heart: a tight almost/heart burn sensation in your chest, a looming feeling in your low belly that inhibits your ability to engage uddyinaha and mula bandha properly.
“Quiet the voice of your inner critic and wake up your inner teacher.” Larry reminds us.
Are you holding on to something or someone? Are your hoarding or possessing someone for your own psychological protection?
Relationships change form, yet Marie reminds us, “only the love is real in the relationship.” The pain or sorrow that brews and culminates in the break up: it is not real. The only things that is real, is the love that you shared together. Now, it is time to let go.
Aprarigraha: it is about so much more than collecting shoes or hoarding food for the next zombie apocalypse. Aprarigraha is a daily meditation in all people, places and things. It is an inventory of the masquerades that block you from seeking unity with yourSelf.
Yama # 5 Aprarigraha: I have all that I need: I feel no loss
This article is the 5th entry in the blog series covering the traditional 8 limbs of yoga, written for It’s Yoga International.For an introduction to the series, please visit, “Intro to the 8 limbs.” The author, Randee Schwartz, shares her own personal journey as a yogi and what it means to stay true to her own path. She’s currently living in Mexico and supporting the It’s Yoga International family with her creative writing skills.
“Do you play sports?”
Eyes shift upwards from this serpentine sentence. Who distracts me during this sacred, creative moment?
He is twenty-five, tall, and muscular in a way that encourages me to rip his shirt off so I can embark on a lesson in human anatomy.
His voice is low: his cadence slow and seductively rhythmic.
The features of his face are slightly feminine.
On my fingertips, I sense the blade that etched his exquisite eyes.
Accordingly, I let myself go there for a second. I’ll give him my number. We will meet at a bar. Maybe, he will invite me over to his place. Perhaps, he will try to finagle his way over to mine. We will have: unsatisfying sex. Hey, he looks athletic.
Maybe the sex really will be fantastic!
Then, he will say, “Hasta luego.” He will ignore me at the cafe. He will pretend like it never happened. He might even have a girlfriend.
“Do you run? Would you go running with me? What, you don’t run? Then, how do you get a body like that…”
“No, I only run when I am about to miss a plane.”
I wake up from my rather unsatisfying fantasy.
Ego reminds me that at thirty- one, I am not getting any younger.
There is this dull, pavlovian urge to flirt back. But, it is just that: dull. Therefore, I smile: participate in some Spanish small talk: and delve back into my writing.
After fifteen years of practicing yoga, do I finally understand Bramacharya?
When I first learn about Bramacharya, I assume the yama mandates celibacy. I am sixteen and just starting to consider where yoga exists outside of the vinyasa flow. I attend a lecture on the yamas and niyamas. I resonate with ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), and Asteya (not stealing). I consider Aprarigrahana (non-possessiveness).
However, as a virgin, Bramacharya feels a little inapplicable.
A couple of years later, I attend my 200 hour teacher training at It’s Yoga® San Francisco. The second day, we start climbing the 8 limbs of Ashtanga Yoga. The beautiful, wise, and strong Katie Carrife discusses the yamas and niyamas with us. She is pregnant. Right away, I realize (with considerable relief) that bramacharya does not mandate celibacy. Rather, she eloquently explains: bramacharya encourages us to be mindful and respectful in all things: body, mind, and speech
Are you respectful with your words?
Do you practice respectful and responsible sexuality? Are you a loyal, loving partner?
As a teacher, are you careful to put boundaries up between yourself and your students? So much is happening when you instruct a yoga class. Channels are opening up, people are having revelations in their bodies. Sometimes, the students get confused and interpret this as an attraction to you: the instructor. You offer a simple adjustment in child’s pose. The student is a little overzealous, thanking you after class. You feel conflicted: you want the student to stay your loyal student. But, you don’t want to be sexualized.
Your role as an instructor is sacred. Accordingly, it is so paramount that the teacher maintains appropriate professional boundaries to preserve the safety and sanctity of the yoga practice.
I have been fortunate to only experience a few inappropriate teacher interactions. But, they left such an unpleasant taste in my mouth. Yoga is where we go for solace, so I remember this when I communicate with students on and off the mat.
Sometimes, Bramacharya isn’t about sex.
Marie tells a story about a girl who exercises obsessively and eats restrictively during the week. On the weekends, she uncontrollably feasts. The girl repeats this process week in and week out: a most agonizing samsara.
“Bramacharya.” Marie reminds me.
We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Coincidentally, I started my yoga journey while I was recovering rather painfully from anorexia. But years after, I still found myself oscillating between starving or stuffing myself. During this time, I also discovered that I could drink alcohol to hide from my emotions. Suddenly, I played with potions and emotions like I was my own chemistry set. And, I know that I am not alone in my thoughts, my feelings and my struggles with Bramacharya. It took me many years to find a healthy equilibrium. Yet, sometimes I still slip past the moderating line of moderation. Where is that glass of Sancerre…
“You would not understand: you are a yoga instructor!”
-A friend confesses-
Yes, I do understand. I am a human, not a saint! This is modern day Bramacharya. Bramacharya isn’t naivety, celibacy, abstinence or sainthood. Bramacharya is learning to treat yourself and others with respect and dignity. It’s a dirty secret that is so prevalent in the sisterhood. We have pain. We are undernourished. So, we grab on to that one thing that we know will fill us up: something that will make us feel temporarily full, happy, and loved.
But, it never fills up, does it?
Hangovers crush the skull. Stomachaches question our food choices. The sex was fine, but you feel a little emptier after the affair. A little dirtier. Some people prefer cigarettes, drugs or prescription pills. I don’t judge, because we have all been there. We all struggle with Bramacharya.
Last year, Marie appeared to me in my dream. She told me that it was okay that I was drinking and eating my feelings. But, I had to remember that I would never find happiness that way. I had to discover happiness within myself first.
Where do you find happiness within yourself?
Where is there an energetic block that inhibits your ability to self nourish? Is it physical? Do you need to sleep? Do you need to hydrate and nourish with water, produce and protein? Is it spiritual? Do you need time alone? Do you need nature? Are you creatively starved? Do you need to write? Are you lonely? Do you need a therapist? A cat to snuggle?
Are you experiencing a toxic situation? Do you feel undervalued in a job or relationship?
Be honest with yourself. What does your spirit need to be happy. Be gentle with your mind and body. You can be celibate, abstinent and sober. But, the core component of Bramacharya is respectful moderation. How do you care for yourself so you can show up with light and love in the universe.
Only love is real, but you have to start by loving yourself.
This article is the 4th entry in the blog series covering the traditional 8 limbs of yoga, written for It’s Yoga International.For an introduction to the series, please visit, “Intro to the 8 limbs.” The author, Randee Schwartz, shares her own personal journey as a yogi and what it means to stay true to her own path. She’s currently living in Mexico and supporting the It’s Yoga International family with her creative writing skills.
I finish my rocket practice: every cell and muscle fiber vibrates within my body. Now, it is time to eat (another one of my favorite activities). I take a deep round of breath before I enter the kitchen. I have gotten over the cold showers, the sleazy internet and the nonexistent water pressure. Peace treaties were sent to all ant camps. However, in the spirit of Satya, I confess: I hate this alfresco, communal kitchen with its leaky sink, disgusting refrigerator, and poorly washed/often unavailable supply of cutlery. I prepare an iodine bath for my vegetables: I meditate while the vegetables cleanse. Finally, it is time to eat. I chop up the vegetables, and the avocado. I bend down to take a can of tuna from my stash…only to discover: my collection of tuna is gone! Why did someone steal my tuna? That person KNEW it wasn’t his or her food to eat. I REMEMBER buying it yesterday from the corner store and storing it on this cobwebbed shelf. Now, I have to walk ten minutes in this blazing, winter heat to buy more fish. I am already running behind schedule today. Who steals tuna?
It is ten fifteen in the morning. Yet, I already morphed from calm yogi into this monster. I take a deep breath. I remind myself: I can afford to buy three or four more cans of tuna. Maybe that person needs the food more than I do. And just maybe, I need to write about Asteya.
Oh, I never steal. I confess: I most certainly have stolen from others! When I ran out of almond milk at my previous house, I snuck a couple drop’s from my housemate’s container. It’s just a couple drops, but did I ask her? Occasionally, I stole sponges from my office. Why, I don’t know! I felt like I wasn’t paid enough? I felt like the office would not miss a sponge or two from the costco pack?
It’s New Year’s Eve: I find myself sour, sick and solitary. I walk upstairs with a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc. Sitting sexy on the stairs: a large pile of money. Did, I drop that? I am no stranger to disorganization and misplaced personal items. I pick up the sum: it sits heavy in my hands. A gaggle of frantic party boys parade down the hall: high on love and probably something else in the alphabet.
“Did you drop your money?”
-I begrudgingly hand over the cash-
It wasn’t mine to take. But, from time to time – I take what isn’t mine. Did I rob you of your time? You sucked my energy dry.
Our personal psychology is fascinating. All the time, we justify the sneaky things that we do. Especially, if there is no one around to watch us! Our little transgressions do not warrant as deviations from our strict, moral code. It was okay: it was just that one time: I deserved it.
Maybe, you did.
But maybe, you find yourself thinking about that incident later during the day. You feel guilty, and out of sorts. You recognize that your behavior or action, no matter how trivial, misaligned with your morals, your beliefs, and yourSelf. You feel agitated, anxious, or angry, because you created a separation between yourself and yourSELF.
It’s easier to see Asteya through the eyes of tangible transactions. However, most of us struggle with asteya in more nuanced ways. As a yoga instructor, are you present when you teach classes? Or is your mind lost in thoughts and scenarios. Do you walk around the room and adjust students? Or are you on your mat the entire time, trying to fit in your personal workout? Do you guide with purpose? Or do you fumble with your music absentmindedly while narrating the instruction in autopilot? One summer, I distinctly remember: Larry removed the stereo at It’s Yoga in San Francisco.
“No more music!” He exclaimed exasperatedly.”
“You need to focus on teaching the class, not playing deejay!”
Off the mat, out of the classroom, and outside of material possessions, how else do we struggle with asteya?
Your coworker or housemate looks visibly distressed. He or she hasn’t said anything to you, but you don’t want to go there. You are exhausted, crabby and time-strapped. You do not have the energy to deal with someone else and his or her problems.
But, you don’t realize your fault in this situation. You are stealing, but not offering what someone else lacks. You are in your safe world: huddled in your headphones looking at your phone. You could peel off your headphones and listen. Maybe all this person requires is: your ears, your smile, your attention. You underestimate your power in this situation. You are stealing, by not offering your presence to this person in need.
We seek union, with ourselves: with each other: with our interpretation of the divine. But, with this union comes profound responsibility. We decide when we want to schedule our asana practices. When is it most convenient for you to practice: early in the morning or after work at night? But, we do not get to pick and choose when we practice yoga off of the mat. We are not excused from observing the yamas, between the hours of nine am and five pm. Even when there are no witness, we are not exempt from practicing Satya. No matter what the time of day or circumstance may be: it is always our responsibility to serve those who are suffering. This a practice of love.
“We do this practice to love ourselves so we can love others more.”
This article is the 3rd entry in the blog series covering the traditional 8 limbs of yoga, written for It’s Yoga International. For an introduction to the series, please visit, “Intro to the 8 limbs.” The author, Randee Schwartz, shares her own personal journey as a yogi and what it means to stay true to her own path. She’s currently living in Mexico and supporting the It’s Yoga International family with her creative writing skills.
It’s always an intimate moment, when I lay naked in an unfamiliar place. However, my hopes for this encounter are strictly medicinal. After 20 minutes of massaging my feet, the masseuse finally travels to my neck. I must spend too much time on the computer, because my neck always aches.
“Hmm, your throat chakra is blocked. Are you struggling with Satya: honesty?”
“I am an honest person: I don’t lie,” I respond rather indignantly.
I came here for a massage, not an inquisition!
At that particular moment in 2017, there are about ten lies that I juggle. Never mind the nasty web of self-deceit that haunts the crowded crevices of my mind. No, I do not lie.
Lies don’t feel like lies when they are justified: or worse, embedded within your cell fibers. We all tell lies. White lies: to make people feel better. Violet lies: when we would rather tell a truncated version of the truth. Red, glaring lies when we feel hurt: our safety jeopardized. I tell a lot of yellow lies. Sometimes, it is easier to omit from the truth. This is still a lie. But, hiding behind this screen, I confess to a rainbow of lies. Green, when I feel anxious and insecure. And the most maddening indigo: the lies that I do not surmise as lies. They are so deeply ingrained in my psyche, in my blood, in my bones. It will take a daily commitment to the eight limbs to discover my true nature.
Honesty is not easy. We learn from a young age to fess up: to be honest. But, we are also taught to be mindful of other people’s experiences. We need to maintain our appearances. There are confounding storms that shake our trees and we forget who we are: who do we want to be?
You disguise yourself to fit in at work. You omit parts of yourself to integrate into a community, a relationship, a friendship, a more conservative family. Where do you draw the line? One lie finds another and they sew a web…
On the mat….do you lie to yourself? Your hips don’t enjoy the way you practice pigeon. Over time, you notice more agitation than solace in your body when finish practice. Are you practicing with honesty?
When you offer adjustments as a teacher, do you gravitate or skip certain students? Have you ever asked yourself what this is about?
Satya is an honest inquiry of your life on and off the mat. It also an opportunity to practice ahimsa. Can you honestly but lovingly take inventory of your thoughts? Can you observe what behaviors and relationships make you feel comfortable and which cause you strife?
What lies do you tell yourself?
This article is the 2nd entry in the blog series covering the traditional 8 limbs of yoga, written for It’s Yoga International.For an introduction to the series, please visit, “Intro to the 8 limbs.” The author, Randee Schwartz, shares her own personal journey as a yogi and what it means to stay true to her own path. She’s currently living in Mexico and supporting the It’s Yoga International family with her creative writing skills.
Ahimsa: Non-violence, Loving Yourself and Others, Gentleness
“We do this practice so we are less miserable to be around.”
On the mat, I practice ahimsa by moving with breath, bandhas and, awareness. When I arrived in Mexico, I experienced a triad of sensitivities: left hip, right wrist and left shoulder. I widened my stance in Parsvotonasana, Virabahdrassana A, and Pavrita Trikonasana. I pulled in Mula Bandha like crazy during Somakonsana. Now, both hips smile. The shoulder and wrist require me to pay extra attention to where I place my hands and feet on the mat. Interestingly enough, I find every day my upper body prefers a different placement. Today, during primary series, I discover ease within these sensitive places. Today, I discover so much love during pranayama.
When I teach, I pay attention to the energetic lines within my students. Some students need a little extra encouragement: an invitation to meet the bandhas: a suggestion to up level. Other students benefit from a softer approach to this dynamic practice: a more feminine engagement. I whisper to these students: relax your neck: experiment with a less restrictive arm variation, and focus on the cadence of your breath. These rocket practices build strong, flexible bodies. But the true alchemy occurs when we practice with the rhythm of the Yamas. The transformation manifests when we prioritize union with breath, self, and others over mere asana achievement. This above all: is a practice of love.
“We learn to love ourselves, so we can love others more.”
– Larry Schultz-
Off the mat, many yogis tout ahimsa by preaching vegetarianism. As a yogi, I believe that all beings should be happy and free. However, I must confess: I am not a vegetarian. I’ve been a pescatarian for seventeen years: always waiting to jump the next ship to vegetarianism. When I was younger, it was easier for me to pass weeks and months without dipping into the sea. But, as I have gotten older, my body composition has changed. My recent attempts are rather unsuccessful. I lose my hair in big clumps. My energy levels plummet. So, I stick to my dietary lifestyle because the nutrition gives me the energy to serve. Sometimes, I meet teachers and students who scold me for my dietary choices. Don’t I know that I can’t be a real yogi if I eat fish? Don’t I like animals? Couldn’t I try a little harder? I want to remind YOU that ahimsa means loving yourself. How are you nourishing body in way that gives you the energy to feel happy and free (rather than curled up in fetal position?) It is not our job as yogis to judge others. Actually, this first yama encourages to not judge!
Nonviolence doesn’t mean sitting back when terrible things happen. You need to stand up for people in need. You need to speak up. What are we doing about immigrant children who are separated from their families? What are we doing to address the violence in schools? How are we exercising our rights to address this political turmoil? You don’t get to opt out as a yogi by meditating and visualizing peace. Do You say you want “all beings to be happy and free?” Do your research! Vote for a candidate who best aligns with your morals. Encourage other people to do the same. Nonviolence is not non-activity.
Fear. We don’t think about fear when we discuss Ahimsa. How could fear be a barrier to practicing? Fear is a powerful emotion: it is a psychical and psychological block that prevents us from seeking unity with ourselves, each other and our interpretation of the divine. When we live in fear, we block ourselves from visualizing and manifesting positive outcomes. We hide from people who may offer us love, or who need our love. When we are scared, we forget our roles as humans: seekers of the Self.
It is natural to be scared. My journal entry last night screams, “I am scared.” I break it down and see what I can do to address the fear. Are there practical steps that I can take? Can I make a smart goal? Or do I need to let go of the anxiety?
Ahimsa: it all keeps coming back to love. The eight limbs ascend to an unlimited sphere of love. The love has to start with yourself.
“Those who see themselves as whole, make no demands.”
-A course of Miracles, lesson 37-
All of this: the postures, the breathing, the ethical observations: these things lead us to absorption into the universal.
Marie Russel reminds me: You have to decide: is the universe a friendly or unfriendly place? Could you make your life on and off the mat, a practice of love?
This article is the 1st entry in the blog series covering the traditional 8 limbs of yoga, written for It’s Yoga International.For an introduction to the series, please visit, “Intro to the 8 limbs.” The author, Randee Schwartz, shares her own personal journey as a yogi and what it means to stay true to her own path. She’s currently living in Mexico and supporting the It’s Yoga International family with her creative writing skills.