In all things human

A little context

About two thousand years ago, a guy named Patanjali compiled a series of pithy aphorisms called the yoga sutras.  These cryptic sayings contain clues on how to escape suffering and ultimately reach samadhi (meditation/ bliss).  In his compilation, he describes a series of steps called ashtanga yoga, where he offers some helpful practices to practitioners to help them on their path in meditation.

One of these aphorisms asks practitioners to practice something called “sauca” – or “cleanliness.”


Most translations of sauca are a bit daunting, and hint that through the practice of “purity,” practitioners will ultimately find that there arises a natural disgust and disregard for their own bodies or the bodies of others.  Disgust? Disregard?  These words are off-putting to the modern reader.   At the very least, they reflect a time where our bodies, emotions, and thoughts were seen as impediments to the realization of our True Self.  Taken at its most extreme, the sutra implies that the wise will eventually feel a natural repulsion towards their physical form.

Recently in teacher training, the students offered a remarkable view on this sutra:

“We’re obsessed with our bodies, with our physical presentations.  Like Facebook, it’s all about our image.  This sutra reminds us that we’re more than our bodies, our clothes.”

“Especially for women,” another added.  “Women have been struggling with body image for a long time.”

I paused to consider their points: every woman I know is challenged by body image.  Every.  Last.  One.

Over the course of our lives, we’ve been taught that the way we look is not enough.  While we can never be too thin or too fit, we’re also not allowed to be caught dieting (ummm, but somehow “cleansing” and “fasting” are okay?).  Effortless beauty.  And god forbid you get old.

One of the most healing offerings of yoga is its capacity to offer a non-judgmental space for self-connection.  According to Yoga Journal’s 2012 survey, 82.2% of practitioners are women.  With so many women on the mat, the yoga space has the potential to be become a supportive forum for radical self-acceptance; a place where we value ourselves for how we feel on the inside rather than how we appear on the outside.

However, as marketing catches up with yoga, we are being encouraged away from the “cleanliness” of a healthy disregard for image and instead being encouraged to look like the cover of yoga Journal or purchase the right yoga outfit.  Lululemon markets its Groove pants for their ability to “create a snug gluteal enclosure of almost perfect globularity, like a drop of water” (“The Science of Yoga,” Broad, p.4).  In other words,  our yoga clothes are designed and sold to us on the premise that they should make our ass look good.  Now, I love my ass to look good on a Saturday night, but do I really want to be worried about this in yoga class?

Brought into a modern context, “sauca” could be a way of cleansing ourselves of our projections and expectations about our physical form.  Consider the following:

  • Are you self-conscious in yoga class about the way you look?
  • Do you dress to impress when you go to practice?
  • Do you worry what other people think of you in class?
  • Is there any space in which you feel comfortable to look exactly as you do?
  • How does this relate to your use of:
    • Food
    • Alcohol
    • Clothes (Lulu Groove pants included)
    • Makeup

We deserve to have a space for practice that is safe from body image judgment.  Where we can feel, and breathe, and move without worrying about who is looking.  Yoginis, we are the voice of North American yoga.  And ladies, it’s high time to reclaim the yoga studio as a safe haven for the expression of our bodies, our voices, and our spirits.



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Showing 2 comments
  • Michelle Clausius

    Beautifully said.

  • Melinda Moore

    Hear, hear! We are all beautiful, in all our shapes and sizes. Let’s make non-judgement another facet of the oasis that is the yoga studio, with a view to extending it beyond the studio doors and into the rest of our day. Ahimsa could maybe be called……….ahersa?:)

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