Hygiene or Soucham is the first Niyama

Post By: Published on: December 6, 2016 Reading time: 6 minutes

What is śaucam (hygiene), the first niyama?

Śaucam is hygiene. Itconsists of bahira-śaucam (external hygiene) and āntara-śaucam (internal hygiene).

What is bahira-śaucam or external hygiene? 

This aspect consists of performance of ablutions regularly, maintaining a clean body and clean environment, all of which are required to ensure external hygiene.

Anecdotes, experiences and situations to help understand

Anecdote 1– In India – snānam (bath) wetting the body completely. There are 9 apertures on the body (mouth, eyes, ears, nostrils, anus and genitals) and all must be thoroughly cleaned. The act of water falling on the body + rubbing action of the hands on the body increases blood flow to the skin resulting in a feeling of increased freshness and awareness.

Jewish – Tevilah and Niddah

Traditional Judaism divides ritual washing into two categories, Tevilah (full body immersing or mikvah) and Netilatyadayim (washing in a cup). Importantly, the water used in Mikvah should be directly sourced from a fresh water body such as a river or sea.

Negelvasser (‘Nail water’):

After awakening in the morning or after a nap, one is expected to wash one’s hands by pouring water over one’s fingers thrice while reciting a blessing.

Netilatyadayim (‘Raising the hands after ritual washing’)

Washing performed with a blessing, prior to eating any meal. This is done without blessing after touching an impure object such as ones private parts, shoes, animal etc.

Mayimacharonim (‘After-waters’): Washing one’s hands after a meal

Anecdote 2 – environmental hygiene is also very important

Almost all major illnesses which result in lost time and cost come from lack of awareness of the criticality of hygiene. In fact, spitting, defecation, urination and other practices such as smoking chewing tobacco etc. result in water-borne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, leptospirosis and air-borne diseases such as throat infection etc. Clearly, an individual is responsible, not just for his own health, but also for the health of his neighbor and society at large.

Example: In 1330s, a plague hit China and spread to Europe in 1347 and by 1351 had reached all corners of Europe and the Middle East. It had the effect of killing around 35% of Europe’s population (35 million people in 2 yrs). Overall, it reduced the world’s population from 450 million to between 350 and 375 million.

During this time it was noticed that Jews, living in Ghettos, away from the village suffered lower deaths. This was on account of strict Rabbinical Laws on cleanliness followed by them. They drew water from wells in their backyard and not community wells. This lead to greater control over bacterial infection. Also, injunctions on personal hygiene and disposal of waste ensured that the carriers, rats were less likely to infect the community.

Clearly, this ritual practice protected Jews long before antiseptics and understanding of germs.

School of Yoga explains hygiene in India (Bhārat).

In India, there are strict rules for cleanliness, especially when eating. Indians eat only with the right hand. Eating from another person’s plate, something that has come in contact with your mouth, your saliva or your plate is not allowed and called ‘jootha’ (in North India), ‘ushth’ (in Western India), ‘etho’ (in Bengal), ‘aitha’ (in Orissa), ‘echal’ (in Tamil Nadu), ‘enjulu’ (in Karnataka), or ‘engili’ (in Andhra Pradesh).

In many parts of India, after touching any food that has been cooked, one is not allowed to touch lacto based ghee, milk, curds etc. unless the hands have been washed, to avoid contamination of vegetable with animal products and vice-versa.

It is also normal in many parts of India to separate utensils for cooking utensils from serving utensils and eating utensils.

Points to ponder on hygiene.

  • Is cleanliness an important factor in achieving situational awareness?
  • Cleanliness is next to Godliness… why? How do various societies manage this?
  • Can soap replace the rules of hygiene?
  • Which is better? Toilet paper or water? Why?

What is āntara-śaucam – internal hygiene.

Internal cleanliness (āntara-śaucam) is continuous discarding of baggage so that the person feels light, clear headed and free from anxiety of self-worth (asmitā).

Every experience leaves behind a residue of positive and negative memory and learning. This occurs because we superimpose and compare every experience with existing impressions and expectations (dharma). We make judgements that very often are bipolar – dvandva (like/dislike, good/bad, true/false etc.). These biases often get carried over to the next experience, thereby clouding judgement in other situations also.

  • Incoming stimulus heralds change. This causes agitation, stress and increases toxins in the body.
  • All transactions lead to residue of the experience (anubhava). This has to be purged, if we wish to retain equanimity or equilibrium.
  • The gap between expectation and reality which requires adjustment. Also, the dissonance generated and its resolution would depend on the gap and intensity of the dissonance as well as judgements such as like/dislike, good/bad, true/false etc which we make.
  • The resulting biases get carried over to the next experience, thereby clouding judgement in subsequent experiences.
  • So, after the experience, this residue in the form of memory and learning needs to be purged for equilibrium to be regained.

Internal cleanliness (āntara-śaucam) comprises keeping the psychosomatic system close to the condition of homeostasis. This is done by continuously purging the self-worth (asmitā) before, during and after each transaction using prāṇāyāma, dhyāna and auto-suggestion. Consequently, the auto-cleansing ensures that we are continuously removing previous biases and preparing ourselves to be willing receptacles of the next experience.

What is the relationship between cleanliness and niyama

The major impact of śaucam is on our awareness. This occurs at 2 levels:

  • Inside to out: here, we increase our awareness of our situation in any environment.
  • Inside itself: our increased awareness of our situation results in us being aware of our thought processes, fears and decision drivers. Consequently, we recognise and come to terms with ourselves.

So, when we consciously, remove the residue of our experience, we retain the learning without the sentiment, thereby becoming a more wholesome person.

Points to Ponder on śaucam.

Internal Tags: Karma, Dharma (conditioning)Stress and Situational AwarenessStress and pranaAwareness measures, Bhakti Yoga fundamentals, Jnana Yoga, Karma Yoga, Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga.

External Tags: Consciousness

  • What are the different ways in which a person may harmonise one’s experience with reality?
  • So, how do we expunge the weight of baggage?
  • I sleep and wake up with a psychological reset? What about food?
  • Can breathing be used to cleanse the residue of one’s thoughts?
  • Why is cleanliness given such a high priority in the scheme of self-improvement?
  • What is the impact of cleanliness in thinking and self improvement?

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