When our oldest child was born, my mom gave us money to have our apartment cleaned twice a month. This luxury had a surprising side-effect. In addition to having a regularly clean home, the bickering between us over the state of the bathroom or kitchen went away completely. Suffice it to say that in 22 years of parenthood, somehow, we’ve managed to squeeze funds for housekeeping into our budget.
Then the pandemic hit.
For the last three months, the task of housekeeping has again been ours. My husband agreed to handle the bathrooms. I took on the rest. In addition to vacuuming up dog and cat hair seemingly daily, suddenly I’ve found myself dusting, mopping and wiping “dog nose” off the windows with the best views of squirrels.
Cleaning my house actually makes me happy?
Though this bimonthly project requires a lot of time, I’ve found that caring for my belongings and my home makes me happy.
The first time I did the job, I did as much cleaning out as cleaning. In addition to doubling the pile of donations in our attic, I found little treasures I’d completely forgotten about. But it’s not just these discoveries that make me happy. Regularly touching and caring for the items that we’ve chosen to fill our home is a pleasure.
I think of my sister when I wipe the ceramic tureen she gave me the year we were married. Cleaning the radiator covers in the dining room is a trip down memory lane as I rearrange dozens of family photos. I especially love dusting the game of marbles I gave my husband years ago, rolling the cold, blown-glass balls around in my hands.
I realize now that I hadn’t really seen any of these things for years. They had faded into the background of life. Caring for them has required me to pay attention to them. That loving attention has rekindled the little spark of joy each of these things brings me.
“Housekeeping” is part of yoga philosophy
In yoga philosophy the first of five practices that support our intention to live a spiritual life (niyamas) is purity (sauca). Even 2500 years ago when these practices were codified, our ancient yoga teachers seemed to know something I had forgotten, at least in my home – that when you take care of the world around you, keeping it clean and orderly, you are also taking care of your inner landscape.
While our cleaning lady had been doing a fine job of keeping our home clean for us (I will confess that I really miss that goose-bumpy moment of walking into a spic-and-span house), her work did not bring me the same sense of peace and contentment that doing the job myself does.
Yoga always flows from the outside in
When I teach the concept of sauca in my yoga philosophy classes, the discussion always starts with the obvious – picking up litter on campus, cleaning the dishes left in the sink by roommates, imposing order on a messy desk.
It doesn’t take long, however, for my students to begin to discuss the ways these little outward acts of cleanliness or purity make them feel. Many report that straightening up relieves feelings of anxiety and stress. That it is easier to sleep in a clean bedroom. That they feel content and even a little proud when their homes look good.
Inevitably, someone mentions that they feel just as good when they take care of themselves in the same way that we’re talking about caring for our surroundings. A healthy diet, drinking more water and less alcohol, getting enough rest, exercising regularly, even (and they might be saying this just for me) doing yoga each week, leaves them feeling brighter, sharper, and more energetic.
Yoga’s gifts also flow from us to others
Despite the treasure trove of benefits that is ours when we practice sauca, by this point in the semester my students know enough to know that yoga never limits its benefits to its practitioners. Practicing yoga philosophy always changes the way we are existing in and impacting our communities – whether your apartment, school, town, or world.
The practice of sauca is no different. As we create habits of taking loving care of the world around us and of ourselves – body, mind and spirit – we almost immediately begin to notice that we are being more loving and generous in how we care for others.
These gestures can be quite small – as in doing your roommate’s dishes. But they also happen on a somewhat grander scale – spending an entire day cleaning up the park you love or volunteering to help your congressperson to spread the word about climate change.
“Just do it.”
The point is that you are doing something. Yoga teaches us that its not enough to read about, think about and talk about its lessons. You’ve got to do it. And, when you do something – no matter how small, it takes no time at all for you to feel good.
While I suspect our cleaning lady will be returning in a few weeks, I will not soon forget what I learned in our time without her. Having the time to embrace such a tangible practice of sauca has been a powerful reminder that, like any act of heartfelt generosity, actively taking care of the world around us is also an act of self-care.
Interested in yoga philosophy? Perhaps this summer is your time to explore it more deeply. Check out my online, self-paced Yoga Philosophy Master Class.