Yoga for Climate Action: Saucha

Lying in a bathtub, holding to the sides
Frozen in the steam and everything to hide
Deep in the bathtub, make it good and hot
Make it hot enough to wash everything off

Yes, I’m lying in a bathtub, lying down low
Lying in a bathtub, lying all alone
Lying in a bathtub, lying to myself about me and you
and everybody else

-Mark Sandman


Niyamas are inwardly directed intentions. While yamas describe conduct that affects other people, niyamas primarily describe the more subtle relationship we cultivate with ourselves, from the quality of our self-touch to our attitude toward a higher power.

Saucha, the first niyama, is cleanliness. Like Ahimsa, it seems almost too mundane to elaborate on: you should wash yourself regularly. It can take on a ritualistic quality; routines are useful for mental health and if you are interested in the more esoteric hygiene rituals of the ayurvedic/yogic tradition, you can spend a good portion of your day on saucha and learn a lot about your biology in the process.

Many religions have sacred baths and cleanliness practices.


One more satisfying explanation a teacher offered me for the pre-asana shower was “you should leave the past in the past. You shouldn’t wear yesterday’s dirt doing today’s practice.”

Good, ok, so we’re clean. But we don’t settle for the limited, literal view. As we practice and observe, more subtle information reveals itself. Saucha can be the practice of letting go of old, dead ways of thinking, feeling, acting, as they become visible. ‘I always do things in this order, but I don’t need to today.’ ‘I carry these resentments, but my heart is not in it anymore.’

We have a thought, or we perform an act repeatedly, but on a certain day the real meaning of the thought peals through us for the first time, or the act has suddenly turned into a moral impossibility. All we know is that there are dead feelings, dead ideas, and cold beliefs, and there are hot and live ones; and when one grows hot and alive within us, everything has to re-crystallize around it.

-William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience

When we expand our sense of self to include territory beyond our physical bodies and personal lives, the practice of saucha can reflect the ‘small matter’ of lessening our impact on the natural systems that include us. This will look different for each of us depending on our needs, abilities, means and responsibilities, and I’ve resisted writing a list like this because I don’t want to suggest that this is important in the way that collective action is important.

But the yamas and niyamas are the foundations of practice and an awareness of our own contributions and complicities is foundational to the biggest jobs of climate action. Also consider how much more effective these projects are if you can help your friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, workplaces to join in. So here it is:


  1. Pool your resources: use fuel together as much as you can, be it roommates, rides, possessions, climate control, cooking, entertainment, etc.
  1. Avoid flying and driving whenever possible.
  1. Insulate your home and use passive methods of heating and cooling to the degree possible. Make use of curtains, cross-breezes, misting, in the summer and drapes, rugs, enclosed spaces, exercise, and layers in the winter.
  1. Watch your water: get the low-flow shower head, low-flow toilet/bottle of water in the toilet tank, embrace the California flush. If you have outdoor space make a rain-barrel. If you can invest or hack it yourself, make a grey-water system.
  1. Wash clothes cold and air dry when you can. In the summer, being near drying laundry is a refreshing place to be.
  1. Eat food that’s less energy and water intensive: Beef > Chicken > Grains & Veg. Focus on foods that are produced close to home, or at least in the country where you live. Give up ocean fish altogether, unless and until their populations stabilize. Compost food scraps so they don’t rot and emit methane.
  1. Practice dharana, or single-pointed focus and only use one appliance at a time. Don’t let machines run or lights burn in empty rooms. Unplug cords or switch off power strips so machines aren’t humming in standby mode. Ideally, when you’re sleeping nothing is on.
  1. Paint your roof white or silver to reflect the sun’s heat.
  1. Lightbulbs, obviously. These are nice. Try not to buy them at Home Depot.
  1. Keep your fridge coils clean. Ditch  your fridge. Ditch your toilet . Take bucket showers. Buy less. Buy nothing. Use it up. Wear it out. Make do or do without.


This page actually does a much better job of quantifying all this stuff than I have. Check it out:

One comment

  1. Pingback: Yoga of Climate Action: Yama and Niyama | grandgather

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