Exploring Saucha

Choosing Simplicity in a Complex World

"Through simplicity and continual refinement (Saucha), the body, thoughts, and emotions become clear reflections of the Self within. Saucha reveals our joyful nature, and the yearning for knowing the Self blossoms."

Yoga Sutras 2.40-2.41

Our world is anything but simple. We contribute to its complexity by continually adding more to our plates, multitasking at an epic level, and feeding our insatiable consumerism with the latest and greatest technology, experiences, and information at an exhausting rate. Even the word simple now holds a boring or blasé connotation to some. But with too much external, materialistic focus, we lose the ability to orient ourselves within, and our identity becomes toxically associated with what we have and what we do, rather than who we are.

This Yoga Sutra addresses the need to clarify ourselves mentally, physically and emotionally in order to reclaim our natural state of joy. Imagine how you would feel physically if you ate continually throughout the day. As the body needs time to rest between meals, to assimilate and eliminate food, so the psyche needs time off the treadmill to integrate inner and outer experience. If the essence of our daily existence is a desperate effort to get it all done, constantly engaging with the next task, we never have a chance to digest and assimilate what has already been.

In our culture, stress is at an all time high. People feel overwhelmed, unable to keep up. This feeling locks the parasympathetic nervous system into the production of cortisol and heightens the body’s fight or flight response. When we run on this high, for an extended period of time, we become unable to relax and slow down, and eventually we burn out. Our immune systems become compromised and stress-induced illnesses develop.

So why don’t people adopt the practice of simplicity?

Theoretically, simplification sounds good to most people but they don’t know where to begin. When even daily choices are complex, like how many social media portals to connect with or what supplements to take for optimal health, simplifying is no easy task. Even spiritual aspirants who conceptualize the need for simplification, complicate their search for Self-knowing through an endless stream of trainings, philosophies and workshops.

Generally speaking, humans avoid change of any kind, preferring what is known. And we avoid simplicity for fear of boredom. Unfortunately, we have collectively forgotten the gift that boredom brings. Its gift is spaciousness and with space comes creativity. By simplifying, we invite psychic space where our minds can meander and imagine and our souls can shine through. Of course in order to receive these gifts, we must be willing to forgo some instant gratification.

By approaching simplicity through the definition “easily understood or done, presenting no difficulty,” it becomes more appealing. Who wouldn’t want their day to be full of ease and presenting no difficulty? Begin by eliminating one thing from your to do list each day. And practice being completely present to whatever, or whomever you are with in the moment. When we focus on one thing at a time, we create a much richer and more easeful experience. The more we simplify, the easier it becomes to stay centered because there are less forces pulling at us. We find clarity and the ability to make necessary change.

The kind of simplicity this Yoga Sutra is pointing us towards is not some quaint nostalgia for the past. And it is not instructing us to sell our worldly possessions to go live on a mountaintop. It is guiding us toward the ability to function in the complexity of the world, and still cultivate a connection to an inner joy that gives true meaning to our lives. In time, as we slow down enough, we realize that enough really is enough, and that in the most authentic sense, less brings us more.

In this overcrowded, over-stimulated world, cultivating simplicity is one of the most challenging choices we can make – and one of the most essential. It can help us reorient towards the Divine Self that lives within, which is of course the point of all Yoga practice. By practicing simplicity, we make room for what matters most.

This article is part of an ongoing series on the yamas and niyamas. For the full 10-part series click on each link below:

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Jpepper, posted on August 26, 2015

Where is your translation of the sutras coming from? Interesting article, but this is a beyond liberal interpretation of sutras 2.40 and 2.41. In fact the text I have with translations and interpretations by Swami Satchidananda is completely different making me wonder whether the quote is indeed a quote from the sutras or from some other article interpreting the sutras.

writejbv, posted on February 12, 2015

Society's expectation that we operate at a level far from simplicity is a force to be reckoned with. That is why I so appreciate articles like yours that provide such helpful markers along the path of life- thank you!

JennieLee, posted on February 12, 2015

Thank you for your enthusiastic comment. We can 'reckon back' to society with our commitment to simplicity and grace! Best of luck to you in your practice.

laureen, posted on February 11, 2015

This is wonderful! I personally thank you for posting this especially after recovering from overwhelming holidays and the anticipation of spring around the corner. This helps me to realize it's time to go within to realign to achieve inner peace!

JennieLee, posted on February 11, 2015

If more people took the time to do what you mentioned about going within on a regular basis can you imagine what a more peaceful world this would be . Thanks for commenting!

ConTodo, posted on January 31, 2015

I love that topic, thank you for sharing. Sometimes, I feel kind of overwhelmed - there are so many things to do, so much information flowing, even in discussions I notice a lot of complexity when we're not able to focus on the solution. Being present is a great suggestion to remember.
I also noticed that getting rid of unnecessary stuff helps to get more focus in the outer world, which influences our inner world.

JennieLee, posted on February 1, 2015

Thank you for your comment. The key to not getting overwhelmed in our complex world is to train yourself to focus on just one thing at a time. Forget multitasking. And I absolutely agree we need top focus on solutions in our discussions not the problems!

AmandaKZ, posted on October 10, 2012

Maybe there is a glitch--page 2 flashes and then goes blank so it can't be read.

yasemena, posted on August 1, 2012

Great article! Thank you! More and more people is feeling an inner yearning to simplify because of the great Shift that is happening..

JennieLee, posted on January 30, 2015

It's amazing how much the world likes to complexify things... simple does not mean easy but it sure means wonderful!

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