Leaving Things Better Than How We Find It

Once, my parents were on a yoga retreat with Sri Gurudev (Swami Satchidananda) in Bali. Nalanie Chellaram (my wonderful teacher and now mother-in-law) was at this same retreat. They shared this mortifying story with me:

In the middle the retreat, Sri Gurudev suddenly said to them, "Let’s go and visit your rooms right now.” Shocked, reluctant but obliging, they opened each guest room one by one for everyone participating to take a look inside at how clean or untidy the room was. Some had pristine rooms and others looked like a dump. After the examination, Sri Gurudev said to them that he could read their minds by examining the state of their physical space. You can imagine how embarrassing that must have been for many at that retreat. *

Sri Gurudev encouraged everyone to take a good look at the way they regarded their personal space and possessions. “It’s important to respect our possessions otherwise they won’t want to be with us,” he taught. “Cleanliness is next to Godliness,”

Leave things better than how your find them.” 

This is one of the main teachings of Integral Yoga. It’s one that I try to drill into the minds of all my students. Recently I received two complaints from studio owners where our teachers had classes running. Both mentioned that the room was left out of order and not to the standards of keeping things clean and tidy for the future people using that room. I heard it twice which is why I feel it necessary to write about it and share with you my own experience with this.

I try my best to leave things in great condition, but I have had my moments. While I have always had the best of intentions, I once had to close a studio after a teacher training. It had been a long day and the teacher I was hosting was in a rush to get home. I didn’t want to make her wait and so I stuffed the props back, and hastily left the studio with the rubbish bin full. Boy did I regret that one. I received a nasty call and was no longer allowed to use the studio again after the training was complete. Even though I had a fantastic record of leaving the space pristine many times, that one offence was all it took to break that trust. It still haunts me to this day.

Leaving spaces cleaner or tidier than how you find it is yoga in practice. It also spreads to how you present yourself as well. Otherwise what message are you sharing with others? How can your students learn from you if you do not lead by example. Ask yourselves this:

  • Have you ever been repulsed from someone because they smell bad?

  • Have you ever walked into a messy room and never want to deal with the offender again?

We don’t need to be perfect, but if we want to inspire others to learn from us, we must walk our talk. Leading by example means being presentable, clean and respectful of the people and spaces we work with. If you would like to be an authentic slob, by all means go ahead, but don’t teach yoga.

If we are representing a sacred lineage, our Guru, a yoga style, a brand or an organisation, it’s equally (if not more) important. We are trusted with the treasure of the teachings that we are now privileged to pass forwards. We must respect it fully. I once took one of Yogaville’s Swami’s shopping for new clothes and robes because he was teaching in shirts that had holes in it. He thanked me and said that he shouldn’t be representing Sri Gurudev like that. It kind of resonated with me.

So I would like to firmly reiterate this message. There is no yoga if you do not live your teachings. Work on yourself, teach your students this important message, ask people to help you. Show your friends and family this practice. Call out your brothers and sisters in your sangha to help or pull their weight.

And please, leave things cleaner and tidier than how you find them.” 

* I’m happy to report that Nalanie’s room was one of the pristine rooms. My father told me this story with a laugh because my mum and him stayed at a different hotel and thus were spared the humiliation.