Saucha is the first of the five niyamas, an outline of positive, inner observances for yogis to follow.
Commonly translated as purity, saucha teaches us about the importance of cleanliness for our entire being – body, mind, and soul.
We’ll take a look at:
- What are the niyamas?
- What is saucha?
- Why is it important?
- Saucha in everyday life
- Saucha in practice
What are the niyamas?
Whilst the guidelines of the yamas (the first limb) generally pertain to our external worlds, the niyamas specify personal observances related to our inner states, giving instruction on living a life of peace and joy – certainly no small feat!
Saucha is the first one that we’re going to explore. But, if you’re still confused, you can read about them in much more detail here.
What is saucha?
Saucha is the practice of inner and outer cleanliness.
All the way from cultivating purity of the physical body, through cleaning and showering, right through to the practice of staying grounded in our minds, words, and behaviors.
The external cannot be practiced without the internal and vice versa, they are both crucial for our growth as yogis and spiritual practitioners.
Saucha works from the outside in, as much as it works from the inside out!
You are already pure
The important thing to be aware of here is that we are all inherently pure at our very core, no matter how far down you think that core might be or how many layers of ‘bad’ you have to peel back before you find it. (At least that’s what my lineage has always taught, anyway).Through the very act of our creation, we are born out of that same divine Consciousness that creates and sustains this universe.
Take a second to reflect on this and what it truly means for you. (Hint: check the subheading).
Worshipped in any form with any name, it does not change the fact that we are an emanation of this Divinity. Our awareness is that exact same awareness, Shiva’s awareness.
Approach the second niyama with this understanding: when practicing saucha, know that we can tap into this nature at any time. Any action that we take, no matter how bad, cannot change this Divine Light that emanates from the center of our very being.
It’s our nature, and it can’t be taken away from us!
Purity, then, is an intention and commitment to uncovering, holding space for, and respecting this inherent purity that resides within.
Why is saucha important?
So, how does cleaning my house more often and not skipping my morning shower once in a while help me to become a better person?
Let’s start with the understanding below.
From the Vedantic perspective, we have five layers of self or koshas:
- Annamaya (physical)
- Pranamaya (energy)
- Manomaya (mental)
- Vijnanamaya (wisdom)
- Anandamaya (bliss)
Similarly, Tantrics say we are five-layered beings, explaining the layers as:
- Vastu (stuff)
- Deha (body)
- Citta (heart-mind)
- Prana (vital energy)
- Shunya (the void)
Importantly, in this model, there is a 6th layer – Cit (consciousness). This awareness permeates all of the other layers, allowing us to become aware of them.
So, though there are differences between the Vedantic and Tantric understanding of the layers of self, we can see that cleanliness should pervade all layers of being, from the ‘stuff’ around us to our thoughts, feelings, and our life force energy.
Purity is about the external body and environment, but also about everything else that makes us human, because we aren’t just our bodies.
Having said this, it’s also extremely important that we maintain physical cleanliness as it cultivates an environment in which the mind can be redirected toward the Divine, moving the energy toward a deeper understanding of Self and purifying each layer.
Have you ever heard the expression ‘tidy desk, tidy mind?’.
This is how I see saucha (though admittedly on a much bigger scale). Through cleaning ourselves and our space, it brings with it clarity and thus an ability to realize the true nature of the Self.
Just compare the feeling of walking into a bedroom with freshly washed sheets or a sparklingly clean kitchen vs. a messy, dusty bedroom with clothes all over the floor or a kitchen with last night’s dinner splattered up the walls and a full dishwasher.
One room is an invitation to rest and breathe, whilst the other makes us feel scattered, cluttered, and oppressed.
It’s clear that one has a more expansive feeling, more in alignment with our nature – this is the impact of saucha.
It reminds me of the B.K.S Iyengar quote ‘the body is your temple. Keep it pure and clean for the soul to reside in’.
We can do all the purification of our thoughts that we want, but without caring for the body and space in which we live or practice, we may not come to know ourselves as the Divine Light, because we are not treating ourselves as if we are That.
Saucha in everyday life
Purity is not our attempt to make something different than it is; rather it is to be pure in our relationship with it, as it is in the momentDeborah Adele, The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice
Once we start applying the practice of saucha to our everyday lives, we’ll come to realize that there is an endless number of things that need a bit of clearing up, whether that’s in your home, relationships, or minds.
Don’t be disheartened by this. Remember, just like our asana practice, it’s a practice. We aren’t striving for perfection here, and we probably won’t achieve it either.
Here are some suggestions to incorporate into your everyday life:
1. Your food & diet
So much food these days is processed, containing impurities like preservatives, additives, and pesticides. Of course, because we’re consuming this, the body absorbs these impurities.
These impurities send the body out of alignment, making it harder to reconnect with our true essence nature.
This isn’t to say you can never eat pizza or fries again, and, personally, I don’t think that’s sustainable, but I know that I can definitely tell when I’ve been eating less nourishing food because I have less energy, physically as well as mentally.
2. Your space & body
Declutter or deep clean your space if you haven’t done it for a while, and make a commitment to do this at regular intervals.
Don’t skip those showers either! (Yes, even if you’re in a rush).
Whenever you’re physically cleaning, make sure that your intention is to come from a deep place of self-care and the act is practiced with mindfulness.
Though these things may feel like a frustrating obligation at times, try to stay mindful and remember that we practice saucha out of love and respect for ourselves and our surroundings.
3. Jala neti
4. Your speech
Try to speak from your heart in a way that embodies your unconditionally loving nature.
That means being careful of gossiping, cursing, or speaking badly about others. It also includes the kind of language you use about yourself – so try to stop all of the self-negativity!
5. Your relationships
How do the relationships in your life make you feel? Do you need to create more space between yourself and particular people, or make an effort to spend more time together?
Maybe you need to communicate firmer boundaries or make yourself heard.
Or, perhaps, you need to implement some reconciliation or forgiveness with the people in your life. If so, you could try the powerful and beautiful traditional Hawaiian practice of Ho’oponopono to release what you’re holding onto.
6. Practicing mindfulness
Whilst all of these practices should be approached with mindfulness, taking more time in your day to become aware of and appreciate yourself and your surroundings will allow you to live more fully in the moment.
If you want to go deeper in saucha, I would recommend taking a look at the practice of dinacharya.
It’s an Ayurvedic daily routine for self-care, so fits in perfectly with the first niyama.
saucha in your practice
1. Clean before you practice
Not every yoga teacher will tell you to do this, but one of my particular traditional Tantra teachers encourages us to clean our body before any practice we do, whether that’s meditation, mantra, asana, or pranayama.
Many other gurus and yogis also teach this, explaining (in a much more well-versed and elegant way) that the ‘goodness’ of the practice will not be absorbed as fully if the body is unclean, compared to when we have taken steps to purify it.
Similarly, as our digestive process takes up so much energy, some teachers recommend going to the toilet before we practice so more energy can go toward our spiritual pursuits.
You may want to do this by drinking some warm or lemon water or doing an ayurvedic enema.
A regular meditation practice serves to assist with the process of mental decluttering, recognizing which thoughts are unhelpful products of your monkey mind and which are the important ones, taking us closer to self-realization.
Literally known as the ‘skull cleansing breath’, the forceful exhale of kapalabhati makes it a great choice for this niyama.
4. Cleanse your space post practice
It can be tempting to roll off the yoga mat straight into bed after a relaxing bedtime practice or run off to work in a hurry if you practice in the morning, but, you guessed it, try your best to clean up your space.
This could be as simple as rolling up your mat or maybe cleaning it, depending on how sweaty your asana practice was.
Others might want to spend a bit more time energetically cleansing the space, through the use of incense, sage, or palo santo.
The practice of saucha creates the space for the true greatness of your being.
Let the first niyama be a journey of honoring your inherent purity, being with what is, and embracing the parts of you that still feel messy on the way.
Read our articles on the yamas here: