What Is Saucha?

Patanjali, an ancient Indian sage, offered the Eight Limbs of Yoga as spiritual practices that reveal the universal self and offer guidance in living a purposeful life. The first of these eight limbs are the yamas, practices related to our relationship to others, and the niyamas, practices related to our relationship with ourselves. Both the yamas and the niyamas include additional, more specific principles. Saucha is the first of the Niyamas, and translates as purity or cleanliness.

Purity Of Body, Mind, And Spirit

Saucha is a way of behaving toward ourselves that brings about inner and outer purity of body, mind, and spirit. Though saucha includes physical hygiene, it entails much more. The physical body represents a small portion of all that the human organism embodies, and so personal hygiene is only one of the many ways we can practice cleanliness in our lives.

In fact, the Upanishads (ancient Vedic Sanskrit texts) teach that we’re made up of five sheaths, referred to as koshas, that weave together and wrap around the soul. These layers include the physical body (annamaya kosha), breath body (pranamaya kosha), emotional body (manomaya kosha), intellectual body (vignanamaya kosha), and bliss body (anadamaya kosha). Purification of the self includes each of these layers, requiring that we seek purity through the breath, senses, mind, and intellect as well as the physical body.

Putting Purification Into Practice

There are a number of ways to practice saucha in your life, even in subtle ways like keeping a clean and organized space at home or practicing asana on a clean yoga mat. From the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed, we have ample opportunities to practice purifying our internal and external environments.

Cleanliness is a practice that must be tended to day after day. Therefore, saucha requires tapas, or the power of self-discipline. If we want to maintain purity of mind, we must consistently commit ourselves to the practices in our lives that purify our thoughts, like meditation. Just like we must regularly sweep and scrub our homes, we must also regularly cleanse the layers of our being to cultivate saucha.

Practicing Saucha Through Food

The teachings of Ayurveda include many ways to cleanse the body with food: eat a plant-based diet, avoid snacking to support digestion, participate in seasonal cleanses to restore balance in the body, and more.

If it’s an option for you, eat organic foods without preservatives, additives, pesticides. These toxins seep into our bodies and are counterproductive to the practice of saucha. Also, try to eat unprocessed, unfrozen foods. Freshly prepared foods contain more prana, or more energy, that provides the fuel and nutrients the body needs to purify itself.

Practicing Saucha Through Thoughts

The mind is an incredibly powerful tool that can either be used to harm or support us. The thoughts that fill our minds shape our perspective of reality and influence our experience of life.

Imagine for a moment that the mind is like a snowglobe. Thoughts of negativity, fear, and anxiety shake the snowglobe so that everything feels chaotic and obscure. Low-energy thoughts impact us on the physical, emotional, and mental levels.

Meditation and pranayama calm the mind, stilling the snowglobe and allowing everything to fall into silence. Through these practices we can purify the mind and rewire our thought patterns over time. With patience, we can cleanse the mind of fear and negativity and fill it with hope and peace.

Practicing Saucha Through Routine

Ayurveda teaches that a daily routine is absolutely necessary if one hopes to purify mind, body, and soul. Routine lessens the sense of chaos in our lives and helps us stay committed to the practices that make a real difference in our lives overtime. Routine is the path toward long-term change.

“If our house is gloomy because the windows are dirty, we don’t say there is a problem with the sun; we clean the windows. Yoga cleans the lens of consciousness in order to admit the sun.” – BKS Iyengar

Through self discipline and routine, we can slowly begin to clean the windows of the soul. 

Here are a few ideas to practice saucha through routine:

  • Regularly tidy-up and and organize your space: home, office, or other area you spend a lot of time in.
  • Wake before the sunrise to practice yoga, meditation, gratitude, or other spiritual exercises.
  • Practice oral hygiene habits like tongue scraping and oil pulling.
  • Eat your meals around the same time each day.
  • Structure each day similarly so that you eat, wake, go to bed, and work around the same times and in the same ways.
  • Practice sun salutations or mantra when you wake up or before you go to bed.
  • Regularly practice abhyanga (self massage)
  • Move your body and exercise consistently.

Other Purification Practices

  • Practice asana (physical poses) to help purify the internal body.
  • Clean your yoga mat regularly so that you show up to a fresh mat.
  • Neti–nasal cleansing
  • Dhauti–cleansing of digestive tract
  • Nauli–abdominal massage and cleansing of the abdominal region
  • Basti–colon cleansing
  • Kapalbhati or ‘shining skull breath’ – purification of the mind and intellect
  • Trataka or ‘blinkless gazing’ – a meditation practice commonly known as candle gazing 

Saucha and Compassion For Self

As we incorporate habits into our lives that bring about purity of mind, body, and spirit, it can be easy to fall into the belief that there’s something inherently impure about us. This belief can trigger shame and self criticism. It can lead us down an exhausting path of perfectionism and self loathing, which takes us further from our inner purity.

The truth is that purity is our very nature. It isn’t something we must strive to achieve externally, but something we’ve always had that we’re simply reconnecting with. Saucha is a practice of revealing our true nature. It’s a journey of understanding and returning to the truth of our wholeness. Therefore, everything we do on the path of yoga and Ayurveda must be infused with self compassion. Celebrate the purity within you, and live with integrity as you pull back all the things that conceal that truth.

“Rather than trying to rid ourselves of an inherently impure self, we can turn around and embrace this life in all its realness—broken, messy, mysterious, and vibrantly alive.” – Tara Brach