Today we start on the NIYAMAS, the second of Patanjali’s eight stages or limbs, of yoga. While the yamas are about harmonising our relationships with others, the niyamas are about harmonising our relationship with ourselves.
The first niyama is SAUCHA (pronounced SOW-cha) which basically means “cleanliness” or “purity”. Like most ideas in yoga, there are many subtle layers of meaning to the fullness of saucha. At first glance “cleanliness” or “purity” seems straightforward and most people would agree that being clean is a good thing. After all, most people in our society shower or bathe every day and clean their teeth a few times a day and wash their hair and clothes regularly.
Saucha suggests cleanliness and purity both of our bodies AND our surroundings.
Further outside our skin and clothes is our environment. Saucha includes cleanliness and purity of our surroundings. Do we surround ourselves with clutter, junk, untidiness? Do we keep our utensils, cupboards and floors clean?
As I write this blog, I look over my laptop and I see the clutter on my desk. Though I access it regularly, this clutter has been here for several months. Saucha would suggest that by clearing this pile away, I am in some way clearing the clutter it represents in my mind, and by doing so, achieving greater peace of mind. And here’s my conundrum: the pile contains books and notes that I access regularly, so does this really make the pile “clutter”, or am I being too pedantic?
S0… having cleaned our surroundings, clothing, hair, teeth, skin and desk, saucha also includes purifying the INSIDES of our bodies. It means eating pure, fresh food – one of the reasons why yogis don’t eat meat. They believe that the taking life is in opposition to the first yama, ahimsa, which is all about non-harming. But also, in our modern society, our meat cannot truly be fresh – it spends days in cold storage, is packaged in plastic with use-by dates.
Remember that yoga generally is not about being a prude – the yamas and niyamas are not intended as a moral code – but are a way to gain peace of mind as a means to happiness.
Saucha is also one of the reasons for not taking intoxicating substances into the body and for not eating anything that is toxic or impure. One issue that I had while living in an ashram was when bread was served with a meal; it was served only with butter which is considered “pure”, but not margarine, as it is considered “impure” for the body. Being a vegan, I don’t eat butter, so I had dry bread – not nearly as appetising as with something sweet or oily on top of it!
In some parts of the world, the body is viewed as a temple, and it is kept as clean, pure and uncluttered as a physical temple. So saucha encourages us to keep an organic, pure and clean diet – even though that is often difficult these days with fruit and vegetables being genetically modified and sprayed with poisons to get rid of bugs!
Swami Niranjanananda also offers that “saucha means purity of the senses, of thought, of intention and of emotion.” 1
Saucha goes beyond the body and its surroundings to include purity of speech and mind. Anger, hate, prejudice, greed, pride, fear and negative thoughts are sources of impurities of the mind. One writer has said “Holding on to anger and resentment is like poison” for the mind.2 So, cleansing of the mind means working to let go, to detach, to accept; otherwise “the negative emotions are like ankle-weights, which pull you down as you try to advance in yoga”. 3
Yoga recognises a subtle, energy body. This also needs to be purified and there are various yogic methods at our disposal to do this. One of these is with the breath. Breath control techniques form a fundamental part of yoga as they purify and calm the channels of life energy (prana). When the prana, the life-force, is slowed down and harmonised, the mind, too, becomes calm and harmonised. 4
Hatha Yoga is the branch of yoga that has paid great attention to purity. “The masters of Hatha Yoga were intent on transmuting the physical body into a body of light- an indestructible body” 5. The root of the word saucha means “to shine brightly”. One of the twentieth century’s great masters was Swami Sivananda, who said “Purity is the best jewel of a yogi, the best and greatest treasure of a sage. It’s the best wealth of a practitioner”. 6
The Bhagavad Gita (probably the most holy book in India) says “Purity of body comes from cleanliness of body as well as from what one eats and drinks. Purity of speech comes from being truthful through use of words that are not injurious, hurtful or distressing to others or self. Purity of thoughts comes from reflection, peace of mind, silence, calmness, gentleness and purity of being”. 7
Saucha is concerned with the purity of the body, the mind, the emotions, the energetic body, as well as our surroundings. In saucha we are offered further support on our path towards the peace of mind we are all seeking.
“Joy and caring, true to yourself – this is the purity. This is saucha” . 8
1. Swami Niranjanananda, Yoga Magazine, April 2015, p.38.
2. Deborah Anne Quibell, https://www.thehouseofyoga.com>sixth
3. as above
4. Georg Feuerstein, The lost teachings of yoga, Sounds True, Boulder, Colorado.
5. as above
6. as above
8. Paul Dallaghan: http://www.centeredyoga.com/shaucha-pure-natural.html