“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.”
You may have been introduced to yoga through the physical practice. As you continue in your practice, you begin to notice that yoga goes beyond the asanas. Ethical lessons start to seep in, and you find yourself looking at the world differently. Your old habits, or even the people in your life, may not fit the way they used to.
As we journey down this path, the first two limbs of yoga, yamas and niyamas, provide guidance for how we can live best on and off the yoga mat.
What is Saucha?
The yamas detail five restraints, or things we should not do, while the niyamas offer observances, or things we should do. The first of the niyamas is saucha, which means purity.
In this case, the sutra is speaking to purity of body and mind. Saucha prepares us to recognize and receive a guru, as well as to be open to seeing the good in life and the lessons that it offers.
Preparing for Purity
Many yogis believe that you have to move through the eight limbs of yoga in numerical order, starting with the first limb, the yamas. Following that train of thought, consider how each of the yamas builds upon the other to help us prepare for saucha.
1) Ahimsa: nonviolence or nonharming
All of our actions make a karmic impression. By practicing ahimsa, we are putting positive energy out in the world and not creating any impressions of bad energy, or samskaras, within our bodies.
2) Satya: truthfulness
When we are honest, we live life as an open book. We remove the anxiety and stress that accompany lying and maintaining those lies. Moreover, by not lying, we are practicing ahimsa.
3) Asteya: nonstealing
By not taking what isn’t yours physically, mentally, or spiritually, you remain open and allow goodness to move into your life. You are truthful when you do not steal, and therefore you are not harming anyone.
4) Brahmacharya: celibacy
If you take this yama literally, then you are keeping your physical body pure and maintaining the energy that you need to move through the eight limbs of yoga.
5) Aparigraha: non-attachment or greedlessness
Through aparigraha, we learn not to take more than we need, and not to become attached to possessions or outcomes. This prevents external items from driving the way we feel about ourselves or the way we see the world.
If you can practice each of the yamas, you are on your way to living a kinder and more honest life. You can then develop personal purity in other ways, continuously clearing out your body and mind so energy can flow smoothly.
Within saucha is the physical aspect of daily hygiene. Deeper than what lies on our bodies, we must pay attention to what we are putting into our bodies. Are we eating well? Are we harming our bodies by smoking or drinking? When seeking saucha, many yogis move towards vegetarianism and veganism. Saucha is not the only reason for making these choices, but it can be one of them.
Even though asana and pranayama come after the niyamas on the eight-limbed path, they too can be used to help purify the body. The physical practice of yoga helps move toxins through the body and out of the organs, so we can eliminate them. Pranayama techniques also help us to eliminate toxins from the body, moving us toward a cleaner, purer state.
Yoga is a path. As you begin to follow the guidelines laid out by Patanjali, you will evolve. And if you move through the yamas, you will be more pure in body, mind, and spirit.