The first Niyama, Saucha, translates as “purity”. This can be a scary thought – who amongst can claim to be pure? Would we even want to? Where’s the fun in being “pure”? Worse yet, incredibly horrible acts have been committed in efforts to remove perceived moral impurities (the Spanish inquisition, Hitler’s purges, ISIS, etc). However, the problem here lies not in “Saucha”, but in its translation.
It may be better to think of Saucha as ‘…cleanliness of body, mind, spirit and surroundings’ (Newlyn). Saucha is all about making healthy choices: the food we eat – avoid preservatives, additives and pesticides; what we drink – avoid or reduce caffeine and alcohol; wash our bodies regularly; launder our clothes; clean our homes; a cleaner environment – reduce pollution. These are all actions that remove impurities from our lives.
In yoga, the practice of asana (postural exercises) and pranayama (breathing exercises) tones our bodies, improves oxygen transfer in our blood and stimulates our lymphatic and nervous systems. This purifies our physical bodies. It helps our Prana (life force) to flow more freely.
Meditation is an important part of yoga and this helps clear our minds. Saucha starts with our thoughts. Negative thoughts or actions towards others or towards ourselves are impurities of the mind. We clean these impurities of the mind through being more mindful of our feelings, words and actions. Guidance is provided by the other Yamas and Niyamas, particularly Satya – truthfulness, honesty and integrity; and Ahimsa – kindness.
Sullivan explains that ‘…saucha emphasizes the purity we find in our hearts’ and we should ‘… cultivate devotion toward and sincere appreciation for others, the habitual practice of gratitude, and the offering of loving affection.’
Newlyn, E. (2014) The Niyamas - Bringing Saucha into your life. https://www.ekhartyoga.com/articles/the-niyamas-bringing-saucha-into-your-life
Sullivan, M. (2016) The First Niyama: Saucha. http://www.suremovementsyoga.com/blogfull/2016/4/27/the-first-niyama-saucha