The yamas are ways in which we can interact with the world outside ourselves with more peace and less angst. The niyamas are suggestions for how we may focus on our internal processes in order to connect more easily with that part of ourselves that is the silent observer. The first of the niyamas is saucha, which means purity and sacredness. The two ways to view saucha is internal or mental, and external, or physical.

The physical purity includes cleansing the body, keeping things in order around us, and other tools of yoga such as pranayama, postures, mudras, and practicing the yamas and niyamas. Asanas purify the physical body, which in turn positively affects the mental and emotional bodies. A proper diet and simplified living are other suggestions for practicing saucha at the external level.

When we begin to expand our view of life with more compassion and love and service, then we alter how we interact with the world around us. This allows us to see toxic emotions and habits and thoughts. The internal focus of saucha encourages us to focus on our attitudes and emotions, especially judgements and criticisms of the self or others, and we begin to notice how this “soils” the sacredness that each of us are.

The intention of practicing saucha is to purify the body, heart, and mind and to bring them into alignment. It’s that integration that allows us to not be distracted by negative thoughts or whirling emotions, a poor diet or a physical body that we are at war with. By performing asana (physical postures), we can purify the physical body. With this movement, we come to know our physical limitations and become more intimate with the body. We then tend to take better care of it, improving our diet, getting enough rest and water so that it operates optimally and keeps us from being distracted by aches. During the practice of asana, we also brush up against thoughts and emotions regarding our performance on the mat. Judging thoughts and critical comments from the mind cloud the peace that is always available to us. When we recognize those thoughts, we can choose to not engage with them, thus starving them out. In this way, we purify our mind bringing us into alignment and eliminating distractions.

Saucha is not a rule or law that must be followed, but as with all the yamas and niyamas, it’s only an invitation to look at our habits, physical and mental, and notice which ones are not working for our highest good. Those that keep us stuck or continue to feed the veil that keeps the True Self hidden is where the true practice of yoga resides. All that we have discussed thus far-ahimsa (non-harming), satya (truth), asteya (non-stealing), brahamacharya (returning to the source within), aparigraha (non-attachment)-and the remaining niyamas and 6 limbs are all designed for one thing only: to recognize the unconscious mask of the ego and reveal the Higher Self. It may sound esoteric and “woo woo”, but like many things I see in life, it is simple, but not easy. We are conditioned from an early age to be driven by pleasure. (In the next few months I’ll be discussing the Gita, which flows along with this understanding.) The path of yoga, if we choose to walk it in this life, is a set of tools and techniques that we may use to uncover that which keeps us in misery and keeps us stuck and from living a life of peace and freedom. We all have layers, and though the purpose is not necessarily to remove the layers, but rather to recognize the ones that are there, and then to decide what to do about the ones that interfere with a calmer way to interact with life and its circumstances.

How do you practice saucha? Have suggestions for recognizing and releasing toxic habits? Please leave them in the comments section. When I began to study the 8 limbs, I wrote poems to reflect my understanding. You can view a few of them on my website: