Shaucha – First Niyama: The Yoga Practice of Cleanliness

Shaucha - first niyama
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“When there is both inner and outer cleanliness, it approaches godliness.”
~ Mahatma Gandhi 

The space we surround in this physical world and the space we create in our mental world (through thoughts and experiences) is where our lifespan gets spent. What do you think is the most important to live happily in this space? It’s the space itself; the cleanliness of this space!

Using this very idea of cleanliness, yoga comprises a holistic system that prepares the foundation for the self-development of a person. This system is a set of 5 practices that we know as “Niyama – the second limb of yoga“.

What is Shaucha?

Shaucha is the yogic practice of cleanliness our external and internal world by means of physical, mental, and daily activities of our life. It literally refers to the purity of mind, body, and spirit.

Before any yoga practices get work for you, you should make sure the medium of yoga is completely clean and clear. Physically this medium could be your yoga room, clothes, mat, or other accessories you are using. While mentally, cleanliness refers to purity in your thoughts. Shaucha aims to the purity of these mediums.

The concept of Shaucha has a special significance in the yogic tradition. Sage Patanjali’s compilation work, the Yoga Sutras, explains the discipline of Raja Yoga through an eight-part system, the eight limbs of yoga.

Shaucha is the first of the second limb (Niyama) of Ashtanga yoga.

Shaucha as the 1st Niyama

The idea of Niyama is to condition our mind and body in a manner complementing the philosophies of Yoga. Niyama, or observance, is in many ways a behavioral extension of the moral codes, Yama.

The Yamas set the foundational moral compass for the yogic philosophy, which is incorporated into our lives through the acts of Niyama. For example, toxic impurities (of all forms, elemental, emotional, or intellectual) can be harmful to our mind and body, others, and the surroundings. In such cases, the practice of Shaucha can establish purity and thus observe the non-harming value of Yama.

Shaucha as the first Niyama forms the base for all Niyamas. And Saucha will initiate a chain process of observance that will sequentially trigger all the Niyamas. 5 Niyamas are Shaucha (cleanliness,) Santosha (contentment,) Tapas (austerity,) Swadhyaya (self-learning), and Ishvara Pranidhana (devotion to the almighty.)

Cleanliness of mind and body will promote self-contentment or Santosha. A healthy mind and body is a happy mind and body. A self-content mind will have a greater ability to achieve discipline. Further, a disciplined mind will focus better on learning. And finally, a learned mind will realize the value of devotion.

Shaucha in daily life

Shaucha in daily life
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Shaucha as a Niyama refers to different yogic and lifestyle practices that establish spiritual purity, by keeping your body, mind, and soul clean.

To understand the true meaning of Shaucha we will need to evaluate the different types of Shaucha:

  • Shaucha of body
  • Shaucha of Mind 
  • Shaucha of energy
  • Shaucha of speech
  • Shaucha in diet
  • Shaucha on Mat
  • Shaucha at Home
  • Shaucha of Environment

1. Shaucha of Body

Shaucha of the body is concerned with keeping our body clean, both inside and outside. The body purification process mentioned in the Hatha Yoga system, Shatkarma, is a traditional Shaucha practice. 

While lifestyle hygienic habits like bathing, brushing, flossing, washing hands and such, help the external cleaning. Shatkarma help in the internal cleaning of the organs and tracts.

The Shatkarma Kriya helps you cleanse your gastro and respiratory tracts, abdominal organs, and rectal tract. Shaucha of the body both the surface and the organs and systems will keep you physically healthy.

2. Shaucha of Mind

Shaucha of mind refers to intellectual purity. Intellectual impurities can cause two ways of harm. The individual who bears the toxic thoughts in mind suffers from mental regression, and biochemical deficiencies that affect the physiology of the body. Further, toxic thoughts can trigger behaviors harmful to others and the surroundings.

The best way for Shaucha of mind is to meditate, take proper rest and engage in mental therapies if necessary. A disciplined lifestyle and a daily routine also help reduce mental toxicity.

3. Shaucha of energy

Prana or the life force energy is believed to be vital to our existence. The life force often referred to as the vital air, is crucial to movement and motion at a cellular level.

Blocked energy gateways and impurities lead to diseases and disorders. Shaucha of energy promotes a healthy energy flow that normalizes the functioning of body systems. Energy and chakra cleansing meditation techniques are effective ways to purity the energy.

4. Shaucha of speech

Our words also have the potential to be polluted with impurities. Words that cause harm to others and to the surroundings are considered impurities in speech. Often the impurities of mind and energy manifest themselves in speech. The yogic practices of Saucha warn the practitioners to be mindful of their speech. 

The Shaucha of speech can be practiced through awareness and consciousness improving meditative processes. Awareness will give you conscious control over speech formation, which will help you filter out impurities from entering your speech stream.

5. Shaucha in diet

The yogic philosophy categorizes our existence into five different sheaths, PanchaKoshas. The most external sheath, our physical body, is called the food sheath (Annamaya Kosha). This is because our physical body is quite literally made up of the food we eat. If impurities are included in our diet, they eventually become a part of our physical existence. Thus to stay healthy Shaucha of food is important. 

For this, the yogis follow a sattvic diet or yogic diet. A sattvic diet is nutritionally complete and easily digestible. It lays a heavy emphasis on fruits and fresh vegetables, whole grains, milk and ghee, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, sweet fruits, medicinal herbs, natural sweeteners like honey and cold-pressed oils.

6. Shaucha on Mat

Shaucha can also be observed through the yoga asana. Clean your body thoroughly before starting your practice. Wear fresh clean clothes while practicing, and ensure that your yoga Mat is maintained and cleaned regularly. You should also clean and tidy the space where you practice yoga. 

Practicing in an open space is usually supportive of the practice of Shaucha. Observing cleanliness in your Asana practice will ensure perfection of the postures and potent benefits.

7. Shaucha at Home

Your home is where you reside. Keeping it clean is not only your moral obligation but also beneficial. It is often believed that the condition and arrangement of our surroundings have the ability to impact our internal energy. Even the ancient Chinese traditional practice, Feng Shui, is based on this idea.

Shaucha of the abode we live in is critical for mental and physical well-being. Keeping the constructs and furniture clean of dirt, and sanitized of germs. Tidying up our belongings, regularly cleaning up our clothes and various interior fabrics, are a few basic Shaucha at-home practices.

A clean surrounding has multiple effects on our existence. Primarily a clean and germ-free home prevents the development of an unhygienic ecosystem. That would otherwise play host to a wide range of diseases. And secondly, a clean surrounding is quickly felt by our senses, to generate a sensation of well-being.

8. Shaucha of Environment

Mahatma Gandhi, the man we know for India’s Independence, himself stated that “sanitation is more important than independence.” Our existence is not just influenced by our homes, but also the environment we live in. An environment full of toxic elements will pollute our lives, unleash a plethora of diseases, and suffocate us to death.

Thus Shaucha of the environment is probably the most important form of cleanliness. After all, what’s the point of cleaning your body, if the air you breathe in is polluted and the food you eat is contaminated. 

Few Shaucha for Environment practices are to increase environmental awareness, be conscious of individual waste disposal, develop communal waste management and recycling systems, develop lifestyle practices with a low environmental footprint, use eco-friendly products, and such.

Personal benefits from Shaucha

Practicing Shaucha has a holistic implication, both on a personal and social level. The yogic culture is mostly about the greater good, and it associates Shaucha with the well-being of all creations. However, the personal benefits of Shaucha are equally promising:

  • Shaucha dramatically reduces your chances of developing microbial infections.
  • It improves your digestion and immunity
  • With better functioning body organs and systems, it improves your overall physical health.
  • A feeling of pleasantness to the senses.
  • Clarity of thought and reduce stress.
  • Improved concentration.
  • Develop self-discipline.
  • Be well received and liked by others and in society. 
  • Become effectively articulate.
  • Improved physical and mental conditioning to practice other limbs of yoga

Shatkarma practice for Shaucha

The shatkarma practices, or shatkriya, have given the highest importance in Hatha Yoga. Technically 6 practices of shatkarma initiate internal physical cleansing, but in reality, they act on our entire mind, body, and energy.

  • Dhauti – Stomach cleansing performed on empty stomach. In Dhauti the practitioner drinks 1-1.5 liters of water, and then puts two fingers down the throat and pukes out the water along with remaining impurities from the stomach.
  • Basti – Bowel cleansing much like a yogic enema. Water is drawn in from the anus and into the colon, by contracting the associating muscles. And then the water is flushed out through the anus, cleaning the large intestine.
  • Neti – Cleansing of the Nasal passages. The practitioner uses a Neti Pot to put water through one nostril, and pass it out through the other. The water enters one nostril, passes through the nasal cavity, and exits through the other nostril. Along the way, the water cleanses the passages.
  • Trataka – Cleansing the organs of concentration. The practitioner gazes steadily at a point. The steady gaze cleanses the neural pathways, eyes, and the mind (of impure distracting thoughts.)
  • Nauli – Cleansing the abdominal organs and passages. The practitioner rotates the abdominal muscles, in clockwise and anti-clockwise directions. This technique stimulates digestion and resolves abdominal movement disorders.
  • Kapalabhati – Skull cleansing. Kapalabhati is successive forceful exhalation spurts, where the lungs, diaphragm, and abdominal muscles are exercised. This technique acts along the line of the seven chakras, providing effective energy cleansing. Since breathing controls the flow of energy, Kapalabhati improves your command over the energy flow.

Contemporary Shaucha practices

The Yoga Sutras and other ancient yogic texts are wisdom treasure chests, but they don’t address a few problems of modern times. The impurities have largely increased since the Vedic period, which forms the base for yogic culture. And these increased impurities mean there must be a few contemporary inclusions to the practice of Shaucha.

  • Asana practice with Shakti yoga flow. The Shakti yoga flow increasingly benefits mind and energy cleansing. Warm-up with Pranayama.
  • Keep your yoga space and accessories clean.
  • Maintain strict oral hygiene. Our teeth and gum are a major avenue for diseases.
  • Keep a clean wardrobe.
  • Physical grooming like moisturizing, deep skin cleansing, blackhead removals, and different skin treatments are good. They keep the skin healthy and hydrated and protect against pollution. We often ignore our skin but forget they form the first line of defense on your immunity system.
  • Keep your hair and nails clean.
  • Bathe regularly.
  • Keep your home clean, tidy, and arranged.
  • Keep your bed particularly clean and sanitized.
  • Practice hygienic sexual interactions.
  • Keep your food processing units, utensils, and accessories clean.
  • Avoid consumption of processed food.
  • Avoid harmful and intoxicating habits like smoking and drinking.
  • Meditate regularly

Conclusion

Shaucha is a practice that is universally accepted and acknowledged. Not a single scientific or spiritual institution will contradict the benefits of Shaucha. In fact, the practice of Shaucha has been present since the very genesis of civilization and has played a decisive role in our evolution. 

The sense of Shaucha is deeply embedded into our genetics and it’s a bigger part of our internal workings than we realize. Shaucha has been a part of all of our lives while growing up, at least to some extent. Any health and hygiene practice you can recall being taught by your elders is a kind of Shaucha. So you already know how to practice Shaucha, all you gotta do is consciously apply them to your life.

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