Now, that we have finished the five yamas, it’s time to move on to the Niyamas which are the second limb of Patanjali’s eight limbs. If you would like to know more about the yamas you can read about Ahimsa here, Satya here, Asteya here, Brahmacharya here and Aparigraha here. Now, let’s dive into Sauca, which is the first of Patanjali’s niyamas.
Sauca is most often translated to cleanliness or purification. Let’s unpack this niyama a little bit.
The first purification or cleanliness is to clean the body, meaning take a shower if you can. Keep the body in a state of sauca, cleanliness. This is why we shower before practice. I recently had a student who looked at me and asked: “So what, Sauca means clean your stinking feet before you come to yoga class?”. Well yes, kind of. Please make sure you are clean when you come to your yoga mat. No one wants to smell your stinky feet while they are jumping back and jumping through.
Before we dive deeper into Sauca I would like to take a moment to mention that the preface of the niyamas is that they will be practiced in moderation for the householders. Some practitioners mistakenly believe that they must abide by strict Sauca. They must only eat organic kale. They think they must maintain Sauca so they can only eat these certain organic foods. This is extreme, it is not moderation.
Of course what we eat makes a difference, but don’t take it to a crazy extreme. Yes, some foods are better than others, even if they are vegan. We all know what these foods are so let’s not talk more about them. But again, moderation is key. Chocolate cake is perfectly fine. So are fries and a yummy veggie burger. But maybe don’t have chocolate cake and burgers every single day.
We have already talked about Sauca in terms of cleaning the body from the outside with a shower. But we must also clean the body from the inside. Sauca is also very much about taking care of the body. Give it good nourishment. I see Sauca as a form of self-love. How are you caring for your body? How are you nourishing your body? Think of how a mother takes care of her baby.
This is all physical. Then there’s our thoughts. We must clean our thoughts too. If we eat very clean foods but think negative thoughts, we are rigid, dogmatic, think negatively about our body and that is your motivation to eat in a particular way we are not practicing Sauca. I believe that our thoughts are much more powerful than anything we can ever put into our body. Harmful thoughts are not good. So clean your thoughts too.
We can also practice Sauca on our yoga mats (besides taking a shower). If you do your practice and you get mad at yourself, you feel defeated and you feel like a failure and that you are not good enough you are not practicing Sauca. We all fail at asanas. If you beat yourself up about it and use it as fuel for your own self hatred, this is not Sauca. Instead, use it to develop compassion and kindness for yourself and the world.
Now, let’s take a look at speech. The expression of thoughts is speech. So purify speech as well. If, for instance, you curse a lot, you are not really practicing Sauca. Remove harmful expressions from your vocabulary. Is it really necessary to curse?
Rather, speak in words of life over yourself, your world, your actions, your dreams, your body and others. Avoid speaking words of disbelief, fear and doubt. Instead of saying “I will never succeed at this asana” try saying “Maybe one day”. Instead of saying that you will never find a relationship, say that you love yourself so much that you don’t need anybody else to complete you.
Words are extremely powerful. For instance I hate when people come up to me and say: “How are you? You look tired today!”. Just ask me how I am and let me speak. Don’t speak words of death over me. Speaking in words of life is another way to perform Sauca.
Also, don’t play the victim or blame everyone else for your problems. This is not Sauca either.
Lastly, Sauca also has to do with the environment. Leave the space in a better condition that you entered it. If you come into a space and there is no toilet paper, change the toilet paper. Clean your mat. If the toilet doesn’t flush, alert someone. Think about how your actions are impacting others, your community, the environment, the planet, the animals and your fellow human beings?
Some of the most compassionate people towards animals will turn a blind eye to the suffering of their fellow human beings. So Sauca, in my opinion, should also include other human beings. This is very important. If we can have compassion for a plant or an animal, then surely we can have compassion for other people. I once heard Kino MacGregor saying that this should be a natural expression of the yogic path, and I couldn’t agree more.