Saucha is the first of the niyamas, or recommended habits, which constitute the 2nd limb of the eight-limbed path of yoga. It means purification and is primary in many of the practices of yoga. Saucha is considered a virtue in Hindu philosophy and spirituality.
Through cleanliness and purity of body and mind
comes a purification of the essence,
a goodness and gladness of feeling,
a sense of focus with intentness, the mastery and union of the senses,
and a fitness, preparation and capability for self-realization.
— Yoga Sutras 2.41
As with the other ethical guidelines and observances, Saucha is primarily a matter of intent. There are factors in one’s internal and external environment which can become hindrances on one’s spiritual path – these are what we might consider to be the impurities. In order to help clear the path, we can set an intention to free ourselves as much as possible from these distractions.
The body can be purified through maintaining cleanliness and engaging healthful activities, practicing pranayama or breathing exercises, and taking asana or physical postures. Purity of speech means, as best we can, speaking the truth with kindness. Through silent reflection and the cultivation of calm abiding and understanding (such as when we practice mindfulness and meditation), we develop purity of mind.
We can also be mindful of the purity of our environment, keeping the space around us simple and clean, maintaining the tools of our practice with loving care, and spending time with others who support and further our journey.
Fearlessness, purity of heart,
perseverance in the yoga of knowledge,
charity, sense restraint, sacrifice,
study of the sacred texts, austerity, honesty;
Nonviolence, truthfulness, absence of anger,
renunciation, equanimity, abstaining from malicious talk,
compassion for all creatures, freedom from greed,
gentleness, modesty, absence of fickleness;
Splendor, forgiveness, fortitude, cleanliness,
absence of malice, and absence of pride;
these are the qualities of those endowed
with divine virtues… – Bhagavad Gita 16:1-3