Yoga Niyamas: Sauca, or Cleanliness

The yamas are external observances, ways we strive to show up in our community and our household.

Conversely, the niyamas are internal disciplines, ways to aim to be on the inside, personal rules to follow for a spiritual life.

The first niyama is sauca.

Sauca: Cleanliness, Purity

Recognizing the necessary yuck of being human


From what I’ve read in the traditional commentaries on the Sutras, sauca speaks to recognizing that no matter how often you clean yourself, you still get gross again. ⁠

You have BO. You fart. Your breath stinks when you wake up in the morning.⁠

It’s the lesson that reminds us we’re human, and to be human is only a step in the process towards unity with pure consciousness.⁠

Besides the traditional “you keep cleaning yourself but you’re inherently unclean” translation, there are also New Age and modern interpretations of this and other yogic concepts that you’ll often come across.⁠

I hesitate to cherry pick and modify a deep spiritual tradition for my own convenience. However, as a student of yoga I’ve found benefit in these modern interpretations.⁠

So, sauca can also be looked at as purity, the ways in which we tend to our bodies and the spaces we inhabit with intention and care. ⁠

I’m able to think much clearer in a room free of clutter. Breathe much easier in a room recently dusted and aired out. I find it more comfortable to meditate in the morning if I’ve first emptied my bladder and bowels.⁠

That’s sauca for you. Maintain cleanliness. ⁠

Recognize that bodily, we’re a skin bag full of guts.

Ways we can live in the spirit of sauca

-Stay present in your cleaning routines: brushing your teeth, washing your face, scrubbing the dishes, dusting. Cleaning yourself and the space around you is part of respecting yourself and the spaces you inhabit. Find a sense of joy and gratitude in these rituals. See if a little reverence for cleanliness and purity helps soften the chore.

-Notice where you may be overly occupied with your body, where the goal may not be to purify, but instead to perfect. What is perfection? What is respect? What is enough?

-Become aware of the clutter and rubbish in your body and your space. It may be the food you eat or stuff you smoke. It may be the negative self-talk or that friend with hurtful advice. It may be the stacks of dusty magazines or a dirty bathroom. Once you become aware of what weakens or pollutes, what is harsh and rough and out of tune, you can start to see what steps you can take to clean it all up. Then, you take one of those steps. Start slow.

Sutra 2.40-41


For more on sauca and the other niyamas click here

For the yamas click here