Saucha: purification, cleanliness and decluttering in yoga

By Heather Sheridan  ●  August 8, 2023

Yoga as a practice is designed to purify our lives—our bodies through asana (the poses of yoga) and our minds through the yamas and niyamas (a moral code of conduct in yoga). The yamas are things not to do, and the niyamas are things we should do.

Saucha is a niyama, and it is about clearing out the clutter. We practice saucha every day as we cleanse ourselves through showering, brushing our teeth and changing our clothes. We watch what we eat, and we drink water to flush out the impurities in our bodies. We may exercise to strengthen ourselves and to clear our minds. We may clean and organize our work space or homes to be clutter free. When we do this, we feel better about ourselves, both the external space we reside in and also the internal space where we dwell.

Saucha is an act of purification. For those of you who watch Maria Kondo, you already know that she emphasizes a clutter-free lifestyle, removing the things that no longer “spark joy”. This is the practice of saucha, and it is a daily work to learn to let go, whether it’s a thought, a feeling or an object. This practice can be both extremely challenging and extremely liberating.

I have always kept a clean house, sometimes obsessively so. I am not a packrat. I do not hoard things, and I find cleaning up and cleaning out cathartic. However, in the past, cleaning up and cleaning out was a way for me to control some of the chaos in my mind. Too often I was in my head, so much so that I had to have my external space be as uncluttered as possible in order to function with clarity. I found I was focusing too much on my external world and not enough on my internal space. Yoga, meditation and mindfulness have helped. Finding time to sit in my discomfort, determining what I can clear out in order to create space for clarity, joy and connection is a continuous work in progress.

Here are some thoughts regarding what I continue to learn:

  1. Recognize that we all have clutter.
  2. Make the decision that you are ready to clean it up—whether it’s purifying your body or your mind, and stick to it.
  3. Know that you will have setbacks, some days it’s one step forwards and two steps back, but more often than not, you will make headway. The longer you are at it, the more headway you make.
  4. Be vigilant with yourself. Take your attention away from others and their faults, and focus on you and what you need to change to become the person you want to be. Set a theme, one day at a time. “Today, I’m going to be grateful.”
  5. Be patient with yourself. Recognize that you are not going to become the person you want to be in one day, but with every day make a new discovery about yourself and what you want in your life. If you are on a diet, for example, you may not be ready to give it all up in one go. Give yourself time to adjust gradually.
  6. Be forgiving with yourself. We are human and make mistakes.
  7. Love yourself and treat yourself as your very best friend. Self-compassion takes practice, kindness and patience.
  8. Be grateful that you are making the changes now. It doesn’t matter if you’re 30, 40, 50 or 60…every day is a gift, and with each gift we recognize it’s never too late to make a change. It is never too late to clean up the clutter within.
  9. Practice peace. Rest in stillness each and every day.
  10. Find a method that works for you. It may be to clean the external space first, then focus on the internal space, then go back to cleaning the external again, and so on.
  11. Know that some things, thoughts, feelings and even people do not deserve your time, attention, and feelings. I love the saying, “Keep people in your life that truly love you, motivate you, encourage you, inspire you and make you happy. If you have people who do none of the above, let them go.”
  12. Continue to be aware. Remain aware. Practice awareness. Then practice letting go.
  13. One technique I use that helps me to let go is to embrace what I am thinking or feeling at the moment. I ask myself: is this thought/feeling valid? Is this thought/feeling worthy of my time? Does this thought/feeling add clutter to my mind? Am I able to let it go? By acknowledging and embracing it, I have more clarity and can be detached.
  14. Acknowledge the hard work you are doing. Change is never easy. Changing oneself is even more difficult, but it can be done.

Ways To Practice Saucha In Your Everyday Life:

  1. Intermittent fasting.
  2. Keep your desk and your living space uncluttered.
  3. Donate the items you do not need, no longer use or no longer wear to charity. Set a box aside, and put one item in the box each day for an entire month.
  4. If you purchase something new, get rid of two things old. Buy a new pair of shoes, donate two pairs.
  5. For one month, resolve to get rid of something unhealthy in your diet. How do you feel at the end of the month?
  6. Be a person of your word.
  7. Watch yourself, your thoughts and your actions, recognize when you are being judgmental with yourself and others.
  8. Choose one or more of the following questions to work with over the course of a week or month, sit with the question for at least 10 minutes and write down whatever comes to mind.
    • What do my home and work area say about the state of my mind?
    • How do I relate to my body?
    • What eating habits could I change to make my mind more clear and light?
    • How could I better cleanse my thoughts and emotions so that my true self can shine through?
    • In what ways could I simplify my life?
    • How else might I enhance the practice of saucha in my life?