It’s done to water through osmosis, filtration, or distillation. Metals are heated to high temperatures, or chemicals are used. The process of purification, no matter what the substance, is intense, lengthy, and sometimes even dangerous. Yet its result – the pristine glimmer of pure gold – is highly valued.
In yoga, this process of purification is called Sauca, pronounced Show (rhyming with cow)-cha. It is the first of the 5 Niyamas, or “observances” – spiritual practices prerequisite to the experience of higher consciousness. Through both physical and metaphysical means, the yogi cleanses and purifies his mind and body. Why? Because of the precious result: the inner essence, or Divine spirit, shines through unadulterated. Self-purification is essential to transcendence and enlightenment. Yet even if you don’t have such lofty goals, Sauca is essential to well-being, success, and inner peace.
At the most basic level, Sauca addresses the need to avoid illness through cleanliness. Sanitation is one revolution of the modern age that has dramatically reduced disease. Simply by bathing, disposing of bodily wastes, and washing dishes properly, we minimize a host of illnesses that are passed on through bacteria and viruses.
Additionally, maintaining purity of the body is vital not just for avoiding disease, but optimal well-being. The practice of Sauca may include an internal cleanse or fast from time to time, and an ongoing awareness of the foods we ingest. Greasy, stale, or processed foods will create a build-up of toxins in our digestive system. Too much sugar, caffeine, or drugs will disturb our chemical balance, causing agitation, distraction, or even dis-ease. To maintain physical purity, choose healthy meals and regularly cleanse the internal system. On a physical level, Sauca increases longevity and vitality.
The environment around you
Cleanliness in our environment, as well as our bodies, affects the way we experience life. Whether you scrub it yourself or have someone else clean the mildew from the bathtub, we know how energized and relaxed we feel after the house has been cleaned.
Keeping the yard in order and even doing our share to pick up the streets is part of the practice of Sauca. My 3 year old daughter knows that trash on the ground is “yucky – ew!” Contributing to the cleanliness of our community goes a long way to supporting the health and happiness of all.
Organization, too, is part of Sauca. Clear off and put away all the papers, bills, and books on your desk and notice how calm you feel. When the clutter of clothes scattered across the floor is nicely organized in the closet and in drawers, our energy shifts. Organizing and cleaning our home and place of work lifts our spirits and creates expansiveness. This is like energetically clearing the way on our path of growth. With a mess around us, we feel stuck and distracted. But as we put everything in order, the way is clear to progress in any area of our lives.
The subtler aspects
These are the most obvious tasks of the practice of cleanliness and purification. But what about purifying the mind and the emotions? This more subtle aspect of Sauca is challenging, and the results profound. For when the mind and emotions are clear and pure, love naturally arises and equanimity – the state of mind which is peaceful, balanced, and non-reactive – results.
All the previous methods – maintaining the health of the body, cleaning the house, organizing – require some effort. This is like the heat applied to metal to purify it. So, too, does the heat of purification need to be applied to the mind.
Rigors of inner Sauca
Cleansing the mind involves rigorous observation, honesty, non-attachment, and even forgiveness. It can be very unpleasant to accept the reality of our mental landscape. Often, it is littered with anger, jealousy, fear, or impatience. We may feel guilty for even having the thoughts and feelings we have.
Just as we may feel sheepish if we discover a pile of dirty underwear in the bathroom, we may feel embarrassed at the reality of what flows through our consciousness. It’s OK – this is an integral part of the process of purification. Sauca reveals everything that needs to be cleaned out. Think of this as a good thing – then you can pick up, sort out, and let go what needs to be released.
It’s similar to the process of distillation. Distilling water is the removal of impurities and minerals through applied heat. The water is brought to a boil, and the resulting steam travels out of the container via a tube or pipe to another one. Metals and toxins can’t evaporate like the water does, so they are left behind in the pot and the pure water travels as steam to eventually condense again in another vessel.
With the process of Sauca, we heat up our consciousness by consistent and rigorous self-awareness and examination. Judgment, anger, violence, impatience, righteousness, self-deprecation, and any other unsavory attitudes are revealed in order to be released.
Turn to the positive
Then, like the purified steam, we turn the mind and heart to what is good. We train ourselves to shift focus to what is more positive and healing. This is not through judgment or attacking oneself for having negative thoughts, but rather recognizing what thoughts result in experiencing more love, strength, and courage, and what thoughts don’t. It becomes obvious which internal attitudes bring about peace of mind and which ones disturb it. Then, we purify ourselves through conscious choice of a positive state of mind.
At first it may seem like it can’t be done, but it is possible to let go of thoughts and choose different ones. When it’s challenging to let go of a belief or idea, reflect on your attachment to it. The more attached we are to an idea, the harder it will be to let go of. Sometimes, we strongly cling even to negative attitudes about ourselves, because they are familiar or we have convinced ourselves that they are true. But the truth is – thoughts are only thoughts. They exist only in our mind. A thought that we firmly believe or cling to is what we seek and attempt to verify in the world: in essence, we then create it, find it, or behave as if it were so.
Cleansing mental habits
Recognizing this, consider that even a very habitual negative thought can be changed. It isn’t truth but rather a habit of the mind. Changing the habit will create different results, different behaviors, and alter our perception of our world. As we practice Sauca and reflect on our thoughts in this way, it gets easier to cleanse out what doesn’t work and replace it with a more uplifting perspective. Not only is this purifying to the mind and heart: it’s empowering.
Sometimes, purification of the mind can happen from simple observation and patience. When negative emotions like despair arise, take a seat and watch them. Again, attempt to be unattached to what happens with them – allow yourself to feel the emotions without getting carried away by them. Breathe and let the feelings come and go like waves on the ocean.
What you will discover is that if you can stay present with them, neither clinging to nor pushing them away, the emotions eventually dissolve and change on their own. Observing and being present is like the heat applied to the water, boiling it: then the water turns to steam, changing form just as the feelings do. Sauca entails being non-reactive and steadfastly observant.
Regular, continual practice
However, don’t expect your mind to attain a permanent state of perfection as a result of Sauca. Just as the dishes need to be washed every day, the mind and heart need continual cleansing of negative thoughts and emotions. Sauca is, like any other aspect of yoga, a practice, not an end-result. Endeavor to develop a regular habit of Sauca in thoughts, words, and actions, just like the habit of brushing our teeth. Purification and cleanliness require maintenance.
When the physical body is healthy and vibrant; when the emotions release as they arise, and the shift to positive states happens with ease; and when the mind becomes clear, free from distraction, agitation, and attachment; then peace, equanimity, and connection with our spiritual essence shine forth. All the previous blocks and impurities that hindered the experience of oneness and transcendence are removed. Cultivate the practice of Sauca and you are guaranteed to see benefits in your life. Keep it up for a lifetime and, like pure gold, the precious glimmer of your True Self will unfold.
Copyright © 2008, 2012 by Constance L. Habash