Purity and Yoga

By Laura Hansen.

The code of yoga is codified in ancient Indian Scriptures called the Varaha Upanishads. The code includes correct actions or practices that lead to enlightenment (Patanjali, 1999). Prior to the practice of Asana, are the practices of the Yamas and Niyamas which serve as an ethical code and foundation for the practice of yoga. There are five personal practices or Niyamas, the first Niyama is Purity.

yoga purity

According to Palkhivala (n.d.) Saucha is usually translated as cleanliness. Physical cleanliness is only the most obvious translation of Saucha. Saucha actually means something closer to purity and refers not only to taking a shower after strenuous exercise, but also thinking positive thoughts. Ideally the yoga student surrounds themselves with clean energy.

At the most basic level, purity means not coming to class smelling bad, with dirty smelly clothes or mats, or with anger and hostility. Students who have been practicing the other Yamas and Niyamas will be ahead of the game in this area. Come to class early whenever possible so that your spot can be selected, your things set down, and your mind cleared for class. Take deep breaths on your own or stretch to get yourself prepared for class. In this way your presence becomes more pure.

The next step is to work on thinking more positive thoughts. Try to think of something complimentary to say to the teacher and/or other practitioners instead of finding things to criticize. Take this practice off the mat and try not complaining to anyone but only complimenting people. There are several techniques I have used to assist myself with this practice.

  1. A Complaint Free World offers free purple bracelets (you may pay for shipping) that say “A complaint free world”. I ordered one of these myself and wore it for about six months to remind myself not to complain. I found it helpful and you may find it helpful as well, you can go to their web-page at acomplaintfreeworld.org. After 21 days without a complaint, you receive “A Certificate of Happiness” which is a delight.
  2. I practice a meditation that I created which I call “positive, negative or neutral”. I close my eyes and start to monitor my thoughts. I pretend that my thoughts are coming out on a fax machine, one page at a time, and that my job is filing. As the file clerk, I don’t care what the thoughts are about, all I care about is filing them in the right bin. There are three bins: positive, negative and neutral. A positive thought, “I have the whole night to myself to play with my friends” goes into the positive pile, thought over, next. A negative thought, “Monday comes too fast,” goes into the negative thought pile, thought over, next. A neutral thought, “I have to brush my teeth,” goes in the neutral pile and so on. This activity keeps my mind occupied and allows me to look objectively at the nature of my thoughts. Initially I found that my mind is busy terrifying me all day long with things like “You’re going to be late, you’re going to get fired, you’re getting fat, you’re getting old, you are a terrible mother, dog-owner, yoga-practitioner, organizer, laundress, cleaner, cooker, etc.

For me, the first step was awareness of the negativity I was subjecting myself to; I couldn’t blame anyone else, this was all me. The next step was working with my mind and learning to dismiss negative thoughts more quickly, and consider more positive alternatives. For me, positive alternatives can’t be lies such as “I will one day be the next Julia Childs,” they have to be more realistic like, “If I can’t cook, that is okay, I can get take-out and I am still loveable.”

I still struggle with purity in all of its forms. For example, I don’t really know where to start with cleaning or organization. The good news is that I have been practicing non-hoarding and have fewer material things than many people. Less things means less to clean and maintain. I have also developed some rituals which help me and my surroundings stay relatively clean. The most important thing I have done is work with my own mind to reduce my impure thinking. I often believe that my mind is a wonderful place to be and this is priceless because wherever I go and whatever I do I take that wonderful place, which is my mind, with me.


Palkhivala, A. I. (no date). Teaching the Niyamas in Asana Class, Yoga Journal.

Patanjali, Edited by Satchidananda, S. (1999). The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Buckingham, VA: Integral Yoga.

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