In the first post on shaucha, we focused on external, or physical, cleanliness in our surroundings and our body. Having a clean, orderly home and work space as well as a healthy, wholesome body is important and serves as a foundation for internal cleansing. But it is even more vital to purify our inner environment, which is the focus of this post. Just as we clutter our physical body and environment, we clutter our mind and heart, with sensory input of all kinds, with bad habits, and with unresolved conflicts.
When we go on autopilot and dash through life without taking time to observe and contemplate what we are doing, we get caught in old mental habit patterns that may cause frustration and resentment or block energy that could be channeled in more creative, useful ways. When we have outgrown certain aspects of our life—places, people, jobs, hobbies—it is good to sit back and reassess. This is where the principle of shaucha is helpful.
We can begin to purify internally by being aware of what we choose to focus on or take in mentally, asking ourselves how these things affect our thoughts and emotions, whether it is the work we do, the relationships we have, or what we read and listen to for entertainment. We can also examine our mental habits: Which are helpful and worth keeping, and which are harmful or distracting? Does what we say and do match what we think and feel? What do we react to emotionally, how do we react, and why? Another aspect of shaucha is being clear about our goals and priorities: What are they and do our actions support them? What gives meaning to our life?
Self-study, relaxation, and meditation help clear our inner space. Having a daily practice connects us to our higher self and gives us the clarity and discrimination we need to make wise decisions and to act on them.
Purifying at a Subtler Level
Then there is an even subtler level of mental purification. This is the most challenging and rewarding aspect of shaucha, for it frees us from old unresolved issues hidden deep in our unconscious—long-forgotten matters that hold us back, both in our worldly pursuits and in our spiritual practice. For this, we need the guidance of a teacher and a deeper, longer-term commitment to practice. It involves undertaking a purashcharana, a practice done with a mantra for a specified number of repetitions per day for a set period of time, resulting in a predetermined total (40,000, 125,000, etc.). A purashcharana purifies the unconscious mind, releasing issues that have been buried for a long time, uprooting them at their core.
It can be quite scary to see what we have swept under our mental carpet. Things we relegated to the netherworld take on a power of their own and control us unconsciously. In order to be free, we need to allow whatever is hiding to surface, so that we can resolve it consciously. And in doing so, we learn that we have the power to heal ourselves. This practice of shaucha can be profound and life changing, as it was for me.
One time when I was doing a purashcharana, a disturbing image came to light that was extremely painful. Shame, guilt, fear, and anger surrounded it—I felt impure and unworthy of being loved. It solidified the old feelings of original sin I had learned in Catholic school: at my core I was indeed a sinner, indelibly stained.
When I told my teacher, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, he picked up a thermos he had just washed and pointed inside, where it sparkled brightly, and sweetly said: “This is how clean you are inside. You are pure at your core.” His words, so simple yet so profound, nurtured and healed me.
“You are pure at your core.” This is the essence of the teaching of yoga. Yoga says that our inner spirit is divine. Nothing can touch it. Nothing can mar it. It can be veiled, and we can falsely identify with the veils and think that we are impure, that we don’t deserve to be loved, that we have fallen from grace, that whatever bad has happened in our life is our fault, that we deserve to be punished. But the minute we shift our way of thinking to understanding that no, we are divine, we are pure, everything is divine, and everything is pure, and whatever has happened in the past is over, it’s done—then we are free. We learn from our experiences and move on.
A purashcharana helps us begin to unveil our own inner purity as we acknowledge and resolve issues from the past. It helps us become more present, make clearer and wiser decisions, and open our hearts to new experiences.
Tips to Practice Internal Shaucha in Daily Life
Explore some of these ways to incorporate the principle of shaucha in your life on the internal level, to clear and calm your mind and heart. You might want to start with one or two of these at first, and gradually add others. Check in with yourself periodically to see how you’re progressing and what insights you have gained.
- Clarify your short- and long-term goals.
- Examine what you read, watch, listen to, and talk about with others.
- Unplug from your digital devices. Experiment with an hour a day, or a half or full day once a week.
- Identify your main negative mental habits (for example, a tendency to react with anger or fear). Try to determine their underlying cause.
- Be aware of your self-dialogue. Replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts.
- Talk out issues in your relationships. Forgive. Let go of any longstanding grudges.
- Keep a journal and read it from time to time to see what patterns in your life emerge that you may not have been aware of.
- Try kirtan (group singing of songs in praise of the divine), which helps to purify emotions.
- Do one or more 5-minute relaxations daily in shavasana or crocodile pose to calm your mind and re-establish deep diaphragmatic breathing.
- Meditate daily.
- Do a purashcharana (with the guidance of a qualified teacher).
The Effects of Mastering Shaucha
The principle of shaucha is the only one of the yamas and niyamas that has two sutras dedicated to explaining the effects of mastering it. Sutra 2:40 states that by practicing shaucha, we become so sensitive to how unclean the various functions of our body are that we no longer want to associate with other people. Traditional commentators focus on a literal and narrow interpretation of this sutra—describing the disgusting elements of the body and how attachment to it and physical pleasure hold us back from liberation, whereas indifference to the body will lead us to salvation.
But, as Pandit Rajmani Tigunait says in The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada, “This view is contrary to the very spirit of yoga.” Rather, he says, it is in being aware of the impurities that we become sensitive to the discomfort they cause us, and so, in order to lead a happy, healthy, balanced life, we start to purify and cleanse ourselves, first on the physical level and then, slowly, as we become more aware, on the deeper and subtler levels. The more we cleanse, the more we cultivate the qualities stated in sutra 2:41: “the purity of our essential being, a positive mind, one-pointedness, victory over the senses, and the qualification for having direct experience of our higher self.”