In yoga, cleanliness is called saucha, and is very important on the yoga path. I hope this article will help explain the reason for its importance.
Why saucha? Patanjali places saucha as the very first niyama, the first step towards self-exploration. Why would Patanjali give this much importance to cleanliness? Saucha is the foundation of niyama, or personal discipline. The reason is energy. When the body is dirty, it is holding onto past energy.
When clothes are dirty, they are holding onto past energy. When the house is dirty, it is also holding onto past energy. It’s like a weight that the house caries. I’m sure you’ve discovered that when you have just cleaned up the whole house, vacuumed it, cleared out the cobwebs, changed the sheets, then it feels lighter, it feels brighter, it feels more alive. That is because you’ve removed a layer of the past. So, instructing students to be clean is instructing them to remove layers of the past and move into the present. To be cleaner is to become lighter, to become brighter, to shed a layer of yesterday and become more present in the moment.
Also, saucha enhances sensitivity-sensitivity to your own body smell and sensitivity to the negative feelings that dirt brings. These gross sensitivities have to be cultivated for the later limbs of yoga which require extreme sensitivity.
Often we hear the argument that we should not be obsessed with dirt, because dirt is God as well. Although obsession for anything is unyogic and dirt, of course, has God in it, everything in the universe has its place. We would not try to wash our bodies with cow dung, even though cow dung is God, because our skin is not the appropriate place for cow dung to be. In the same way, the appropriate place for dirt is not in the house or on the body.
First comes cleanliness of the physical body. That is, having a shower, making sure the body does not have an odor. No dirt under the nails. Clean hair. It all starts with the body. Number one is body. Number two is clothing–that which touches the body. Not using the same clothes twice if they have been worn for any length of time. Washing clothes constantly. Using clean towels to wipe the body after a shower.
Then comes that which the body and the clothes are in, which are the house and the car. One of the elements of a clean house is not wearing shoes inside it. The reason for this is to keep the sanctity of the home. Shoes bring the energy of the outer world into our home. Another element of a clean home is to rinse our hands immediately upon entering the house to clear the energy of the outer world. Doing these two things, you will find that the house starts to build its own energy–which is a reflection of your cleaner energy–rather than being a dilution of the energies of the outer world. Otherwise these energies of the outer world flow in and out, thereby diluting your own energy when you are in the house.