II.40 शौचात् स्वाङ्गजुगुप्सा परैरसंसर्गः

śaucāt svāṅga-jugupsā parair asaṁsargaḥ
śaucāt sva-aṅga-jugupsā paraiḥ asaṁsargaḥ

“From cleanliness, protection of one’s own body and non-contact with what is adverse.”

The yamas are principles of relationship. The niyamas (literally, “inner rules,” from ni-, “in,” + yama, “rule, discipline”) are actions of self-care. This sūtra begins with the fifth-case form of śauca: śaucāt, which means “from cleanliness.” Each sūtra on a niyama is constructed in a similar way: (from santosha, etc.). Each niyama is ongoing practice, an act that does not get done for all time, but is repeated. Cleaning is perhaps the perfect expression of such repetition. When I clean the house, for example, I wash the dishes, sweep the floor, make things to shine. Then, after the next meal (in the case of the dishes) or in a few days (in the case of the floor), I wash the dishes and sweep the floor.

In my life, I have been surprised, appalled, and, perhaps, finally, pleased by the repetitive nature of cleaning. When I had my own first home, an apartment in Washington Heights in New York City, I would wonder at the state of the bathtub or toilet when not scrubbed, test how many dishes might accumulate in the sink before seeming insurmountable. How gritty might the living-room floor become if not swept? What does it look like then, feel like? These various experiments intrigued me but cumulatively left me with an appreciation for cleaning and the cleaned, radiant space, the space that someone has tended to, has cared about.

The repetition of the niyamas speaks to the Buddhist aphorism: Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. Yoga practice aims to bring us present to our own lives. The repetitive tasks of self-care are vital to our well-being (we need wood for the fire, water for our body, to survive). They are also, in themselves, the way to be in our lives, the way to appreciate the fullness of things, the enough-ness of our own selves.

In Light on Life (p. 25), B.K.S. Iyengar writes that śauca is not primarily a moral value. The point of it, he says, is that it “permits sensitivity.” In other words, śauca is akin to nirodha and to Patañjali’s definition of yoga (I.2): yogaś citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ, “yoga is the removal of the patternings of the consciousness.” The object of yoga is citta, the consciousness. For Patañjali, yoga is a clearing, a cleansing of the perception.

The next sūtra, II.41, addresses the clearing effects of śauca on the consciousness. Today’s sūtra, in a more puzzling–and maybe troubling–way, describes sva-aṅga-jugupsā, “protection of one’s own body,” and paraiḥ asaṁsargaḥ, “non-contact with the other (or the adverse).” Vyāsa, the fifth-century, first-known commentator on Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras, takes jugupsā to mean disgust and interprets the sūtra to be referring to disgust for the body. Through familiarity with his or her own body, he says, the practitioner will develop disgust for all bodies and will wish for non-contact with other bodies, thus, detachment from physical life. The ascetic path is ancient and venerable, and it is represented in many traditions, the West as well as the East, but a process of “developing disgust” in my body is antithetical to my own experience of yoga practice.  I instead look to the root meaning of jugupsā, which is “to protect,” and the sense of paraiḥ that refers to what is adverse, hostile to my well-being.

B.K.S. Iyengar begins the instruction of yoga with the body, not as a preparation or prelude to the yoga of the mind (which many traditional teachings do), but as a way of working on the mind–indeed, on the whole self. He taught to see the mind with the body–an idea that is wonderfully topsy-turvy–and insisted that practice was to awaken the intelligence of the body. Śauca, according to Iyengar, is the cleansing and refreshing of the body and the mind to reveal the spirit, to connect the person to her innermost and truest self.

The greatest gift of the Iyengar method of yoga for me has been the affirmation that learning comes through the body, that the way to understanding who I am, what my life is, comes through inhabiting, sensing, feeling this ordinary, marvelous, miraculous body.

There are many practices that are yoga, and there are many lineages that emphasize different aspects of the practice that Patañjali describes. I have been introduced to practices that emphasize chanting and sitting meditation, and I have come to recognize the yogic element in other endeavors and disciplines, like learning Sanskrit, even doing politics. Yet central to my personal practice is working with the body, focusing on the movement of the body with the breath, and honoring the body. The śauca that I consider to be essential to my own practice is not taking baths or brushing the teeth or eating wholesome food–though these are also aspects of śauca for the body. But, primarily, in my experience, śauca is movement. The body thrives on challenge, on stress, on undertakings. The body must move. Our joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments need to be loaded to be able to bear loads. The heart and the lungs thrive on increased demand. That demand makes them healthy, helps the blood to flow well. The body likes engagement with gravity.

In yoga practice, by fixing my attention on āsana and breath, I learn about my mind. I  calm my nervous system and find an emotional strength that supports me. To some extent the shapes of the āsanas facilitate this process. They have been called “sacred geometry,” in that they take our awareness into space, into sensing and witnessing ourselves as part of the infinite. Mr. Iyengar describes the effect of practicing āsana and prāṇāyāma as a bathing of the “inner body”; from this bathing, he says, we become sensitive to, alive to our own inner processes and to our intuitive selves. A recent scientific term B.K.S. Iyengar might have liked for this inward perceiving is “interoception,” the perception of our own inner physiological signals, how we are at an organic level, in a deep, felt way.

Śauca comes from the root śuc, to be radiant. Another translation for it is purity. (See II.5 for another discussion of purity.) Purity, cleaning, the removal of impurities, the confusion between purity and impurity, is a recurring theme in the Yoga Sūtras, and it is worthwhile to keep it as a living question. What does purity mean for me? I would say, today, that it has something to do with interoception, the truth that is found within, the clarity of purpose that comes from the heart, and the presence that I can bring, with love, to my life.

To my mind, the idea that doing dishes is unpleasant can occur only when you aren’t doing them. Once you are standing in front of the sink with your sleeves rolled up and your hands in the warm water, it is really quite pleasant.

I enjoy taking my time with each dish, being fully aware of the dish, the water, and each movement of my hands. I know that if I hurry in order to be able to finish so I can sit down sooner and eat dessert or enjoy a cup of tea, the time of washing dishes will be unpleasant and not worth living. That would be a pity, for each minute, each second of life is a miracle. The dishes themselves and the fact that I am here washing them are miracles!…

Each thought, each action in the sunlight of awareness becomes sacred. In this light, no boundary exists between the sacred and the profane.

I must confess it takes me a bit longer to do the dishes, but I live fully in every moment, and I am happy.

Washing the dishes is at the same time a means and an end. We do the dishes not only in order to have clean dishes, we also do the dishes just to do the dishes, to live fully in each moment while washing them, and to be truly in touch with life.

–Thich Nhat Hanh,  At Home in the World: Stories and essential teachings from a monk’s life


“As a temple or a church is kept clean each day, the inner body, the temple of the soul, should be bathed with a copious supply of blood through āsanas and prāṇāyāma. They cleanse the body physically, physiologically and intellectually. The body, having its own intelligence, develops its potential to change its behavioral patterns.”–commentary on II.40 by B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali

“As a result of physical purification, the body’s protective instincts become fully awakened and alert. Unhindered by the influences of entrenched toxins, they become engaged in the business of warning us away from foods, drinks, and activities that are detrimental to our health. And, just as important, our immune systems can now work at their optimum level, improving the body’s defense against disease.” –The Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sutras, p. 147

“One must be able to listen to the call of that which transcends the body and the mind, in other words, one must be able to listen to the Voice of the Silence. This is possible only when one is just by oneself. This retreat need not necessarily be in the physical sense, although a physical retreat is conducive to a deep experience of solitude. It has however to be remembered that if the physical retreat does not help in the renewal of the mind then it is of little value. A retreat fundamentally has a psychological significance so that the mind is able to throw off the burden of the past and is completely refreshed. It is meaningful only if the body is refreshed and the mind renewed. This indeed is purity in its real sense.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 175

• Do you feel your yoga practice has uncovered an intelligence of the body? Has it helped you get better at protecting and caring for your body?
• When is practice most like a retreat for you?
• What is refreshment or renewal of the mind? Do you experience this after āsana practice? What does it feel like? What is an example of it in your life?
• Do you make a conscious effort to spend time alone? How do you listen to the Voice of the Silence?


masculine noun, 5th case singular, “from”

purity, cleanliness (from śuc, “to be radiant”)


adjective in compound
one’s own, self

neuter noun in compound

limb, body (from aṅg, “to walk, move about”)


feminine noun, 1st case singular

desire to protect (from ju, “to urge,” + gup, “to protect”)



masculine adjective, 3rd case plural, “with”

other, adverse, hostile


masculine noun, 1st case singular

non-contact (from a-, “not,” + sam-, “with,” + sṛj, “to emit”)

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