Cleanliness; purity of mind and body. Sanskrit is a fascinating ancient language in that one little word rarely has one little definition. Shaucha refers not only to keeping our body clean from the outside, but also from the inside. It also refers to a "cleanliness" or purity of mental energy as well as spiritual energy. From the simplest perspective, taking a bath, brushing our teeth, avoiding junk food, staying away from internet porn and going to church regularly would seem to cover the basics. But as we dive a bit deeper into ancient tradition, we discover an amazing array of cleansing techniques, from fasting to special diets, to purging and the use of enemas, to breathing exercises, chanting mantras and beginning meditation techniques. So Shaucha can encompass a wide array of cleansing possibilites! For most of us, unless you are into colonics, the idea of fasting, purging, or using enemas is hardly enticing. So back to basics: keep your body clean, every day. Floss and brush. Empty your bowels. Then take a good, honest look (Satya!) at your diet. How does it effect your energy? Your digestion? What can be eliminated or added to improve your nutrition? Is our diet generally life-enhancing, or is it harmful to our health (Ahimsa!) Are we not feeding ourselves enough (Asteya!) out of concern for body image, or are we gorging mindlessly (Aparigraha!). These are all considerations we must make when attending to our inner cleanliness, or purity. You can now see how the concepts of Non-Violence, Truth, Non-Stealing and Non-Hoarding come into play as we begin to consider our overall sense of inner and outer purity. Yama and Niyama are inherently connected. Do not let that confuse or discourage you. You don't even need to notice it initially. But as you practice, you will begin to see the interconnectedness clearly. I think of each limb along this path as not only preparing us for the next limb, but reinforcing the last one.
The same considerations apply to purity of mind and spirit as well: what are we reading, watching on TV, listening to on our ipods? How is our mental energy affected when we go to work listening to heavy metal or to a Mozart concerto. What kind of people are we hanging around these days? Are they negative, angry, stuck-in-the-mud people, or are they contented, productive people? How does the company you keep effect your state of mind? Your state of mind will have either a positive or negative affect on your spiritual path: if your mental energy is negative, you won't be advancing spiritually anytime soon, I guarantee it! That doesn't mean we should plaster on a smiley face and pretend all is well, it simply means pay attention! Only with attention can we make the changes we need to improve our lot.