We recently looked at the Yamas, and this week we’re looking at the second limb of yoga, the niyamas. Niyama means ‘rule’ or ‘laws’ and are suggestions Pantajali provides for internal awareness and observance. They’re suggestions on how we can relate to ourselves, but can also be considered with our actions towards the outside world.
Five branches extend from the Niyama limb that Pantajali believes will create a healthy internal environment. Sometimes referred to as the “dos” the Niyamas add to the quality of your life. Pantanjali believes they will enable you to live your highest quality life and reach your potential.
The five niyamas:
1. Sauca - purity, cleanliness of mind, speech and body is two dimensional.The first dimension is outer cleanliness – Outer cleanliness simply means keeping ourselves clean. Inner cleanliness has as much to do with the healthy, free functioning of our bodily organs as with the clarity of our mind. Practicing asanas or pranayama are essential means for attending to this inner sauca. Asanas tones the entire body and removes toxins while pranayama cleanses our lungs, oxygenates our blood and purifies our nerves. Crucial to this niyama is cleansing the mind of disturbing thoughts and emotions like hatred, passion, anger, lust, greed, delusion and pride.
The two dimensions of this niyama are interconnected - when your physical, outer world is unclean and cluttered, how can your internal body be healthy and the mind be clear and focused?
2. Santosha - contentment, acceptance, and optimism.Santosha is learning to accept and be at peace with what you have. To be at peace within and content with one's lifestyle finding contentment even while experiencing life’s difficulties becomes a process of growth through all kinds of circumstances. We should accept that there is a purpose for everything - yoga calls it karma – and we cultivate contentment 'to accept what happens'. It means being happy with what we have rather than being unhappy about what we don't have.
Santosha is also about accepting yourself as well as others. At the end of each day, write down three things you’re grateful for from your day. Actively practice finding contentment in what you have and you’ll find you don’t have room to think about what you don’t.
3. Tapas – disciplined use of our energy/effort, persistence, perseverance, austerity.Tapas refers to the activity of keeping the body fit or to confront and handle the inner urges without outer show. Literally it means to heat the body and, by so doing, to cleanse it. Behind the notion of tapas lies the idea we can direct our energy to enthusiastically engage life and achieve our ultimate goal of creating union with the Divine. Tapas helps us burn up all the desires that stand in our way of this goal. Another form of tapas is paying attention to what we eat. Attention to body posture, attention to eating habits, attention to breathing patterns - these are all tapas.
4. Svādhyāya - means to intentionally turn inward and study yourself, self-reflection.Sva means "self' adhyaya means "inquiry" or "examination". Any activity that cultivates self-reflective consciousness can be considered svadhyaya. It means to intentionally find self-awareness in all our activities and efforts, even to the point of welcoming and accepting our limitations. It teaches us to be centred and non-reactive to the dualities, to burn out unwanted and self-destructive tendencies.
We do this a lot in asana but see if you can do it off the mat as well. The way you treat yourself today - the food you eat, the sleep you get, the thoughts you think, the spirit you devote. All of this affects the way you feel tomorrow.
5. Īśvarapraṇidhāna - to contemplate the Divine, celebration of the spiritual.Isvarapranidhana means "to lay all your actions at the feet of God." It is the contemplation on God (Isvara) in order to become attuned to god and god's will. It is the recognition that the spiritual suffuses everything and through our attention and care we can attune ourselves with our role as part of the Creator. The practice requires that we set aside some time each day to recognize that there is some omnipresent force larger than ourselves that is guiding and directing the course of our lives.
So there you have it - the Niyamas explained! Study, contentment, purity, discipline and surrender. Which one resonates with you the most?