The Niyamas are rules that Patanjali provides for internal awareness and observances. They show us how to perfect our practice of the Yamas by offering ways to modify out individual behaviour. The Niyamas are suggestions on how we can relate to ourselves internally through mind, body and spirit and add to the quality of life. The Niyamas assist one in maintaining a positive environment of self-discipline and inner-strength required to grow along the path of Yoga.
The five characteristics of the Niyamas can be observed in one’s actions, words and thoughts…
1. Saucha - purification, cleanliness of mind, speech and body
2. Santosha - contentment, acceptance, optimism
3. Tapas - persistence, perseverance, austerity
4. Svadhyaya - self-study, self-reflection
5. Isvara pranidhana - contemplation of the Divine
Saucha is about purification of external and internal environments. Saucha is practicing purity – Purity in body by observing kryias (action); Purity of mind with dharana (single focussed concentration) and dhyana practices (meditation on the mind); Purity of breath and spirit with pranayama practices (controlling the breath). External cleanliness includes general hygiene, a clean physical environment and a healthy diet. Similarly, we need to regularly follow a mental diet where internal cleanliness assists cleansing and strengthening of the mind. The practices of mantra chanting, mudras, asanas and meditation all contribute to cleanse and purify the mind and body, enabling one to maintain a pure state of being. Saucha is a practice in clarity and making mindful choices. It is about taking care of one’s self and one’s space. Consider how one’s actions and surroundings assist in keeping a clear head.
Santosha is to find contentment within one’s self. Contentment will be experienced, over time, as the Yamas are practiced. As one experiences the positive effects of ahimsa and of aparigraha, one can find peace of mind and calmness. Santosha describes a state of contentment where one learns to recognise that we do not require anything more than what we already have. It is the practice of relating to ourselves and learning to live with complete acceptance, not craving for what we do not have. Santosha is about an awareness of one’s responsibility in the present time. It is about choosing how to respond and keeping a positive attitude in difficult times. Practising santosha creates a balanced and controlled outlook in life, where an attitude of equanimity promotes peace and joy. Practising santosha frees one from unnecessary suffering and instead fills us with gratitude for all of life’s blessings. True joy grows from complete acceptance and contentment.
Tapas is Sanskrit for ‘heat’ and in this context, tapas can refer to one’s disciplined practice of controlling our agni (fire or energies) towards an intentional, self-reflective practice so we can shine. “Step into the fire of self-discovery. This fire will not burn you, it will only burn what you are not” - Mooji. Tapas is about cultivating one’s inner fire and builds willpower and personal strength. “Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames” - Rumi. Tapas assist one to become more dedicated to their Yoga practice. Through observing the Yamas earnestly and consistently, one will establish a dedicated practice of being intentional with one’s thoughts and actions, which will burn away dysfunctional thoughts and habits. Tapas is self-discipline that leads to a clearer sense of self and self-awareness.
Svadhyaya (aka. Swadyaya) is often described as self-study, it is the practice of being with one’s self and contemplating “Who am I?” To connect with one’s self at a deep level, one needs to learn who we are at our core. This involves identifying one’s limiting beliefs and meeting one’s self with love and compassion. False beliefs and fear can hold one back. Self-love and self-knowledge is svadhyaya. Life presents endless opportunities to learn about ourselves and each experience gives us opportunities to learn from our mistakes and grow. “There are no mistakes in life, only lessons. There is no such thing as a negative experience, only opportunities to grow, learn and advance along the road of self-mastery. From struggle comes strength. Even pain can be a wonderful teacher” - Robin Sharma. Svadhyaya can be expanded to include the study of literature and scriptures of accepted and known wise women and men (i.e. Sages and Vedas). These studies help to guide, nurture and encourage us as we continue on our Yoga journey. The more we learn and contemplate others’ wisdom, the more we come to trust our own judgement and intuition.
Isvara pranidhana is about surrendering to one’s higher self and having trust in the Universe. Through self-love practices we can connect to our pure, true self and acknowledge that our understanding and perceptions are limited by our physical bodies and egos. It is only when one looks beyond these limitations that one can experience the true union or one-ness within one’s self and with the divine Universe. Isvara pranidhana is learning that with devotion one can understand the love that is us. One realises that each of us is love, everyone is love. Each of us is divine, the world is divine, we are one. “We are the light (ishwara) from which sparks are thrown (atman)…Feel the Universe inside of you” - Devi Doreena Scales. Yoga is about unity and oneness and isvara pranidhana assists us in connecting with this truth. “You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop” - Rumi.
“Anything that annoys you is for teaching you patience. Anyone who abandons you is for teaching you how to stand up on your own two feet. Anything that angers you is for teaching you forgiveness and compassion. Anything that has power over you is for teaching you how to take your power back. Anything you hate is for teaching you unconditional love. Anything you fear is for teaching you courage to overcome your fear. Anything you can’t control is for teaching you how to let go and trust the Universe” – J. Kiddard.
The Niyamas illuminate the path to self-awareness individually and within society. By observing and actioning the Niyamas our world evolves.
If we individually do our best to practice the Yamas and Niyamas of Yoga in our daily life, we are contributing to a better world and society.
Love and Blessings,