THE SECOND LIMB OF YOGA THE NIYAMAS
The Niyamas are an extension of the Yamas. The Yamas are focused on restraints or actions to avoid in the external world, whereas Niyamas are internal actions and attitudes we want to cultivate. The Niyamas refer to personal observances or how we interact with our inner world and ourselves. Niyamas are about self-regulation and maintaining a positive environment to grow. This practice helps us view ourselves with compassion and awareness and teach us to respect our lives’ values.
There are five Niyamas:
Saucha means “purity or cleanliness.”
Santosha, or “contentment.”
Tapa means “austerity or self discipline.”
Svadhyaya, which refers to “self-study.”
Ishvara Pranidhara means “surrender of the self.”
The Niyamas are the rules that need to be observed by individuals at a personal level.
Saucha refers to the purity or cleanliness of the body. This includes outer cleanliness like personal hygiene and inner cleanliness, including maintaining a healthy body and mind with positive thinking. Attending to our hygiene by eating healthy foods and being moderate are essential aspects of Saucha. We are also practicing this Niyama when we focus on pure thoughts and avoid anger and egoism. Purifying our relationships and having positive people in our lives is also a crucial part of Saucha. We are practicing Saucha when we create a positive environment for ourselves and nurture our bodies, minds, and souls. This is the essence of what yoga is all about.
Santosha refers to contentment or acceptance of external situations in our lives so that authentic peace can be established. This practice might show up in our lives as a nature walk, being with loved ones in front of a fire, petting your dog, or eating a healthy meal. The key of Santosha is to live in the moment or “be in the now.” Our external materialistic world can push us into discontentment by suggesting we won’t be happy until we own what is being advertised. Practicing contentment frees us from the unnecessary suffering of always wanting things to be different. We need to focus on fully accepting ourselves, which includes being content with where our bodies are in a yoga posture. We are content when we are filled with gratitude and happiness.
Tapa refers to austerity or self-discipline. It includes overcoming distractions and focusing on our higher goals. We are practicing Tapas when we act according to our convictions and stay motivated and dedicated to them. Often we practice discipline from what we should or shouldn’t do to get the desired outcome. An example would be if you want to quit smoking, you discipline yourself not to smoke a cigarette. A better approach would be to remember what we want and act accordingly. If you are offered unhealthy food, we need to ask ourselves, “is this what I really want or would my body be served better by a healthier choice?” When you begin to think negatively or become judgmental, practice Tapas by taking a step back and altering your thought pattern. Connecting with Tapas allows us to stay mindful of our choices and keep us dedicated to our yoga practice.
Svadhyaya refers to self-study or spiritual self-education. We learn from our own life experiences and become our teachers. We discover that we are here to learn lessons and grow from them. We don’t just learn through formal study such as school but, more importantly, through our hurts and failures. We can learn so much about ourselves through our yoga practice and the path we have chosen. With our exploration, we learn how our culture, belief systems, and superficial education on how the world works all contribute to our distorted view of the real self. To know ourselves, we need to reflect on our thoughts, speech, and actions. Self-inquiry is an excellent benefit of yoga. It is the process of being quiet within ourselves and observing our bodies, breath, and thoughts. Through this practice, we learn more about who we indeed are. We can watch our minds’ responses and habits, which brings tremendous value to our relationships with others and ourselves.
Ishvara Pranidhara refers to the self’s surrender by acknowledging the higher principle in the universe than one’s small self. It is a surrendering to the universe and asking for guidance when needed. Believing in the goodness of nature and the divinity of all things is an act of surrender. We are practicing Ishvara Prandihara when we think that we are doing our best and trust that things will always work out. We should only be concerned with the effort and intent we put into a task, not the result. Practicing meditation is practicing surrender. Ishvara Pranidhara is the practice of letting go and experiencing a complete connection and oneness beyond the illusion of separation. It tells us to tune into the truth that resides in our hearts—recognizing the omnipresent force (God), which is larger than us, guides and directs our spiritual path.
To conclude, the Niyamas are personal observances, which develop your relationship with self. The Niyamas help us attain the personal freedom that comes with self -awareness. It extends the ethical code of conduct in the Yamas to practicing the internal environment of body, mind, and spirit. The practice of Niyamas helps us maintain a positive environment in which to grow. It gives us the self-discipline and inner-strength necessary to progress along our yogic journey. Yamas and Niyamas on the surface can look like stodgy rules, but they hold the key to real transformation in life. That is why they are placed first, along with the eight limbs of yoga.