When it comes to the Eight Limbs of Yoga, the Niyamas are the second limb which originated from ancient text of Patanjali Yoga Sutras. The Niyamas refer to the different duties which are directed towards ourselves and our body and mind for inner observances. These niyamas are intended to help us in building character. When we work with these Niyamas, from Saucha, which means cleanliness to Isvarapranidhana which means surrendering to a higher power, we are thus guided from the grossest aspects related to us to the truth which lies deep within. Mentioned below are the five niyamas:
1. Saucha (Cleanliness)
Saucha is translated as “cleanliness”, but it isn’t just about physical cleanliness. For instance, cultivating Saucha provides us with the ability to recognize various habits which we have picked up in life that no longer provides service to us. If we take our different bad habits to yogic practices, then our practice becomes a lot harder, and we have to go through the impurities or negativity which we have picked up before getting benefitted by yoga.
When it comes to the reflection of our state of mind, our environment does that. You will most probably identify with the notion that when your environment is messy, then your mind will often feel a little dejected and messy along with cluttered thoughts. When we are in a clean environment, however, with clean surfaces, the possessions which we require, not the possessions which we have collected over the years and also can’t even bear to get rid of, and the sense of a breathing space, we are more likely to feel a lot better along with a clearer mind.
Not only having the clean place to practice it is required, but also the clean environment is essential to feel good. It shows our respect towards the practice. If we have to be focused only upon our body and breath, then practicing in a cluttered room and a dirty place that is smelly and fills up our nostrils every time we lower down to chaturanga, it doesn’t help us in conducting an ideal yoga practice.
It is essential to keep ourselves clean as much as possible along with a dedicated yoga space to do our practice which allows us to approach the various sessions almost like a clean slate, with nothing to grab our attention and start off unnecessary thoughts in our chattering mind.
It is quite obvious that cleansing our body is a good idea to have as a part of our daily routine as it not only helps in keeping us healthy outside and within but cleanliness also indicates a sense of self-respect towards ourselves. You are not your body but the yoga practice happen in the body and keeping it as healthy and clean as we can is a good way to respect our practice.
2. Santosha (Contentment)
Santosha means “contentment” but is often easier than it is said to be done. It encourages us to accept as well as appreciate what we already have and what we actually are right now. And from there forwards we can move up in our life and practice with more ease as well as contentment.
Santosha is the second Niyamas, and the niyamas takes us towards a positive relationship with ourselves that is much more important as we can’t form any authentic as well as sustainable relationships with other unless and until there is a strong connection with ourselves. Contentment isn’t an easy thing to practice.
When we are dedicated towards practising yoga, doing everything as right as we can, there is still a thought that appears in our mind that if I would be happier. Whether it is about losing weight, getting a better job, meeting someone different or being able to get into a yoga posture we have been working to, there are one or two things that you will feel can make you happier and more content. Now, having this urge to grow as well as expand our minds along with pushing ourselves a little towards our desired goal isn’t a bad thing at all, but it just becomes bad when try to base our entire sense of happiness and peace upon this.
But we need to consider what goals are actually important in our life, our world and for our well-being. The answer to this lies in the non-attachment or also called as Vairagya and the appreciation of our true self.
We don’t have to look outside ourselves for happiness but realize the fact that happiness and peace lie within. Whenever we rely on different things which are external to us which bring us freedom, we are actually and inevitably binding ourselves to discontentment more than ever. Our ego experiences pain, joy, desire, loss, happiness and greed and we finally become attached to these particular experiences by either trying to push them away or by means of clinging to them, either way, it doesn’t end well for us.
As per Patanjali’s philosophy which threads its way via the sutras, and puts a theory that our minds and bodies are part of creation and nature or prakrti as well as who we are truly beneath. Realizing this, we can easily come close to accept that as nature keeps on constantly changing around us such as the seasons, the weather, temperature as well as life cycles- our mind and body are also subjected to change. What made “us”, which means our body, mind and ego, ecstatic at one particular moment can also cause grief in the next moment, but what we actually are underneath doesn’t change and remains pure and true.
3. Tapas (Discipline)
Tapas can be termed as “burning enthusiasm” or “discipline”. This particular niyama helps us in cultivating a sense of passion, self-discipline and courage. It has various meanings and how it is expressed within ourselves can be different to the experience of someone else’s. But essentially, it is the inner wisdom of ours that we ignore sometimes, and it is that fiery passion that feeds our sense purpose.
It also translates as “austerity” or “discipline” in the traditional way. The word Tapas is derived from Sanskrit verb “tap” meaning “to burn”, and it evokes a sense of “passion” or “fiery discipline”. In this particular sense, Tapas essentially means cultivating a sense of passion, self-discipline and courage to burn away all the “impurities” mentally, physically and emotionally which paves the way to our true greatness.
Tapas doesn’t have to be serious and solemn, but this fieriness is what gets us get pumped and heightens the desire for personal upheaval and growth and also reminds us of the love towards yoga practice. Just as with all the different aspects of Sutras, Tapas has relevance both being in yoga and of the yoga pose.
Also, discipline doesn’t strictly mean that we push ourselves in a much harder way in a physical sense. Sometimes it is just about making time for meditation or practice few minutes a day which can be difficult enough. For some people, Tapas will mean making the time to appear still and observe the mind while for the others it will mean working on strength as well as practising that balance we are trying to achieve.
Tapas is an aspect of wisdom within us which encourages us to practice even if we don’t feel like doing it and even though we know how better it will make us feel. It is this fiery passion that makes us get up and start our practice for love of it, and by means of committing to this, the impurities within us get burned away. Making the decision to take ample rest at right time so you can have productive morning the next day is Tapas, not eating unhealthy food is Tapas, the way you feel after doing an intense yoga like blissful Savasana or deep meditation is also Tapas, as it burns away the negative thought patterns as well as habits that we get accustomed to.
Cultivating a sense of Tapas in the physical practice can also mean practicing yoga poses which we usually avoid doing them or find them difficult. Realizing that it takes time to get into more extreme and advanced version of a posture doesn’t have to be discouraging to us, having the discipline in order to practice on a constant basis and the humility to admit that we aren’t perfect is also essential to reap the rewards that discipline has to offer to us.
4. Svadhyaya (Self Study)
Svadhyaya translates to “self-study” or “one’s own reading”. As per Patanjali, Study yourself, discover the divine. Practising of the self-reflection, as well as observation along with the study of the self, makes us even more aware of different things that we can actually harm us and also the things which serve us, bringing us closer in contact with our true self. It encourages us to educate ourselves further in whatever that inspires us as well as fascinates us which deepens our knowledge.
In many writings regarding the yoga practice, when we look at the word self, it is written with a small “s” which refers to ourselves in the physical form that we are in along with our ego as well as who we consider ourselves on a daily basis. When we look at the word Self with capital S, this is more likely to the reference to the true self, the Atman or the divine which is within us.
It is more than fair to assume that more we realize what we aren’t, brings us closer to understand and realize who we are and what we truly are. By the study of “the self” and then recognizing our habits as well as thought processes, we come to the realization of how much of what we actually do and how much we think, is far from knowing who we really know what we are.
When we are listening to our ego, we often act on certain things which don’t always align with our beliefs which we hold true or our intuition. The “I” or the small “self” is often concerned with the survival of us which generally entails getting what it actually wants in different scenarios and providing it is the best indeed, despite whatever the consequences that it might have for us. The self-judgment, criticism, conditions, fears, doubts and is actually the cause of fluctuations of the mind which is also called Chitta Vrittis.
By paying particular attention to studying our “self”, we get to know more about and become aware of things we actually do that harm us and all those things which serve us and also bring us closer to the process of “yoking” or “uniting” us with the true Self.
If we apply this practice of Svadhyaya to our daily lives and the situations that we are in presently, “studying of the various scriptures” doesn’t strictly mean sitting down with the copy of the Upanishads or doing the chanting of the Vedas. It might actually mean finding a book or even a piece of writing which deepens our own yoga practice. Reading articles regarding yoga, or book which helps us in getting closer towards the “Self-realization”, is also a sort of study. By means of deepening our knowledge, understanding as well as connection to yoga by continuous reading and researching, and being curious about yoga even when we are not doing the yoga practice, cultivates the practice of Svadhyaya.
5. Isvara Pranidhana (Surrendering to the divine and higher power)
Isvara Pranidhana means “surrendering to a higher power or God”. It is quite easy to interpret as surrendering to a higher power can essentially mean letting go of our various expectations. We should do our best and remain authentic and also live our life fully, but we should let go of our expectations and the story. Cultivating this in our life will help us in easing the Vrittis that cause us worry as well as stressful thoughts and also offers us a chance in feeling empowered in our daily life.
God is a very tricky term to work with and most of the people who find discussing this concept of God and even in Hindu tradition, many Gods, quite uncomfortable. Yoga is not a way to force the concept of the God or any religion upon anyone, but you might have observed by yogic practices that there is an underlying notion that something much bigger and more profound, as well as pure, does exist other than ourselves.
It also means offering our actions up to humanity and the divine as we have heard it many times in our life that we are all one. In the Upanishads, the word Isvara actually means a particular “state of collective consciousness” which also tells us that in one sense or another, there isn’t any Godlike figure that we are supposed to be worshipping or devoting our actions to it, rather God represents the collective consciousness and hence represents all of us.
Sometimes asana practice is more about finding comfort when in discomfort, leaning into our own boundaries as well as learning different ways in which we can deal with various difficult situations. Yoga does make us feel good, and it also heals us when we are hurting. It also helps us in finding light when we see ourselves in the dark, but it also shows us what we are actually made of whenever the things get tough.
The idea of surrendering can also be applied to our intention that we set at the start of the practice. Isvara Pranidhana can also be thought of as “providing us with the results of our actions to the divine” or the humanity. In this particular way, the asana practice becomes less about what it can actually do for us but how exactly we can help ourselves by staying healthy to help the world which is around us.
Surrendering our ego as well as selfish desires is also linked to the concept of “letting go the fruits of our actions” as well as non-attachment.
If we put a lot of effort into something which is quite important to us, then we end up worrying about what might actually happen due to it as a result. We think of various circumstances like whether they will like me, or whether I am not good enough. All this worrying about different things are something which we don’t have control over, and it is the main cause of suffering or “dukkha” which essentially means that we are never fully devoted to the action we are doing since our minds are actually thinking about what might happen if we have done some action. The practice of surrendering needs us to acknowledge that we can try to do our very best in different situations but we can’t really do anything more than that, which means we realize that we are essentially allowing us to get fully engaged as well as be present in whatever we are doing and bring all of our energy to that particular moment as well as experience it fully what it truly is. Whatever happens, after will happen after. It is about surrendering and putting our energy into the present time instead of worrying about the future.