The Niyamas are 5 personal ethics that constitute the second limb of yoga from Patanjalis Eight Limbs of Yoga. A system he gives us to follow in order to reach a state of Yoga.
The eight limbs are the yamas, the niyamas, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi.
Whilst the Yamas teach us how ‘to be’ with others and our environment, the Niyamas teach us how ‘to be’ with ourselves. Each niyama is a practice we can adopt on and off the mat to enhance and improve our lives in order to serve others effectively and compassionately.
Below you will find my observations and understandings followed by quotes from wise gurus and teachers.
Saucha translates as purity or cleanliness.
On a superficial level we can relate this to keeping our bodies clean and well presented or our yoga space and home clean, tidy and clear of clutter. This all helps to keep the mind clear of clutter. What we eat also has a massive impact on the purity of our bodies, minds and souls. To purify ourselves through food we should consume natural ethical foods like those eaten on a whole foods vegan diet and we should not consume any animal products that clog up our body systems with saturated fat, cholesterol, fear, pain and bad karma. We should also not over eat or under eat but nourish the body adequately.
Along with diet regular and consistent Asana (yoga postures) practice cleanses the body and Pranayama (breathing) practice is powerful in clarifying the mind.
When practising saucha regularly and consistently our bodies and minds will feel clear, light and full of energy to form positive and compassionate thoughts, words and actions that will ripple out and have a positive, compassionate impact on everything and everyone we come into contact with.
“Purity of body is essential for well-being. While good habits like bathing purify the body externally, asana and pranayama cleanse it internally. The practice of asanas tones the entire body and removes toxins and impurity caused by over indulgence. Pranayama cleanses and aerates the lungs, oxygenates the blood and purifies the nerves. But more important than the physical cleansing of the body is the cleansing of the mind of its disturbing emotions like hatred, passion, anger, lust, greed, delusion and pride. Still more important is the cleansing of the intellect (buddhi) of impure thoughts. The impurities of the mind are washed off in the waters of bhakti (adoration) The imprutities of the intellect or reason are burned off in the fire of svadhyaya (self study) This internal cleansing gives radiance and joy. It brings benevolence (saumanasya) and banishes mental pain, dejection, sorrow and despair (daurmanasya) When one is benevolent, one sees the virtues in others and not merely their faults. The respect which one shows for another’s virtues, makes him/her self respecting as well and helps him/her fight his/her own sorrows and difficulties. When the mind is lucid it is easy to make it one pointed (ekagra). With concentration one obtains mastery over the senses (indriya-jaya). Then one is ready to enter the temple of his own body and see his/her real self in the mirror of his/her mind.
Besides purity of body, thought and word, pure food is also necessary. Apart from cleanliness in preparation of food it is also necessary to observe purity in the means by which one procures it.
Food, the supporting yet consuming substance of all life, is regarded as a phase of Brahman. It should be eaten with the feeling that with each morsel one can gain strength to serve the Lord. Then food becomes pure. Whether or not to be vegetarian is a purely personal matter as each person is influenced by the tradition and habits of the country in which he/she was born and bred.
But, in course of time, the practitioner of yoga has to adopt a vegetarian diet, in order to attain one pointed attention and spiritual evolution.
Food should be taken to promote health, strength, energy and life. It should be simple, nourishing, juicy and soothing. Avoid foods which are sour, bitter, salty, pungent, burning, stale, tasteless, heavy and unclean.
Character is moulded by the type of food we take and by how we eat it. Men/women are the only creatures that eat when they are not hungry and generally live to eat rather than eat to live. If we eat for flavours of the tongue, we over eat and so suffer from digestive disorders which throw our systems out of gear. The yogi/yogini believe in harmony, so he/she eats for the sake of sustenance only. He/she does not eat too much or too little. He /she looks upon his/her body as the rest house of his/her spirit and guards him/herself against over indulgence”
Light on Yoga
Santosha is contentment. Acceptance with who we are and what we have, with an understanding that we actually have the power to change the things we are not happy with in our lives. In some cases there may not be a way to change the issue but we still have the power to change our perception on whatever it is that causes the discontentment. Acceptance plays a big part in the practice of santosha.
If we spend our time always wanting more then we will never have enough so accept and be happy or find the motivation and confidence to make the changes necessary.
The beauty of Santosha is that it resides in all of us, deep inside. We lose connection with this inbuilt contentment through ego dominance and the general disturbances we face in life such as lust, greed, obsession, pride, anger and hatred.
Yoga practices help to control, sometimes even clear, body and mind of these negative emotions. Santosha is real, it is in there and always was, we just have to unearth it by letting go of long held habits, emotions and perspectives.
“As a result of contentment, one gains supreme joy. Here we should understand the difference between contentment and satisfaction. Contentment means to be just as we are without going to the outside for happiness. If something comes, we let it come. If not, it doesn’t matter. Contentment means neither to like or dislike”
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Tapas is commitment to our practice, whatever that practice might be; yoga, dance, athletics, music, art, singing, writing, sports, cooking,
It is heat, fire in the belly, putting in the effort to improve and refine your art or your work. It is that energy that we stoke through our asana and pranayama practice that ever so powerfully burns away negative stuff and transforms it into positive.
It is our passion to be something, to make something of our lives in a selfless way. To contribute to the good of our planet and all beings on it with compassion, empathy and love.
“Tapas is derived from the root ‘tap’ meaning to blaze, burn, shine, suffer pain, or consume by heat. It therefore means a burning effort under all circumstances to achieve a definite goal in life. It involves purification, self discipline and austerity. The whole science of character building may be regarded as a practice of tapas.
Tapas is the conscious effort to achieve ultimate union with the Divine and to burn up all desires which stand in the way of this goal. A worthy aim makes life illumined, pure and divine. Without such an aim, action and prayer have no value. Life without tapas is like a heart without love.
It is tapas when one works without any selfish motive or hope of reward and with an unshakable faith that not even a blade of grass can move without His (the Divine) will.
By tapas the yogi/yogini develops strength in body, mind and character. He/she gains courage and wisdom, integrity, straightforwardness and simplicity”
Light on Yoga
Svadhyaya- Self Study
The practice of Svadhyaya requires deep reflection and self study. Looking inside and observing ones reactions and actions through life experiences whilst observing changes and developments. Learning to refine the small self or ego and connect with the Atman(soul). Studying sacred texts is a part of svadhyaya practice and in our modern world of technology reading appropriate information online from blogs to social media is all part of us learning and improving ourselves to ultimately be the best we can to serve others.
Sva means self and adhyaya means study or education. Education is the drawing out of the best that is within a person. Svadhyaya, therefore is the education of the self.
The person practising svadhyaya reads his/her own book of life, at the same time he/she writes and revises it. There is a change in his /her outlook on life. He/she starts to realise that all creation is meant for bhakti (adoration) rather than for bhoga (enjoyment), that all creation is divine, that there is divinity within him/herself and that the energy that moves him/her is the same that moves the entire universe.
To make life healthy, happy and peaceful, it is essential to study regularly divine literature in a pure place. This study of the sacred scriptures will enable the sadhaka to concentrate upon and solve difficult problems of life when they arise. It will put an end to ignorance and bring knowledge.
Ignorance has no beginning, but it has an end.
There is a beginning but no end to knowledge.
Light on Yoga
Isvara - Higher Self, Supreme Consciousness, Higher Power, Pure Soul, Greater Power, Absolute Brahman
Pranidhana- to surrender, let go of ego and give it up to the Higher Self
This is it. To surrender to a higher power than yourself. To accept, to believe, to give in to it. To see this higher energy in every thing and every being. When we do this, then we are ready to reach a state of Yoga of pure, blissful, freedom from suffering, the ecstasy, the samadhi.
“In Yoga Sutra 1.23, Patanjali gives us a sure-fire way to reach the state of yoga. It is a practice called ishvara pranidhana. Ishvara is a Sanskrit word that can be translated to mean supreme, or personal, God. Pranidhana means to dedicate, devote, or surrender. The practice of Ishvara Pranidhana therefore means that if we are able to completely surrender our individual ego identities to God (our own higher self) we will attain the identity of God. If we can dedicate our lives to serving the God that dwells within all other beings, human and non-human alike, we will move beyond all feelings of separateness. If we can say without reservation, “I give You myself: my body, my mind and my heart, to do with as You best see fit,” then we will be freed from the stress, anxiety, self-doubt and negative karma that arises from our reliance upon our egos to determine which actions we take in our lives.
Ishvara pranidhana will help to cure the afflictions of the mind that cause pain and suffering, as it is designed to redirect our energy away from our selfish desires and personal dramas, and towards the ultimate pursuit of Oneness. So important and powerful is this practice, that Patanjali gives instructions for it on four separate occasions in the Yoga Sutras. And while it is the simplest and most direct method to attain yoga, it is not necessarily an easy practice, or even an attractive option to some.
In our modern, western culture, where feelings of separateness and disconnection prevail, often times we pride ourselves on being strong and domineering over others. We are used to our egos calling the shots, and giving us the belief that we are somehow in control of the universe. Because of this, the idea of surrendering is taken to mean something negative, as it implies a sort of weakness, or defeat. An army, for example, might surrender to opposing forces, rendering the opposition the victor. In yoga, however, it is quite the opposite. Victory is attained as we willingly surrender our limited idea of who we are (i.e. our name, our jobs, our problems etc.) and create the space needed to feel our true nature of Self, which is one of limitless and boundless joy. It is like trading in a grain of sand and receiving the whole universe in return. And though it requires great self discipline, trust, and faith to practice ishvara pranidhana, ultimately it will take far more effort to cling to the smallness of the ego than it will to surrender to the higher self”
The niyamas are an important part of our yoga journey. We must take care of ourselves and find the motivation to be the best we can. We need the niyamas to maintain our commitment to the yamas, just like we need the pranayama with the asana or the dharana with dhyana. All eight limbs of yoga intertwine, it is insufficient to practise one limb without allowing the other seven to slink in, as they eventually will if you let them. Yoga is not just about making impressive pretzel shaped postures…..it is all eight limbs of ethical behaviour towards others, honest treatment of ourselves, regular asana and pranayama practice with intention of cleansing the body and mind, withdrawal of the senses, concentration, meditation and Samadhi.
Yoga is a way of life not just a stretch class.
Comments and questions welcomed below, after the cute picture of my yoginidog in savasana a prime example of complete surrender :-)