Continuing the journey through the depths of yogic philosophy and moving on from the first of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga, the Yama’s, The Yoga Bear now moves into the second of the Eight Limbs, the Niyamas.
Just like the yama’s there are five niyama’s however, unlike the yama’s (referring to our ‘code of ethics’ and how we relate to the outside world), the niyama’s are more introspective observances of our internal practices.
They extend the ethical ‘codes of conduct’ of the yama’s to our own internal environment. Practicing the niyama’s can help us to grow positively through self-discipline and inner strength.
The five yama’s specify avoiding violence, lying, theft, wasting energy and greed or possessiveness whereas the five niyama’s advise cleanliness, contentment, self-discipline, self-observance and self-surrender. Find out more about each of the five niyama’s below:
1. Shaucha (Cleanliness / Purification)
We all shower regularly don’t we? For the most part? Good for you. You’re halfway there! However, shaucha is more than external cleanliness. Shaucha refers to the purification of the body (both internally and externally) as well as the mind.
Small steps like eating healthy nutritious food, exercising and hydrating can contribute to attaining shaucha. Upgrading the ‘quality’ of your thoughts can contribute to shaucha too. When you set out upon examining your thoughts and practices through yoga postures, breathwork and meditation, you will begin to ask yourself – are these thoughts and habits worth dwelling on?
As you slowly start to release these low-quality thoughts and practices, you grant yourself the opportunity to move towards true wisdom and spiritual liberation. Sound a little too deep? It’s simple. When you eat healthy food, you feel good, right?
When you exercise and sweat out the toxins, you feel good, right? When you think good thoughts, you feel good, right? Steps towards ‘purification’ are only designed to result in a general ‘feel-good’ end-game. Are you OK with that?
2. Santosha (Contentment)
Aw. The idea of contentment gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling. Who doesn’t want to feel content? A life without wanting what we don’t have or what others do have sounds like bliss, right? Is true contentment attainable? Many of us live with the belief that our happiness lies in attaining certain goals or objectives or through gaining possession of certain things.
We forget the proof that this is not the case lies in our past experiences. Happiness gained through materialism or achievement is fleeting and the quest most often begins again with a new goal or objective. How can we achieve contentment if we are on an endless treadmill, striving for gains? Accepting where you are in life is the key to achieving santosha.
This is not to say sitting on the couch all day eating sandwiches with absolutely no goals equals contentment! Working towards a goal or having a life plan is a healthy necessity however it is also necessary to appreciate all that you do have right now and know that you can also still be happy even if your goal is not achieved or your life doesn’t go according to plan.
When we let go of our own expectations and accept ourselves and where we are in life as being ‘enough’, we open the door to contentment. Happiness becomes our choice and within our control. Everything we achieve or attain from then becomes a bonus.
3. Tapas (Self-Discipline)
The literal translation of ‘tapas’ is ‘heat’. In this instance, we are talking about the heat that is generated through effort. This ‘heat’ is produced with any endeavour that will bring about change, be it a new health regime, new studies, a change in direction.
It could also be related to a wardrobe clear out or getting up to make a cup of tea when you’ve been lounging lazily on the couch all day. In essence, tapas relates to doing something that requires relative effort for perceived positive gains. When practicing tapas we provide direction for our energy and perform whatever the task is with intensity and concentration.
Take, for example, the physical practice of yoga or meditation. It may take effort to get to a class or to roll out the mat at home or even to sit for 20 minutes or so but, when you do, you are practicing tapas. It may not be easy. It may be uncomfortable but after that short period of discomfort or effort comes growth.
When we see tapas within, we see the fire within, the desire to develop, to grow, to become better versions of ourselves. That’s not a bad thing.
4. Svadhyaya (Self Study)
Svadhyaya refers to the effort of getting to know oneself from the very core of ones being. We spend a lot of time with ourselves but, often we are living up to society’s standards and norms. We spend time being what we think we should ‘be’ or what other people think we should ‘be’ rather than who we truly are for fear of not being ‘accepted’.
When we take the time to examine, reflect and learn about ourselves, we gift ourselves with the opportunity for growth. As we discover what truly motivates us and our needs, we can begin to behave in accordance with our own true values to fulfil those needs.
The practice of yoga asana, breathwork and meditation can help to quieten the mind so that these values can come to the forefront and will bring about an awareness of when you are acting in accordance with these values and when you are not.
5. Ishvara Pranidhana (Self Surrender)
This niyama relates to the act of ‘devotion’ or surrender to something bigger than you or I. It can also be one of the more difficult for us to digest in today’s society. Specifically due to the concept of ‘God’ and negative connotations surrounding organised religions of late.
Whatever your beliefs, it may be egocentric to think that we are not all connected in some way. Patanjali tells us, in order to reach the goal of yoga (unification of the mind, body and spirit), we must soften our egocentric tendencies and let go of our continuous identification with ourselves.
In other words, step out of your little bubble, matey. It’s not all about you! When we offer our practice to something greater than ourselves, we are reminded that there is more to life than what we see and experience directly. We can develop compassion, caring and kindness for others through this small change in perspective.
Practicing the niyamas can bring about a great degree of self awareness. Both the yama’s and the niyama’s are simply guidelines to deepen your yoga practice and indeed, your connection to yourself and others.
Start by choosing one, reading up on it and seeing how you might integrate it into your daily living and/or your yoga practice. There is no expectation to live by the niyamas immediately, consistently and perfectly.
We are human, after all. However, gaining a level of awareness so that you can ‘check yourself’ when a challenge arises is the first step to naturally integrating the niyamas into your life.