The Five Niyamas
Posted on 09/05/2016 by Emma Cushing
Part Two - The Five Niyamas
Between 1600 and 2200 years ago, a person in India named Patanjali compiled and put to paper a collection of yogic philosophy entitled the Yoga Sutras. These 196 sutras, or principles, contained what Patanjali called the Eight Limbs of yoga; Patanjali believed that if you followed this path, you would achieve yogic enlightenment, self-actualization, and peace. Despite their age, many of these sutras remain relevant and applicable to modern life.
Today we’ll look at the second Limb, a list of do’s known as the Niyamas. Niyama translates roughly to “observances” and these are positive practices Patanjali believed you should observe to fulfill your yoga. These would be honored along with the first Limb, the Yamas (for our article on Yamas, click here).
Saucha ~ Purity: In a modern context, this Niyama is often conflated with meditation. And this is a worthwhile and fitting combination, but it is more than just clearing the mind and refreshing the spirit. It is also about purity of your intention towards others. It is good practice to keep your mind calm on your own time, but it is better practice to keep that same clear head and pure thoughts when interacting with others on a daily basis.
Santosha ~ Contentment: In essence, this is the instruction to practice appreciation for the things in our life that fulfill us and make us happy, even if it’s something as simple as recognizing the roof over your head as a blessing. This Niyama aligns well with the concept of keeping a gratitude journal. To follow the tenet of Santosha is easy: try setting aside 5 minutes at the end of each day to simply sit and think over what things were positive -- even just slightly -- that day, so that nothing is taken for granted.
Tapas ~ Self-discipline: When we hear “tapas” in our daily lives, we think of anything but self-discipline! Deborah Adele describes the choice to follow Tapas beautifully, writing, “Each moment is an opportunity to make a clear choice of right action. Quite often the choices that prepare us for the fire are options that vote against immediate satisfaction and pleasure” (The Yamas and Niyamas: Exploring Yoga's Ethical Practice, On-Word Bound Books LLC, 2009.) That being said, Tapas is about self-betterment -- don’t discipline yourself on something that won’t make you more strong and healthy in the end! For example, even something simple like making sure you take a walk around the block for some fresh air every day is a perfectly good start.
Svadhyaya ~ Self-study: This Niyama takes the meditation part of Saucha (purity) to the next level. Once you have purified your thoughts and mind, Svadhyaya invites you to sit with that empty slate and see what naturally fills it. What are you feeling? What drives you, makes you passionate? Where are your strengths, and where are your weaknesses? Self-inquiry can help you find direction and an enthusiasm you didn’t know you possessed!
Ishvara Pranidhana ~ Surrender (to whatever faith/purpose you hold): This one is tricky in a modern context, but still worth examining. The general modern reading is akin to what we know as “namaste” -- “the light in me bows to the light in you” -- except here you are bowing to whatever compels you, be it religion, your children, your parents, Goodness and its acts, or even yourself. Ishvara Pranidhana calls for you to surrender yourself to the truth of your life, of the world, of yourself, and practice acceptance of what is. It is the giving in to whatever higher calling you relate to best, and devoting yourself to living your truth.So this completes our two-part Yamas and Niyamas post. Leave us a note with what you think, or how you plan to incorporate one or more of these concepts into your own life!