In this blog I describe and offer you 5 ideas on the niyamas (Yoga Sutra II.32). In contrast with the yamas, which are concerned with how the yoga practitioner interacts with others, the niyamas are constructive yoga tools for cultivating self-empowerment for health and well-being.
1. Śauca (Cleanliness) is about taking care of ourselves.
It includes personal hygiene, diet, lifestyle and our environment to support our well being. Practising āsana or prāṇāyāma are essential to achieve the qualities of lightness, purity, clarity and balance in body and mind (sattva).
Idea 1: Observe your own physical environment. How does is it affect your spiritual energy? What is going to encourage you to bring sattva into the system? What subtle adjustments can you make to be more in control of śauca? One small change I have implemented is always having a large glass of water beside me, where I work or relax.
2.Saṃtoṣa (Contentment) is the practice and cultivation of contentment. It is the ability to feel secure, balanced and fulfilled in any circumstance or stage of life we find ourselves in. When things do not turn out the way we hope, we become disappointed or even angry, but sometimes the situation is beyond our control. Saṃtoṣa is not wasting energy in complaining about things that go wrong, but accepting what has happened, learning from the experiences and moving on.
Idea 2: Observe your response when you take up a new practice. Are you being driven by your ego? Are feelings of discontent or dissatisfaction ruling your head? Shift your attention to gratitude for what you already have, be content and at ease with where you are, just as it is, in the moment.
"Wear gratitude as a cloak and it will feed every corner of your life" ~Rumi ~
3. Tapas (Self-discipline, austerity) is the process of moving boundaries to more beneficial places and dealing with unhelpful habits. Through the maintenance of such correct habits as diet, sleep, work, exercise and relaxation, tapas gives us freedom from our habitual patterns of thought, behaviour and actions that would normally control our relationship with food, sleep, work, etc. Āsana and prāṇāyāma practice are also very important in attending to tapas.
Idea 3: Observe your approach to your daily activities. Regular attendance to a weekly Yoga class is demonstration of tapas. A consistent practice takes discipline and commitment. A word of caution though - self-discipline should be of a gentle kind so as not to disrupt clarity of mind or weaken the body. Everything about tapas must help you move forward.
4. Svādhyāya (Self awareness) is a process of self inquiry, of what is going on inside and we start this process by observing body, breath and mind in Yoga practice. All learning, all reflection, all contact that helps us to learn more about ourselves is svādhyāya. Chanting mantras about, and meditation on, what is our true Self are methods of self-study. Personal study is important as we cannot always just sit down and contemplate on things, we need a reference point; a teacher, spiritually inspiring teachings that offer us some insight to lead us in the right direction.
Idea 4: What other activities (e.g hobbies) facilitate svādhyāya for you? What are the automatic thoughts, responses which occur again and again, and what patterns of behavior (saṃskāras) do these then link to? Are the automatic thoughts really you or just part of the habitual workings of your mind? For example, I had noticed my pattern of justifying that housework took precedence sometimes over my practice and the automatic thought, "I'll do it later" would result in little or no time at all. I do this less now and my practice is priority over washing the dishes! Noticing the thoughts that hijack your good intentions is part of the practice, but don't be judgmental, acknowledge them and smile at your patterns! Accept that the process of dissolving habitual unhelpful patterns takes some time.
5. Īśvarapraṇidhānā, the last niyama, is about cultivating a sense of acceptance that we are not always the masters of our fate. It is letting go of the notion that we are always in control, to trust and remain open in the process of life itself. But how can we live comfortably with this notion that we are not the masters of our fate? Can we accept what will be will be?
Idea 5: This is a hard concept for many of us to grasp and it may be easier to view this niyama as attitude. When life throws you challenges, what are the things that keep you going? Change is inevitable and having a reference point to turn to - a friend, relative, counselor, or one's faith (if you have one) may be helpful in these times. I am fortunate to have a yoga mentor and friend to whom I can turn to, for guidance or suggestions to modify my personal practice in times of change. Acknowledge your attitude to the process of Yoga, keeping up with your practice that you know is good for you. I am reminded of my favourite chant in praise of Yoga, which actually relates to YS III.6 but seems right in this context too, to close on.
yogena yogo jñātavyo
Only through Yoga Yoga is known,
yogo yogāt pravartate |
Only through Yoga, Yoga progresses
yo’prama tastu yogena
One who is patient with Yoga
sa yoge ramate ciram | |
Enjoys Yoga for a long time
The goal of Yoga is to encourage us to be a little better than we were before. We become better by making an effort and practicing patience. When we do this we will not see ourselves as beset by so many problems and over time we will gradually experience progress. We must actively seize every opportunity that helps us progress (3).
1. Liberating Isolation, Frans Moors
2. The Yoga Sutras of Patanajli, Edwin F. Bryant
3. The Heart of Yoga, T.K.V. Desikachar pg 105
4. Personal notes from Prabodha Videos: Sadhana Mala
5. Teacher training notes