Last week when we detailed the Yamas, we broadly defined how a yogi is encouraged to behave morally in relationships. It was the first limb of Patanjali’s 8-fold path of yoga. It’s really important to note that these relationships encompass not only our relations with friends, family, and acquaintances, but the relationship we have with ourselves.
As we detail the second half of the basic yogic principles, and the second limb of Patanjali’s 8-fold path, we go further into how a yogi can best care for themselves with the Niyamas.
The Niyamas – The 5 Personal Observances of the Yogic Path
Saucha (Cleanliness) This can be applied physically, mentally, emotionally, and even psychologically. On a physical level, anything from brushing your teeth to sweating in hot yoga is an act of cleaning the body. Detoxing through sweat, clean eating, and daily hygiene are all ways to stay physically clear. But there’s more under the surface. When we take care of our mental health, we are also practicing Saucha. By cleaning the mind and letting go of harmful thoughts, you can purify your emotional and psychological system. Meditation is a great way to still the mind so that it can be clear.
Santosha (Contentment) It’s a real challenge to practice Santosha when life gets fast. Santosha is all about enjoying the present moment and being content with where you are and what you have. This is a really great Niyama to practice on the mat when you’re struggling to get into a pose. Instead of getting upset when thoughts enter the mind, or struggling when a pose simply isn’t coming, try letting go of the need to control. When you let go of this need to control, you find contentment and realize that your current state of being is exactly as it should be.
Tapas (Discipline) This is the Niyama of growth. There’s an element in yoga of working to the edge of comfort. This means finding a balance between relaxing into a pose or sequence and accepting the challenge that the practice presents. Tapas is that fire of accepting the challenge. It’s the element that inspires growth and gives discipline to the practice.
Svadhyaya (Self-Study) In any mindful practice, the journey of going inward becomes the greatest journey of all. It’s important to know how your system operates so that you can live comfortably with yourself. Not knowing yourself is like living your whole life superglued to a stranger you’ve never even said hello to. Once you start on the journey of knowing who you are and how you navigate through this life, you’re presenting the best gift you could ever give to yourself.
Ishvara Pranidhana (Surrender To A Higher Source) This might seem like a heavy statement, but it’s more about letting go and letting life do its thing. We often think that we have a lot of control over what’s going to happen to us and how things should be. But when you let go of how you think things ought to be, you surrender your control and lett things simply be as they are.
The Niyamas present us with the guidelines for how we can keep our systems clear and receptive as we go through life. Practice these observances both on and off the mat and see what transformations can occur through focused mindfulness.