What is Niyama? Niyama is the second limb of the 8-fold spiritual path, as outlined by Maharishi Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. Niyama (nee-yah-mah) is the Sanskrit term for ‘duty’ or ‘observances’. The five Niyamas, as described in the Yoga Sutras, are all the practices that focus on the inner observances of using one’s own mind and body to create a positive environment within and around oneself.
There is a reason the Yamas occurs before Niyama. Before we explore and dive deeper into ourselves, we must understand the print of our social conduct. Shri K Pattabai Jois (modern Ashtanga Yoga guru) puts great emphasis on the order of the limbs, saying that it is impossible to revert and correct mistakes in the future if we progress without care. While Yamas are focused on one’s relationship with others, Niyamas focus on our relationship with our own being.
5 Niyamas of Yoga
The 5 principles of Niyama are:
1. Saucha or Purity
2. Santosha or Contentment
3. Tapas or Discipline/Burning desire
4. Svadhyaya or Self-reflection and Study of texts
5. Ishvara Pranidhana or Surrender to a higher power
Saucha translates to purity or cleanliness of body, mind, spirit and surroundings. It extends to the cleansing of habits that we pick up in life, which often do not serve us. The goal is to move towards a state where everything we do aids us in leading a healthier, happier and more aware life.
Our environment often reflects our state of mind. Have you ever entered a space and thought, I’m so overwhelmed! I need to get out? Something like this happens in our brain when we live in a messy home environment. Every item that lies in our space has a story, and each story surfaces a thought that clutters the mind. It, then, becomes necessary to take a step back and evaluate our anxiety, sort through the thoughts, and tackle them individually.
How to Practice Saucha
How can we practice Saucha in our daily living? Here are 3 ways to start practicing Saucha:
Start Decluttering Your Home
Clean out your living space. Make room for the important things and clear out the possessions that you’ve been hoarding for years, and can’t seem to get rid of. When we’re surrounded by clean surfaces in a neat surrounding, it creates space in our mind, and is likely to make us feel better, and more in control of ourselves. Having control over your thoughts, actions, emotions or any other aspect of daily life reduces anxiety, and has also been recognized as fundamental to mental and physical health.
Eat Clean and Be Pure
Cleanse your body of toxins and starch-containing foods. The human body is like a machine, it has to be well oiled to function smoothly throughout its lifetime. The ‘oil’ or the ‘machine’ is the food we eat. The more nutritious, fibrous and healthy our food is, the more our body will reward us by staying active, agile and fit.
Take Out Some ‘Me’ Time for Yourself
Or, as the wise would tell you – Solitude. Alone time gives us the opportunity for self-discovery, such as asking questions like ‘who am I?’, ‘what is my purpose in life?’. Research suggests that alone time increases productivity, sparks creativity and helps build mental strength. Take out some quiet time for yourself in a day. Just 10 minutes without interference would do the trick.
Santosha, or contentment, means accepting and appreciating what we have, who we are in the present day, and moving forward in a positive direction from there. It is the practice of being unconditionally happy, with ‘unconditional’ being the key idea.
Often, we attach contentment and satisfaction to external factors, such as making more money, finding a new partner, losing weight, etc. We always come to materialistic conclusions that seem to solve our current predicament, such as ‘I’d be happier if…’. The second Niyama urges us to adopt non-attachment, and to realize that peace and happiness lies within.
An excerpt from Chapter 2 Verse 55 of The Bhagavad Gita reads, “When he leaves behind all desires emerging from the mind and is contented in the Self by the Self, then he is said to be one whose wisdom is steady.”
In essence, Santosha suggests that if we control our senses, they will stop clouding the mind, and we shall exist in peace thereafter. It is about learning to embrace what is right in front of you, and stop yearning for what is missing, living in the moment, and being present.
How to Practice Santosha
Practicing Santosha can be daunting at first. Let’s find out how you can make small changes in your life to start practicing Santosha:
Drop All Assumptions
Try not to assume someone’s circumstances. It is easy to assume that someone else may have something you don’t, or is acting a certain way because of you. This kind of thinking mentality will only hamper your positive energy. How people are or how they act is not your responsibility. However, what you can do is focus on the good, and hone in on your positive energy.
Let go of what you cannot control. Inevitably, there will be situations when you’ll feel guilt, regret or indirectly responsible for a certain outcome. Acknowledging the truth about the present reality is important, but at the same time, so is letting go of things we cannot change. The things we can control are our breath and energy. Focus on these two aspect and move forward in the path to mastering the niyamas of yoga.
Tapas, or discipline, means cultivating a sense of self-discipline, passion and courage in order to burn away ‘impurities’ physically, mentally and emotionally. It is derived from the word tap, which translates to burning, desire or heat.
When we perform a task or adopt a discipline willingly and with effort to bring about a change of some kind, it is performed with the idea of Tapas. It focuses on energy, fervor, and increases our strength and confidence by heightening our desire for personal growth.
Think of something you love to do. It could be anything i.e. doing the laundry, taking your dog for a walk, reading a book in a quiet bookstore, going for a hike, or anything. Now, think of how you feel when you are in that moment. It may be a rush of adrenaline to reach the peak of a hill, or to fold freshly laundered clothes, or even being so involved in a certain book that you forget your favorite book even exists at all.
In all these instances, you are practicing Tapas. You are passionately involved in an activity that you took on willingly. Putting all these activities (and some that we don’t like doing) together constitutes a schedule, and when you follow the schedule religiously, it eventually becomes a discipline.
How to Practice Tapas
Let’s see how we can use Tapas to get more disciplined:
Wake Up Early
Give yourself enough time in the morning to be alone and gather your thoughts. Start by making a rough outline of how you want your day to look, and move forward from there. The level of detail in terms of punctuality can vary from person-to-person, but preparation certainly helps the mind and body to anticipate what is next.
Svadhyaya literally means self-study or one’s own reading. It is intrinsically reflective, in a way we are our own mirror! It is the fourth Niyama of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. It can also imply the practice of studying scriptures containing transformational writings about Yoga. By paying close attention to ourselves and listening to our body, we are able to become more aware of things we do that harm us, and those which bring us closer to uniting with our ‘true self’.
In the modern day, attaining svadhyaya does not mean to have spent hours reading the ‘Upanishads’ or ‘The Bhagavad Gita’ (it’s good if you want to), what it does mean is instilling a sense of curiosity and thirst for gaining knowledge about the world. Then, sitting with this knowledge and reflecting on it, gathering whether it bears any resemblance to our own experiences, and therefore apply it to our life.
How to Practice Svadhyaya
Svadhyaya can be very useful to understand your body better. To feel and hear what our muscles are saying to us. Let’s find out how to practice svadhyaya:
We all perform many tasks every single day. Some are necessities, whereas some we do for ourselves. There are, however, some that we forget the purpose over a period of time. For these tasks, ask yourself, ‘why am I doing this?’. It requires you to be attentive to your body and pay attention on a whole other level. Take a second to step back and simply observe.
Fuel Your Curiosity
Ask questions. Ask Google. Ask your mom. But don’t let that question go unanswered. Whichever way your mind takes you, follow it and learn as much about that topic as you want to. After all, “The mind that opens to a new idea never returns to its original size” – Albert Einstein
5. Ishvara Pranidhana
Isvara Pranidhana is derived from the words isvara – supreme or personal God, and pranidhana – dedicate or surrender. This practice is the last of the Niyamas. It means that if we are able to completely surrender our individual egoistic identities to God (our own higher self), we will attain the identity of God. It is, in a sense, similar to attaining ‘Nirvana’ or transcending the banalities of everyday life. But, as we live in the modern world, how are we supposed to do that, you ask?
Have you ever had a feeling something will work out? Not in a way that you think God will fulfill your wishes, but just a faith that things will be alright. It is a kind of idea of something underlying that is bigger than us, more profound and pure that exists and oversees everyone and everything.
How to Practice Ishvara Pranidhana
Let’s see how we can take this task and begin the practice of Ishvara pranidhana:
Surrender and Rest
Recognize your limit and try not to push past it. Between work, home, social circles and exercise, life can be quite busy. You may want to do everything, every day. However, pause and listen to your body, what is it saying? Are you exhausted? Are you anxious? Do you need a breather? If the instinctual answer is yes, you need to surrender to yourself and rest.
For a live example, try this.
Do something really nice for someone else. Send them a sweet message, have some chocolates sent, run an errand, or do anything to spread good vibes. As long as you don’t expect anything in return, not even a “Thank You” note. Maybe no one notices your kind gesture at all.
Now what, you ask? Just surrender. And you will realize it doesn’t matter whether your kind gestures are appreciated or not.
Are There 10 Types of Niyamas?
Because of the diverse nature of Hinduism and debates on the subject of the origin of yoga, many religious texts often list more than 5 types of niyamas, such as the Shandilya, Varaha Upanishads and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (verses 552-557 in Book 3 of the Tirumandhiram of Tirumular). According to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, which lists the steps one can take to prepare oneself for starting the 8-fold path of yogic practice, there are 10 niyamas:
1. Tapas (तपस् ): persistence, perseverance in one’s purpose and austerity
2. Santoṣa (सन्तोष): contentment, acceptance of others and of one’s circumstances as they are, along with optimism for self
3. Āstikya (आस्तिक्य): faith in the Real Self (jnana yoga, raja yoga), belief in God (bhakti yoga), and conviction in Vedas/Upanishads (orthodox school)
4. Dāna (दान): generosity, charity, and sharing with others
5. Īśvarapūjana (ईश्वरपूजान): worship of the Ishvara (God/Supreme Being, Brahman, True Self and Unchanging Reality
6. Siddhānta vakya śrāvaṇa (सिद्धान्त वक्य श्रवण) or Siddhānta śrāvaṇa (सिद्धान्त श्रवण): Listening to the ancient scriptures
7. Hrī (ह्री): remorse and acceptance of one’s past, modesty and humility
8. Mati (मति): think and reflect to understand and reconcile conflicting ideas
9. Japa (जप): mantra repetition and reciting prayers or knowledge
10. Huta (हुत) or Vrata (व्रत):
Huta (हुत): rituals and ceremonies such as yajna sacrifice.
Vrata (व्रत): Fulfilling religious vows, rules and observances faithfully.
Some religious texts replace Huta with Vrata, and often use them interchangeably. In fact, the order of the niyamas, their names and nature of each niyama, as well as the relative emphasis may vary between the various texts.