Last week we introduced the Yamas, the 5 moral guidelines for behaving towards the outside world. The Niyamas are the second limb of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga and provide us with guidelines on how to behave towards ourselves.
Following the Niyamas cultivates self-discipline, inner happiness, integrity and confidence yet humility.
1. Saucha, Self-Purification
Saucha means purity or cleanliness. Making an effort to keep the body and mind clean results in radiant health. Physical cleanliness also results in a clearer mind which allows us to reach a calmer meditative state.
Maintaining a pure self not only involves cleaning the physical body, but also making wise food choices and being conscious of the thoughts we are having.
2. Santosha, Contentment
Practicing Santosha means being content with what we have, who we are and where we are in life. It does not mean being a weak person or letting others walk all over us, it simply means not condeming ourselves for not being more successful, richer, wiser…
Removing self-judgement and striving for what we don’t have allows for acceptance and inner happiness.
3. Tapas, Discipline
“Tapas” directly translates to “heat”.
People with passion and inner drive to take action can be described as having “fire in their belly” – this describes the quality of Tapas. We need Tapas to motivate ourselves to become better. Doing things that are difficult but good for us (e.g. early morning practice, persevering through a restless meditation, or breaking bad habits) requires self-descipline, or Tapas.
4. Svadhyaya, Self-study
Svadhyaya, or self-study, can be interpreted in two ways:
- ‘self’ being ourselves in our physical form. Then practicing Svadhyaya means being mindful of our thoughts, actions and emotions. It requires seeing who we are, inlcuding our flaws and weaknesses, which gives us an opporunity to grow and learn.
- ‘Self’ being Atman, the divine within us. Then practicing Svadhyaya involves studying sacred and spiritual texts such as the Yoga Sutras, the Bhagavad Gita and the Vedas. It allows us to see beyond the ego and recognise our connection to the divine.
Either way, Svadhyaya is a journey of introspection and constant learning in order to better ourselves.
5. Ishvara Pranidhana, Devotion
Ishvara pranidhana is described in the Yoga Sutras as a method to resolve the fluctuations of the mind and achieve samadhi. This is because devotion to something greater than ourselves allows us to surrender the ego, lose the obssession with ‘I’ and gain some perspective on our mind’s distractions.
While we can practice devotion by honouring or making offerings to the divine (this does not have to involve a ‘God’), we can also practice it in more subtle ways by letting go of the things we cannot control – in a sense, surrendering to a higher power. Instead of fighting against life’s ups and downs we can be open to whatever happens.