The second limb of Patanjali’s eight-limbed yoga approach involves the five internal practices of Niyama (observance). Niyama means “rules” or “laws.” They are an extension to the ethical codes of conduct in the first limb, the yamas. Niyama, to the practicing yogi, helps them to maintain an internal environment in which to grow in body, mind and spirit. The principles of self-discipline and inner-strength become necessary on our yoga path.
Compared with the yamas, the niyamas are more intimate and personal. They refer to the attitude we create toward ourselves as we create a code for living authentically.
- Self-Purification (Shaucha)
Shaucha means “purification; cleanliness.” It includes a number of practices for cleansing the body as well as the mind. Shaucha is not only the basis of bodily health, it is also the entryway to deeper and more peaceful states of meditation.
Practice Tip: Choose wisely when allowing anything to enter your body or mind. Keep all food and thoughts pure and feel how radiant your health becomes.
- Contentment (Santosha)
The word santosha means “contentment” and in addition, “delight, happiness, joy.” It comes from a place of total acceptance of our lives. It involves being content and happy. It teaches us that happiness is a choice. Being content and accepting our realities as blessings makes happiness our choice.
Practice Tip: Do not envy others. Feel gratitude for everything you have and do. Free your mind of expectations and just know you are exactly where you’re meant to be.
- Self-Discipline (Tapas)
The meaning of tapas is “heat.” Tapas accompanies any determined effort that we dedicate ourselves to, whether it is to improve our health or to take a different direction in life. Tapas focuses energy, creates passion, and increases our strength and confidence. Asanas are a form of tapas for the body and meditation is a tapas for the mind.
Practice Tip: Pick just one healthy change you can do for now. Take small steps daily to replace an unhealthy habit with a healthy habit.
- Self-Study (Svadhyaya)
Svadhyaya means “to recollect the Self.” It is the effort to remember, to contemplate, and to meditate about ourselves. The “Self,” meaning the light that shines at the innermost core of our being.
Practice Tip: Make a list of the things that inspire you. Then when practicing your asanas and/or breath awareness, or meditation search to recognize when you are acting in harmony with your goals or if you are being counterproductive in your daily activities.
- Self-Surrender (Ishvara Pranidhana)
Ishvara refers to powerful consciousness; pranidhana means “to surrender.” Ishvara is the last and most significant of the niyamas, and possibly the most difficult for students to grasp. Self-surrender is the act of giving ourselves to a higher purpose.
Practice Tip: During meditation, observe and acknowledge the thoughts that distract you. Then let them go and practice inner stillness. Focus on the center of your being.
Practicing the Yamas and Niyamas is a route on our journey . Take one Niyama at a time and proceed with self-compassion and patience. Do not worry about perfection.
” When you pick one petal from the garland of yamas and niyamas, the entire garland will follow.”
– Swami Sri Kripalvanandaji