The 5 Niyamas of Yoga
The second limb of Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga contains the 5 internal practices of Niyama (observances). These practices extend the ethical codes of conduct provided in the first limb of yoga, the 5 yamas, to the practicing yogi’s internal environment of body, mind, and spirit.
The practice of Niyamas helps us maintain a positive environment in which to grow, and gives us the self-discipline and inner-strength necessary to progress along the path of yoga.
Shaucha (purification) is a central aim of many yogic techniques, and is the first principle of the 5 niyamas. Impurities in both our external environments and our internal body adversely affect our state of mind, and prevent attaining real wisdom and spiritual liberation.
The practices of Asana, pranayama, and meditation cleanse and purify the body and mind, as well as strengthening their capacity to maintain a pure state of being.
We must also consciously work at surrounding ourselves with a pure environment (food, drink, friends, entertainment, home furnishings, and transportation) to not add any external impurities back into our bodies and mind.
Samtosha (contentment) is not craving for what we don’t have, and not coveting the possessions of others. When we are perfectly content with all that life gives us, then we achieve true joy and happiness.
It’s easy for the human mind to be fooled into believing that we can achieve lasting happiness through the possessions of objects and goods, but the happiness gained through materialism is only temporary.
Practicing contentment frees us from the unnecessary suffering of always wanting things to be different and instead, fills us with gratitude and joy for all of life’s blessings.
Tapas (asceticism) is a practice of intense self-discipline and attainment of will power. Tapas is doing something you don’t want to do that will have a positive effect on your life.
When our will conflicts with the desire of our mind, and internal “fire” is created which illuminates and burns up our mental and physical impurities. This inner fire can also be used as a source of spiritual energy.
The sole practice of tapas can lead to the release of Kundalini and attainment of enlightenment.
Tapas transforms and purifies us and enables the conscious awareness and control over our unconscious impulses and poor behavior. Tapas builds the willpower and personal strength to help us become more dedicated to the practice of yoga.
Svadhyaya (self-study) is the ability to see our true divine nature through the contemplation of our life’s lessons and through the meditation on the truths revealed by seers and sages.
Life presents endless opportunities to learn about ourselves; our flaws and our weaknesses give us the opportunity to grow, and our mistakes allow us to learn.
Examining our actions becomes a mirror to see our conscious and unconscious motives, thoughts, and desires more clearly.
The practice of Svadhyaya also involves the study of sacred and spiritual texts as a guide to our interior world where our true selves reside. Self-study requires both seeing who we are in the moment, and seeing beyond our current state, to realize our connection with the divine.
Ishvara Pranidhana (devotion) is the dedication, devotion, and surrender of the fruits of one’s practice of yoga to a higher power.
This Niyama fuses two common aspects of yoga within it: the devotion to something greater than the Self, and the selfless action of Karma yoga.
To reach the goal of yoga, we must dissolve our egocentric nature and let go of our constant identification with ourselves. To do this, our practice and all of the benefits we may receive, must be seen as an offering to something greater than ourselves.
Through this simple act of dedication, we become reminded of our connection to our higher power, and our practice becomes sacred and filled with grace, inner peace, and abounding love.
The foundation limbs of Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga, yama and niyama, create a solid foundation and strong container for the yoga practitioner to move into deeper stages of yoga with focus, inner-strength, and success.
Practicing the yamas and niyamas is a process and journey. Take one step, one yama or niyama and proceed with compassion and without worrying about perfection.