The second of these 8 limbs of yoga are the Niyamas. Niyama’s are practices of things we aught to do versus what we should not do (Yama). The five Niyamas are: Saucha – cleanliness / purification, Santosha – contentment, Svadhyaya – self study, Tapas – discipline, and Ishvara Pranidhana – Devotion / Surrender to God.
The first Niyama is Saucha. Saucha is a beautiful branch; through the practice of Saucha we cleanse our internal and external body. We are meant to brighten our self awareness, and build-up our well-being through Saucha. We purify externally through cleansing ourselves and our environment. We purify internally through postures (asanas) and breathing (pranayama).
Next we have Santosha or contentment. Not happiness, that fleeting emotion, but the deeper feeling of satisfaction and acceptance of one’s life. Goals are good, we should set them. You should have things to look forward to, but not lean on for contentment. God will provide, and life will take it’s necessary course. Forcing our life to move in ways it’s not planned leads to undue stress and unhappiness. This translates right on to your mat. You go to class, and it some how becomes a competition with another student or yourself (perhaps not all the time but here or there). A question arises internally; why can’t I do a handstand, why is pigeon so difficult today, etc. We want things to work NOW, and faster isn’t better when it comes to moving our bodies and we can’t force them to do things they are not ready for. So it all comes together. In order to practice Santosha, we practice contentment but allowing things to go and flow as they should.
Svadhyaya or self study, inner exploration 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 an endless opportunity to learn about ourselves; our flaws and 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 yogic practice of Svadhyaya also involves the study of sacred and spiritual texts as a guide to our interior world where our true self resides. Self-study requires both seeing who we are in the moment and seeing beyond our current state to realize our connection with the divine.
Perfectly aligned with the New Year’s time is the Niyama, Tapas. Translated to asceticism or discipline this is time to stay inspired, stick to our resolutions, and our goals. And to develop practices and rituals to keep in tune with our own selves. In some area of your life you are disciplining yourself and strengthening your will power. Tapas IS the intense practice of self-discipline, and if practiced on it’s own, is said, to lead you to a deep release of spiritual enlightenment. This practice cleanses us and enables us to become more conscious of our actions, our words, our thoughts. We are not these things. Step away from negativity, from actions or thoughts that are owning you and become more aware.
One of my favorite solutions to any problem my illusion of control has not been able to solve… Ishvara Pranidhana or surrender to God (or whatever term you use for a high power / collective consciousness.) If you’ve ever referenced Eckart Tolle or Patanjali, you may have heard them speak to our egocentric nature and letting go of our constant need to identity ourselves, through our likes and thoughts. What a beautiful idea to let go of what we think of oneself and give it all away to a higher power. Also translated to be “Devotion” our final Niyama offers us a way to peace by dedication and a surrender of one’s life, and the illusion of control. Through this devotion and surrender our yoga practice and our lives, becomes sacred and filled with grace, inner peace, and abounding love.