There is so much more to Yoga than the postures. Beyond teaching us how to take care of our body, it teaches us how to live a good life with the whole of our being.
The Niyamas are the second of the Eight Limbs of Yoga, teaching us how to become better human beings.
The Pancha Niyama are the second limb of Patanjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga, following on from Yama, the Five Moral Restraints. If the Yama are the ‘Don’ts’ of human behaviour, then the Niyama are the ‘Do’s’; ways we should behave to help us evolve further than the human state into the divine. I will discuss the Yama further in the ‘Y’ entry of this series.
The Niyamas are mentioned in Sutra 2.32 of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras
shaucha santosha tapah svadhyaya ishvarapranidhana niyamah
Cleanliness and purity of body and mind (shaucha), an attitude of contentment (santosha), ascesis or training of the senses (tapas), self-study and reflection on sacred words (svadhyaya), and an attitude of letting go into one’s source (ishvarapranidhana) are the observances or practices of self-training (niyamas), and are the second rung on the ladder of Yoga.
Saucha – cleanliness
This Niyama refers to cleanliness of the body and tells us that we should take care of personal hygiene and wear clean clothes, but it goes far deeper than that. It refers to internal cleanliness, so we should take care that what we put into our bodies is clean and nutritious, and not harmful in any way. Saucha also refers to our external environment, so our living space should be kept clean, and we need to pay heed to the needs of the wider environment and live in a sustainable manner that doesn’t harm the natural world around us.
Saucha also reminds us that our thoughts, words and actions need to be clean, so we must pay close attention to how we think, speak and act as well. This would include refusing to allow negative emotions to take control of us (bear in mind that our thoughts and actions create our Karma) It also encourages us to free ourselves of preconceived notions and prejudices, and to give an open mind to the ideas and opinions of others, particularly those opinions we disagree with; a fresh approach to an issue can lead to new solutions to problems.
Saucha has been a big help for me, and has helped me improve my health and living space. I have always been very messy, having little concern for all matters domestic. I have now found that I am actually far happier when my living space is clean, clutter free and organised (maybe the fact that it wasn’t was actually a cause of my unhappiness previously?)
Saucha has also helped me really think about what I am putting into my body, and has been a great help in my determination to remain an ex smoker and drinker, and to eat a far healthier, plant based diet.
Santosha – contentment
Santosha is the mental calm that comes as the result of a calm and peaceful mind. This sense of calm allows individuals to forge deeper, more meaningful relationships with others, in ways that constant business does not allow. Santosha allows us to find constant peace and contentment within ourselves instead of needing to find it in things that are external to ourselves; this means also that external events or things can’t destroy our contentment either.
We can achieve Santosha through adopting an ‘attitude of Grattude’, of being and expressing our gratitude for the things we have in life, and by focussing less on what we don’t have.
If you can make Santosha a part of your life, then you will find that life becomes better, as the more you focus on the good things in life, the more you will notice them. It really is a win/win situation. I used to be very negative, always focussing on the negative in my life and the world. Since I have changed my focus and paid more attention to the positive in life, I feel o much happier, the things that used to really upset me no longer bother me so much, and instead of seeing problems in life, I now see opportunities to learn or to explore a different avenue.
Tapas – discipline
Tapas is living a disciplined life. Tapas in Yoga means a regular and committed practice, and a life as closely aligned to the Yamas and Niyamas, as possible. Tapas encourages a commitment to all aspects of Yoga practice and the cultivation of personal responsibility and self awareness. It also encourages self discipline when dealing with others; for example, when dealing with someone with opinions we disagree with, we have the self discipline to listen and accept the opposing opinion with an open mind and give it some consideration, rather than dismissing it off hand.
Swadhyaya – self awareness
Through self study, and self awareness, one can achieve Santosha. This self awareness is essential if one is to achieve true spiritual unity; this will not be achieved in a person who does not have this deeper understanding of themselves. Santosha requires us to ignore the demands of the ego, and to focus on the true nature of the Self. It is through this awareness of the Self that one can find one’s true purpose in life, and realise the true personal philosophy that can be the guide through life.
Atman/Ishvara Pranidhana – surrender to the Divine
This Niyama reminds us that we are part of the universe and that we should offer up everything we do or receive to the Divine with gratitude and humility. It is about respecting that we are only able to control our own actions, and that we cannot control outcomes, and that all we can do is do the very best we can, and let go of the need to control the outcome. As Swami Gitananda says “Do your best, and leave the rest”
This is very easy to see in parenting; as parents we do the best we can for our children, and hope that we are doing the right thing. We can try to control who our children are, but we will invariably produce problems for them, or us if we try to exercise too much control. I have learned this the hard way; you can control what your children do when they are small, but as they grow, the best relationship happens when you let go of the need to control who they are, and just respect the adults they grow into. Even when they are small, while you need to teach them good behaviour, and the rules of your household and the society they are growing into, we need to recognise the fact that they are individuals with their own very distinct personalities, needs and desires.
The Niyamas are very useful tools in creating a more meaningful, happier, more spiritually evolved life. I have benefitted enormously from integrating them into my life, and I would love to hear if you have done the same.
Bent Back into Shape, Beating Addiction Through Yoga
If you would like to know more about the Niyamas and how they can contribute to a happy life, you can learn a lot from my book, Bent Back into Shape, Beating Addiction Through Yoga. While the book is primarily about addiction recovery, it is also a powerful resource for anyone looking to make a transformation in their life. Yoga offers many tools for addiction recovery, but the same tools can help you create a happier, more whole life for yourself.
As this 5 star review on the book states
Esther’s first book is a must read for anybody looking to gain a new perspective on their place in the world, and renew their purchase on their life. She seamlessly interweaves her own story with information on how the reader can use yogic principles to change perspective and improve their life.
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