The Niyamas are outlined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – one of the foundational texts on the theory and practice of Yoga. Written over 2000 years ago, the Sutras combine yogic knowledge from various traditions and present it as a complete system of eight practices known as Ashtanga Yoga.
Each of the eight limbs covers a different aspect of Yoga: From the outer limbs that focus on the physical body and one’s interaction with the external world, to the inner limbs that focus on developing one’s internal world.
What are the Niyamas?
The Niyamas are the second limb, after the Yamas (Self-Restraint).
Niyama means “observance, beneficial habit or activity”. These are mindsets and activities directed towards our mind, body, and spirit that one should adopt in order to be successful in Yoga.
There are five components of Niyama: Shaucha (Purity), Santosha (Contentment), Tapas (Austerity), Svadhyaya (Spiritual Studies and Self-Reflection), and Ishvara Pranidhana (Surrender to the Divine).
Shaucha goes beyond purity of the body, and includes purity of speech and mind. Purity of mind comes naturally when all the components of Yama – the first limb of Yoga – are mastered. It describes a state of mind that is not attached to and thus not influenced by the material circumstances of life.
A pure mind can be focused on a single object at the practitioner’s will while not reacting to external circumstances. It is also capable of mastering our misleading senses and perceive the truth.
How to Bring Shaucha into Your Life:
Declutter your Home and Yoga Space: When our environment is messy, our mind often feels cluttered too. By keeping your home and yoga space clean, you don’t only show respect towards the practice, but you help center and calm your mind!
Purify your Diet: What you eat directly affects your physical and mental health. Highly processed foods that contain lots of additives, preservatives, and pesticides can have many detrimental effects. Choosing – whenever possible – healthy and organic food options ensures that you feel pure inside and out!
Use Cleansing Techniques: The Hatha Yoga Pradipika recommends several cleansing techniques to use before getting on your yoga mat. They include Neti (nasal cleansing), Nauli (abdominal massage), Trataka (candle gazing), or Kapalbhati (shining skull breath).
Observe your Thoughts: Try listing all the things that cause you to lose your mind (things you worry too much about, things that cause you to get angry or scared, or react in an emotional way). Analyze this list and these occurrences when they happen. Search for the attachments that make you behave in such a way. Then, work on them through Yama practices until you gain control over your mind and learn to maintain equanimity.
Have you ever had the feeling that you’d be happier if…
This if looks different for everyone. Perhaps it’s finding a new partner, losing weight, or getting a bigger paycheck. Even if you achieve this goal, after a while the sense of satisfaction fades. So, you turn to something else and the cycle continues.
Contrary to this mindset of constant desire for more, Santosha is contentment with what one is given. Once Santosha is perfected, the mind becomes more stable, and we are able to overcome anxiety and achieve happiness.
How to Bring Santosha into Your Life:
Practice Gratitude: We can develop Santosha through gratitude. Every week, write down a list of things you are grateful for and gradually dissatisfaction will vanish.
Derived from the Sanskrit verb tap, meaning ‘to burn’, Tapas is translated as ‘self-discipline’ or ‘austerity’. In order to achieve the goal of Yoga, we need intense willpower and discipline to practice even when we feel too tired or unmotivated.
Tapas allows us to generate and direct large amounts of energy to the desired goal through concentration.
How to Bring Tapas into Your Life:
Commit to Daily Practice: And stick to it! Even if you only practice for a few minutes, or stay in Child’s Pose for the entire class, what matters most is that you’re showing up.
Other ways to develop discipline can be through solitude, fasting, or silence.
Self-study is another integral part of the Niyamas. Through the exploration of ourselves, in knowing how the body and mind work, diving into deeper layers of consciousness, we are able to see into our own nature and finally achieve self-realization.
In some contexts, Svadhyaya also means self-education, and especially the recitation of the Vedas and other sacred texts.
How to Bring Savdhyaya into Your Life:
Study the Scriptures: Some of the most well-known texts include the Bhagavad Gita, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, and of course the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. By reading, studying, and reflecting upon these texts, you can deepen your understanding of yourself.
Observe Yourself: What are your daily habits? How do you react when things don’t go your way? By analyzing your behavior, you get one step closer to recognizing and understanding the movements of the ego. Start by observing yourself during the yoga practice, when your mind is less distracted.
Ishvara Pranidhana (Surrender to the Divine)
The very last of the Niyamas is Ishvara Pranidhana, usually translated as ‘surrender’ to the Divine or the Higher Self.
Instead of trying to realize our Divine essence using our own conditioned mind (which is actually impossible), we should surrender to this essence – the true Self – and let it guide us.
According to Patanjali, the practice of Ishvara Pranidhana is so powerful, that it’s in itself a way of achieving self-realization. However, while it might be the simplest and most direct method to attain the goal of Yoga, it isn’t easy:
In order to fully surrender, we need to let go of all personal opinions about what we are. Instead of trying to control everything around us, we must be still and silent during meditation, surrender, and open up to let the Truth reveal itself.
How to Bring Ishvara Pranidhana into Your Life:
Dedicate your Work to a Higher Power: Whether you’re practicing yoga or working on an important project, stay focused on the present moment: Do your best without clinging to or worrying about any potential outcome.
Meditate: Practice stillness and offer yourself completely as a vehicle for the Divine within.
The Niyamas are only one of eight limbs of Yoga. Start your FREE TRIAL in the One Yoga Online Studio and learn more about this fascinating part of Yoga philosophy in our video series about classical Ashtanga Yoga.