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An Overview of The Niyamas: Yoga Philosophy 101

An Overview of The Niyamas: Yoga Philosophy 101

The second limb of Patanjali’s eight-limbed yoga system are the Niyamas, which are five internal practices. These practices extend the ethical codes of conduct provided in his first limb, the Yamas and look more within. The practice of Niyama 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.

Similar to the Yamas, the five Niyamas, while ancient in their origins, are very applicable to everyday modern life. These concepts can help you self-reflect and live a more peaceful life.

Saucha. Purification: The first principle of Patanjali’s five Niyamas is Saucha. It is often translated to “cleanliness” and relates to good hygiene and self-care. It also goes much deeper than that. It is the idea that your environment impacts your state of mind. For example, if you walk into a messy room, you are more likely to feel scattered and anxious internally, versus how you feel when you walk into a clean and orderly room. The same goes for your body. If you feel well-groomed and clean, you’re more likely to feel better and even clearer in your mind. 

There are a number of yogic cleansing techniques that create cleanliness internally. Things like a neti pot, nauli (abdominal massage), and bhasti (colon cleansing), are examples of techniques that support Saucha and a clearer mind and body. Treating your body like a temple, with care is part of yoga. 

Santosha. Contentment: In simplest terms, Santosha teaches us to be grateful for what we have and not waste energy craving for things that we do not have. Advertising wants us to think that true happiness can come through the accumulation of objects, but yoga teaches us that happiness that comes from materialism is only temporary. 

Practicing Santosha frees us from perpetually wanting more and feeling dissatisfied with what we have. Right here, right now, you have the ability to appreciate everything you have. Contentment is a powerful perspective and one that can allow us to feel joy for all of life’s blessings. Unnecessary suffering comes from always wanting things to be different. 

Tapas. Asceticism: Tapas is the yogic concept of self-discipline and willpower. Tapas can be seen as doing something you might not feel like, that will have a positive effect on your life.

Tapas is related to our inner fire and our passion, purpose, and willpower. Tapas is trusting yourself to do the things you say you are going to do and following through with things you’ve committed to. Tapas gives us more control over our unconscious impulses and poor habits. It can build the willpower and personal strength to become more dedicated to our practice of yoga and other good habits. 

Svadhyaya. Self-Study: Svadhyaya is the practice of being able to look at yourself, your patterns, behaviors, flaws, strengths, and self-growth. It’s simply being able to contemplate and reflect upon life’s lessons, as well as your own behavior.

Life is an ever-changing journey, and we change throughout life as people. That is why Svadhyaya is not a one-time thing, but an ongoing practice. Do you consider conflicts with others from perspectives other than your own? Are you willing to realize and admit when you’ve made mistakes and choose to grow from them? It’s harder to grow when we’re not able, to be honest with ourselves and take a good look in the mirror once in a while. Yoga and meditation are practices of looking within. There is an opportunity to practice Svadhyaya every single time you step onto your yoga mat.

Ishvara Pranidhana. Devotion: This is the dedication and devotion of the fruits of one’s practice to a higher power. This Niyama fuses two common aspects of yoga within it: the devotion to something greater than just yourself and the selfless action of karma yoga. Patanjali tells us that to reach the goal of yoga we must dissolve our egocentric nature and let go of our constant identification with ourselves.

Ishvara Pranidhana is not religious, but about dedicating the benefits of your yoga practice, to the benefit of all. It has ripple effects that go far beyond just you. Through this simple act of dedication, we become reminded of our connection to an energy that connects us all, and our practice becomes sacred and filled with grace and love.

By Keith Allen 

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