Niyamas: Personal Observances

During the month of October, our SOL Yoga teachers integrated the 5 niyamas throughout their classes in the studio. Being true to the ancient traditional teachings of the 8 limbed path for yogis’ is the true essence of SOL Yoga’s dharma (purpose). The Yoga Sutra’s by Patanjali are one of the foundational texts of classical Yoga philosophy (written prior to 450 A.D.) and continues to touch the lives of Yogis all over the world.

According to T.K.V. Desikachar, “How we relate to ourselves inwardly is called niyama… Compared with the yamas, the niyamas are more intimate and personal. They refer to the attitude we adopt toward ourselves.” It is necessary to look inward to heal and maintain self-awareness in our body, mind and soul in order to live a balanced and fulfilled life.

Pantanjali states the Niyamas as follows:

1. [Sauca]- Cleanliness, or keeping our bodies and our surroundings clean and neat.
2. [Santosa]- Contentment, or the ability to be comfortable with what we have and what we do not have.
3. [Tapas]- The removal of impurities in our physical and mental systems through the maintenance of such correct habits as sleep, exercise, nutrition, work, and relaxation.
4. [Svadhyaya]- Study and the necessity to review and evaluate our progress.
5. [Ishvarapranidhana]- Reverence to a higher intelligence or the acceptance of our limitations in relation to God, the all-knowing.

Diving deeper into each of the five Niyamas, we start with the first niyama, Sauca, the practice of cleanliness. Working to keep our environment clean helps to purify our body and mind. Both internal and external cleanliness requires awareness and discipline to keep our bodies and minds pure. We should constantly practice asanas, pranayama, and mindful meditation. A consistent yoga practice in the studio as well as a personal home practice allow Sauca to be prevalent in all aspects of our daily living. By maintaining our living spaces on and off our yoga mat in a clean and wholesome environment, we can achieve cleanliness and purity of body and mind.

Santosa, the second niyama, means contentment. In our society, it’s easy to get caught up in having the newest and best things. We are blessed to live in a country where abundance abounds, however, many times there is more focus on “want” as opposed to “need.” By learning to be happy with what we have and not constantly going after something newer and better, we can find more peace and joy in our life instead of feeling unsatisfied. Another side to Santosa is accepting what happens without being attached to the outcome. Things don’t always go the way we plan and that can be frustrating. Instead of allowing unwanted results to cloud our mind, we can learn from those situations and apply those lessons to our lives. In our yoga class, this can be applied in many ways. Some days our bodies can be more malleable than other days. The next time you are in class, begin to practice observing your body and if it isn’t  moving as well as you want it to, try practicing Santosa by finding contentment in whatever your body offers you in that moment without labeling it as good or bad.

Many of us love to grab tapas at our local restaurant, but Tapas, in yogic philosophy, is quite different. Tapas, the third niyama, is self-discipline and keeping the body physically fit. In order for our bodies to remain healthy as we age, it is imperative to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Through daily meditation, even just five minutes a day, our mind experiences more clarity. Taking time to practice pranayama (breathing techniques) every day stimulates a healthy respiratory system and central nervous system. A consistent asana practice creates strength and flexibility and aids in promoting healthy organs and provides detoxification of toxins and impurities. Desikachar says, “[Tapas] means to heat the body, and by doing so, to cleanse it. Behind the notion of tapas lies the idea that we can get rid of the rubbish in our body.” Years ago, many people would go to gurus when they were physically/mentally suffering. These gurus would help people transform their health through asana, pranayama, and meditation. The Yogic philosophy also talks about eating a vegetarian diet, and though that might not be your path, making mindful choices to eat clean by choosing to eat organically as much as possible is important. Maybe consider choosing a vegetarian dish a few times a week and skipping out on that chocolate filled desert every now and then.

Svadhyaya is self-study and the “repetition of mantras” which is the fourth niyama. No matter how well you know yourself, there can still be moments of going inward and honoring and observing your seat of consciousness. Yoga helps you disconnect from the world so that you can truly focus on what’s happening internally and observe without external distractions. This is a great time to do some “self-study”. Where can you release tension as you practice your asanas? Why does your breath catch in one asana and not another? Is your left side tighter than your right side? What thoughts keep coming up while you are practicing on your yoga mat? Study your body and your thought patterns. In your meditation, you can incorporate the practice of mantras, also known as Japa meditation. Your mantra does not have to be in Sanskrit but it should be unique to you and something that you want to live by. It can be many words, or it can just be one word. Practice your self-study and repeat your mantra so that it becomes a tool to help quiet the mind and find inner peace and stillness.

Isvarapranidhana, the last Niyama in the Yoga Sutras, is translated as “to lay all your actions at the feet of God” or more simply “surrender.” Practice letting go. Learning to surrender can be one of the hardest things to do. Some people think surrendering is a sign of weakness, but in reality, it is very powerful and requires vulnerability. Being humble and seeking refuge on and off your yoga mat will help you attain connection to the Divine.

Practice self-observation. Meditate on what your body, mind and soul need daily. Keep your living environment clean and purify your mind by associating with good energy. Be content with what has been given to you and avoid complaining about situations that don’t go your way. Find your daily routine and practice self-discipline. Listen to your body and study what it is telling you. Focus on a mantra that works for your practice. Learn to surrender. Work through the Niyamas within your life and within your yoga practice, and you will start to feel more joy and happiness in your life.

“Rid your body of its impurities, let your speech be true and sweet, feel friendship for the world, and with humility seek wealth and knowledge.”

–Sloka 26, T. Krishnamacharya

Namaste ~Diana La

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