The Yoga Sutras By Patanjali: The Niyamas

In this article I talked about the first limb of yoga: Yama. So, the next one is the Niyamas by Patanjali. If you missed the whole beginning of the eight limbs of yoga, then I’d advise you to check out this article to get you going.

As I explained before in the previous article, the Yamas are a guideline of how to live or behave in your life. The Niyamas are a bit likely to that, but they’re not just a guide to what to do, they’re also more of an inner guide. The five Yamas are a reflection to the outside world. Telling the truth, being kind, etc. While the Niyamas are more of an inner process. More explanation will follow while explaining the five Niyamas.

Niyamas

As I mentioned before, there are five Niyamas:

  1. Shaucha or Saucha
  2. Santosha
  3. Tapas
  4. Svadhyaya
  5. Ishvara Pranidhana

Niyama in Sanskrit means: positive duties or observances. So, Yamas are the activities that you do, the outer manifestation of what you are doing, how you represent yourself to others in order to reach contentment and happiness. The Niyamas have that same goal in mind (as the whole eight folded path of yoga does), but more through habits you have to achieve, so it’s more of an inner process where you won’t have a lot of feedback from your peers.

Let’s start off with the first one.

Shaucha or Saucha

The first one stands for cleanliness. If you take it quite narrow, then you can see it as keeping your body clean from all impurities. So in this way it would mean that you will develop some eating habits that are suitable for you. And I’m mentioning suitable for you here as everyone else has a different body and different needs.

In the yoga philosophy they all talk about being vegetarian, or even vegan, and although I see it as a good thing, I also recognize that there are some people that just need to eat meat. However, this is not an excuse to eat as much as meat as you want, it’s about being aware of what you put in your mouth.

Just to give a little example, I know a couple and they completely swear with eating raw food. The husband is completely healthy and thriving with his way of eating, while his wife is not looking that well to be honest. I hope they won’t read this blog post, but that’s just how it is. This is just to illustrate that you will have to look for that what fits with you, what your body needs and what actually feels good for you. It’s not always the best thing to follow something blindly just because there is someone saying that it’s the best thing on earth.

So to make a small summary: eating pure is not only about eating organically or raw, or whatever is trending at the moment. It is about eating to fuel your body.

With that said, enough about food. Another part of the cleanliness is about your surroundings. In High School I was always very messy and my desk was always cluttered with pencils and paper and books. That reflected to my state of mind as well, as it meant that my mind actually was cluttered (which was very true). One day my teacher told me that I really had to clean up my desk, even if it was just to get an overview. And from that day on that’s what I did.

This is only one example of course. But just think of this: if you come home and your dishes from last week are still standing on the sink, how does that make you feel? What do you think? You’re probably not going to look back to a meal that you’ve had and think: “Oh dear, that dinner last week was amazing!” No, you’ll probably wonder why on earth you haven’t done the dishes yet.

Santosha

Santosha stands for contentment. This one is a bit harder to explain as everyone will say that contentment has a different meaning to them. So I’m going to keep it short and say what contentment means in the yogic philosophy.

To begin to explain what it is, I’m going to start with what it isn’t. Contentment isn’t about what you’ve got and how happy you are with it. It’s to stop looking for happiness in outside stimuli. I know it might be great to be able to buy a new car for yourself and you will be happy with it. But that happiness isn’t very lasting as all material things will fade again.

Contentment is about accepting all the situations that are occurring in your life. How hard it might be, it’s about the happiness within you.

I know this is all a little vague, but there is nothing better than just feel happiness without thinking about anything or anyone else that is causing you something. It’s about not being bothered by those things anymore and to find a grip on your emotions that are always telling you how you should feel in certain circumstances.

Just to illustrate something. You can feel a little ill and you just had plans to go out with friends. You can curse yourself that you’re feeling sick now and that you have to stay home. Or you can look at it as an opportunity to sit on the sofa for the evening and just read a book.

Contentment is about your point of view of things and how you react to certain situations that are showing up in your life. And it’s actually your choice how you react to it. So think about it next time when something happens to you and try to practice Santosha ;).

Tapas

Tapas means discipline. It is often also translated as Fire, as Tap in Sanskrit is translated as fire. And I’m not talking about a fire as you know it. It’s about your inner fire, your inner drive. Discipline and fire are linked to each other and therefore both terms are correct to use when talking about Tapas.

The easy way to explain this is to talk about your yoga practice. You will read this a lot in all yoga books, but to have the full effect of yoga, you’ve got to have discipline. This doesn’t mean that you have to work your ass off every time you are on the mat. Not at all. It’s about maintaining a steady practice that suits you.

It’s about creating habits for yourself that are serving you. If you get a relaxed and calm feeling when you are doing yoga, why just do it once a month? It’s a bit like all habits, there are some good and there are some bad ones. You stick with the good ones that are keeping the fire burning, and you get rid of those who are extinguishing it.

Svadhyaya

Self study is the meaning of Svadhyaya. It’s about diving deeper into your thoughts and your patterns.

Svadhyaya is about getting to know yourself. These days we just do things without even thinking about why we are doing them. Within yoga svadhyaya begins with observing the breathing. It’s not for nothing that the focus is on this one. A lot of stress causes a superficial breathing and being aware of that, and even controlling it may relieve some your stress instantly.

Also reflecting on your thoughts is a good habit to be aware of. How many times a day do you think of yourself badly or do you judge someone else? And maybe you can find a different approach to those thoughts, turn them around into something better and/or nicer.

Isvara pranidhana

Surrender to what is. That’s what this niyama is about. It’s probably one of the toughest out there, but therefore also the most significant. It’s about letting go of what you can’t (or even can) control and just surrender to it. In a lot of religions this has been translated to give your life to god. And that’s mainly what this one is about as well.

It has a wider meaning though. Yoga isn’t about having some kind of faith, it is a holistic practice that can be done by believers of any religion or even those who don’t believe at all.

Surrender to what is, can mean a lot of things. It can go from looking at your thoughts and actually letting go of them if they don’t serve you at all. But it can also mean that you are lying in a field of grass, watching the birds and the bee and feel in complete harmony with them. Of course this last one also has something to do with your thoughts as you can also think: Damn, that bee is coming to close to me, it’s going to sting me, …

In the latter you have the choice to disconnect to your surroundings and only see the bad parts of being surrounded by nature, or you can just embrace that what you see and feel around you.

This is a bit on how to surrender to what is.

It’s also said that when you truly know what this means, that all the other niyamas fall into place. And it makes sense as all four of them are actually working their way up to this point.

Conclusion

This was a little bit about the niyamas. Next article will be about Asana. So stay tuned for another article soon! And if you have any questions or doubts about anything that I’ve written here, then feel free to put something down in the comment section below!

Nama-stay wonderful everyone!

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4 Comments

  1. SeunJeremiah

    This is very informative and I must say that this is an essential reading for anyone who wants to truly take the practice of yoga seriously. I find it to be fascinating and something that is giving me a foundational core for my practice, the energy of it is great, the descriptions and interpretations you have written about it is very meaningful. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Dane

    I didn’t geto to see the previous post, but my wife  is into yoga and i learn alot from her. So far from  what i have been reading about some part of yoga and my wife’s teachings, it appeal to me tjay yoga works on your mind alot and from this post, its gives you a sense do contentment and fulfilment. This is one great aspect of any mans life, becarif this is in place, the world woukd. Be a better play. Yoga to the world then.

    1. Virendra

      Hi Dane, good to hear from you again! It would be a better place if everyone would follow this philosophy yes, but these things aren’t new and they are imbedded in a lot of religions, so it’s basically up to us to follow the paintings and teachings of your religion or belief.

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