Category: Eight Limbs of Yoga
Niyama is the second limb of Raja yoga (a.k.a. Ashtanga or classical yoga). It is a set of disciplines to be maintained by a yoga practitioner which include purity, contentment, austerity, study of spiritual scriptures, and self-surrender.
If the yamas (five abstentions) seem like moral imperatives taken from the stone tablets of Moses, then here’s more.
In the Hindu traditions, the niyamas are taken as rules of personal behavior. These qualities, however, do not emerge by cultivating self-righteousness, but they arise as a result of living a natural, balanced life. Like ideal ethical principles, the personal qualities that comprise the niyamas originate from your connection to your higher self.
Why Do We Need To Practice Niyama?
A good friend of mine, named Friedrich Nietzsche, once said: "In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations, and epochs it is the rule." It is true that there are moral principles we all must observe as soon as we get out there and leave cyberspace for a while, but the thing is, everyone you meet is different.
Many of the people we encounter in life adhere to a set of ideals and beliefs that may be entirely different from our own. There may even be times when, due to stroke of bad luck, we meet others who don’t adhere to anything at all. This is where the niyamas enter the picture for they help us understand where everyone is coming from so we can live peacefully with the people in our society and that of other cultures as well.
Niyama (The Five Observances)
1. Shaucha (Purity)
The first niyama called shaucha means "purity or cleanliness." This implies not only cleanliness of the body, but also cleanliness of the mind which require purity of thoughts and speech. You must understand that both your body and mind are influenced by the impressions of your environment. All the signals that pass through your senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell) essentially contribute to your physical and mental well-being. Shaucha instructs us to consciously select the impressions that are beneficial to our body, mind, and soul.
2. Santosha (Contentment)
The second niyama called santosha means "contentment." Contentment arises when you eliminate your attachment to the need for control, power, and approval. One thing that can help you a lot on this practice is by trying to expand your conceptual understanding of the nature of reality. Everything you see in this world is impermanent, i.e., all phenomena are subject to change. Due to this, none of the material and immaterial things that you possess will forever be yours. The key here is to be content with what you have and not becoming attached to them once they leave your side.
3. Tapas (Austerity)
The third niyama called tapas means "fire." In Raja yoga, it means “austerity” which includes the power to stand thirst and hunger, cold and heat, discomforts of place and postures, silent meditation, and ritual fasts. Because of the luxury, comfort, and advantages provided to us by modern society, the mind of the ordinary person has become soft and weak. To strengthen ourselves physically and mentally, we are advised by the ancient masters to practice austerities.
4. Swadhyaya (Self-study or Study of Scriptures)
The fourth niyama called swadhyaya is derived from sva (soul) and adhyaya (culture or study) which means “self-study.” This involves the practice of acquiring the ability to see our true divine nature through the contemplation of our life’s lessons and through the meditation on the truths revealed by the great saints and sages, not just in Hinduism, but in all belief systems. However, you must not confuse information with wisdom. Self-study helps you understand the difference.
5. Ishvarapranidhana (Self-Surrender)
The fifth niyama called ishvarapranidhana is derived from ishvara (divine ideal of pure awareness) and pranidhana (surrender, dedication). Ishvarapranidhana therefore translates as “surrender to the divine ideal or the higher self.” It is the dedication of all our actions, speech, thoughts, and desires to a higher power. Christians refer to this higher power as God, and others have their own concept of a higher power. Regardless of the culture in which you belong, as long as you recognize that there is a higher force operating in the Universe which is really the source of everything, and you surrender yourself to that (not blindly), then you will always be in good hands.