EXPLORING THE NIYAMAS, THE 2ND LIMB OF YOGA
We continue to explore the eight limbs of yoga, set forth by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras as the path to end suffering and achieve enlightenment. Patanjali tells us that by dedicated practice of the eight limbs of yoga, we can rid ourselves of impurities within, remove the causes of our troubles and radiate wisdom.
Last month we discussed the first limb of yoga, the five yamas or universal moral observances. Now we look at the second limb, the five niyamas or internal practices that appear in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Book II, 32-45. The prefix “ni” means internal, so while the yamas focus on five ways to achieve harmony with others, the niyamas guide you inside to focus on making yourself the best person you can be. The five niyama practices are: cleanliness (shaucha), contentment (santosha), discipline (tapas), self-study (svadhyaya), and surrender to God or a higher power (Ishvara- pranidhana).
Cleanliness/Shaucha: The first niyama, cleanliness, entails keeping a clean body, mind and spirit. It means that you are conscious of keeping clear in your thoughts, bodily intake and your environment. You are as pure as you can be and perform actions from that clarity with no attachment to agendas. Patanjali says that when you are fully grounded in the practice of cleanliness and purity, you attain the joyful awareness needed to realize the inner Self.
Contentment/Santosha: The sutras tell us to cultivate contentment by bringing satisfaction to whatever happens. Contentment is your responsibility. It’s not up your huband, wife, mother or boss, but it’s your job to keep yourself satisfied and cheerful. Find a way to accept the down side of the wheel and focus on the gifts life is bringing. Feel the feelings. Then let them go, and focus on gratitude. Accept that there is a Divine flow of life, and it doesn’t seem to always follow your plans. The sutras say that from the continued practice of contentment and benevolence of consciousness comes supreme happiness.
Discipline/Tapas: “Tapas” means “heat.” It is the burning away of whatever interferes with your goals. Speaking metaphorically, it’s the endurance to go through the “eye of the needle” to accomplish what needs to be done. You might think of “tapas” as doing what you need to do to make life work smoothly, or what you need to do to be successful in achieving your goals and ongoing well-being. Patanjali says that when you master tapas, your self-discipline will burn away all impurities and kindle sparks of Divinity.
Self-Study/Svadhyaya: “Sva” means “self” and “adhyaya” means “the study of.” It is a value of yoga to be a life-long learner who gathers with others to heighten consciousness. In addition to participating in enlightening events, self-study entails reading spiritual literature and engaging in prayer or mantra recitation. Life is an ongoing learning experience as you absorb this new knowledge and incorporate it into your self-perception and your world view. The sutras tell us that practicing self-study and engaging in consciousness raising activities leads to realization of God.
Surrender to God/Ishvara-Pranidhana: You do not have ta traditional belief in God to surrender your ego to the universal energy operating in the universe–whatever you choose to call it. The yoga sutras teach us that we are NOT in charge, and there is no such thing as control. The best thing you can do is know that, plant seeds, and trust in whatever comes to you without being attached to the outcome. What are you to surrender? All that you are being asked to give up is the lower ego-self that dwells on things myopically in terms of “me, my and mine.” The sutras say that when you are fully able to surrender your ego, you achieve perfect transcendence or Samadhi.
A good practice is to keep a yama/niyama journal on your night table, and take a moment now and then to jot down your reflections on how well you are living them and how you can live them more fully. Remember to practice ahimsa (unconditional loving kindness or non-harming) and always be gentle to yourself. Simply say “Good notice” if you see yourself not practicing them (no blame) and just shift to following the principle. It truly is as easy as noticing, letting it go, and shifting.
In our next newsletter, we will discuss the third limb of yoga, asanas or postures. Enjoy what you are noticing.
NOTE: For more information about the five yamas and the next limb, the five niyamas, see the YogaLife materials in our store.