The Niyamas are rules for a yogi to apply to the way that they live. They are more of an internal way of applying discipline to consciousness, so they apply only to an individual. Niyamas are considered duties, or obligations to the practice of yoga. These are powerful ideas that allow for peace and the tranquility of the person and harmony with the environment. There are 5 restrictions, or rules from Patanjali: Saucha, purity of body; Santosa, contentment; Tapas or character building and non-attachment; Svadhyaya, self-study; and Isvara Pranidhana, surrender to god. These are building blocks for the yogi to build a life around and allow for the yogi to be at peace and harmony with all things.
There are many more Niyamas, meaning restraint, observance, restriction, or rule, that were passed down by other teachers of the Hindu religion, such as: Hri – remorse and modesty, Dana – giving without thought of reward, Astikya – faith in the path to enlightenment, Ishvarapujana – worship of the lord in daily meditation, Mai – cognition, Vrata – sacred vows, rules, and observances, Japas – recitation, chanting mantras daily. These are from other sources, but deserve recognition as they can also lead to happiness and good health. But for the remainder of this article, we will stick to Patanjali’s Niyamas.
Saucha means purity and is probably the most popular Niyama in today’s world. American has puritan roots which is why I believe that purity is something that American culture really struggles with. This is part of the reason that Asana is so important in our culture; purity of body is something that has been evasive for us. Pranayama is also very useful for this as it helps to cleanse the organs and bring newly oxygenated blood into the muscles. Svadhyaya, self-study, cleanses the impurities of the intellect; Bhakti, devotion, washes away shortcomings, failures, and impurities of the mind; and the Buddhi, cleansing of the intellect, will bring about an end to hatred, passion, anger, lust, greed, delusion, and pride. The final places of purity are within food, something that all people will have to find sources of clean, preferably organic, vegetarian food and within where you practice, to ensure that it is tranquil and pleasing and pest-free.
Santosa means contentment and is definitely something that has to be built and worked on. Depressed or anxious mind’s have difficulty concentrating and being peaceful. The yogi lacks nothing and this brings an unparalleled happiness into their life. When there is no external desire, the yogi becomes free to love every breath and second of life. The yogi realizes that he/she is blessed because during the course of life love and joy have made themselves available.
Tapas are austerities, or self-disciplines. This is known in the modern world as self-improvement and character building. Tapas means burning or consummation by heat so it is literally the burning of all distractions from realization of the divine. There are many Tapas: Brahmacharya and Ahisma are examples of Kayika tapas, or tapas of the body. These allow the yogi to become strong in body, mind, and character.
Svadhyaya means self-study or education and is education of the self. This truly allows for a deeper connection to the divine through knowing the subtleties of the intellect and of the ego, which will pull the yogi away from the ultimate goal. Studying divine literature and philosophy are extremely helpful to this. This will allow the devotee to solve difficult problems when they arise. Diversification of literature is also important and this helps us to learn that yoga is not a religion, but the science of religions, applicable to each one.
Isvara Pranidhana is dedication of one’s actions to the greater powers of this world. Faith in god will allow for despair to leave quietly and will restore vigor to the yogi and their practice. Addiction to pleasures destroys both power and glory because the senses will continue to run after the pleasures after they become attached. This is where true Bhakti begins, or dedication of intellect and will to the higher being. When the feelings of I or mine start to disappear, the soul has reached a stage of completed growth. An individual will glow brightest when their attention and actions are aimed towards god.
These five Niyamas from Patanjali will allow for the soul to shine brightly and the yoga practices to become integrated into everyday life for the yogi. This concludes the second limb of yoga, stay tuned for the third limb, the most physical of the eight, Asana.