In addition to the physical postures, yoga encompasses an expansive system of philosophy, meditation, breathwork, lifestyle, and behavior principles. The 8 limbs of yoga described in the sacred text of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are an example of the various disciplines involved in yoga. The second limb contains the niyamas: important practices of self-discipline, observance, and spirituality. These practices provide an ethical guide to living a moral code of conduct. The niyamas are important principles to not only enhance your yoga practice, but to also influence the way you take care of yourself and how you live day-to-day.
The 5 Niyamas in Yoga
What makes the niyamas particularly special is the multiple layers of meaning they each contain, allowing them to grow with you in your yoga practice. As you study the niyamas over time, you may discover new interpretations of them as you evolve and understand yourself in new ways. To help you begin your reflection of these principles as they relate to you, here are the five niyamas and why they are important in yoga and life.
Saucha is the principle of cleanliness, or purity. This idea can show up multiple ways in your yoga practice and life. Physical yoga postures, pranayama, and meditation are all intended to purify your body and mind. Saucha can also refer to the cleanliness of a physical space, the purity of the food you ingest, or the cleansing of bad habits that prevent you from reaching your full potential. Even the people you surround yourself with can influence the purity and cleanliness of your thoughts and attitudes.
Saucha is an important practice in that it helps you bring your best to any situation in life. As your body, mind, environment, and thoughts become pure, you can operate from a place of better energy, peace, and focus. In yoga, even the simplest act of keeping your mat clean and yoga props organized shows a deep respect for the practice and maintains a sacred space for it.
Santosha is the practice of contentment. This principle is a reminder not to covet or envy the possessions or achievements of others, and to practice gratitude for what already exists in your life at this moment. In your yoga practice, it’s a reminder to be accepting of how your body is currently able to perform a pose or how your mind might wander in meditation.
When you’re content with who you are and what you have through the practice of santosha, you can achieve true happiness. This principle can also help you overcome the trap of seeking perfection, allowing you to adapt to whatever comes your way — no matter how imperfect it is.
This practice emphasizes self-discipline. It means doing the things that you may not want to do but will help better yourself and reach your goals. Tapas also references an internal fire, or purifying through heat. This could refer to the sweat you experience while holding a challenging pose in a yoga class, or being able to withstand the heat of friction in the form of discomfort that comes with change.
The principle of tapas is an important way to develop the determination needed to face and overcome great challenges in life. Tapas teaches you to get comfortable with being uncomfortable in your personal growth journey.
Svadhyaya is the principle of self-study, or inner exploration. Through personal reflection and observation, you can identify the unconscious patterns that influence your experiences in life. The exploration of how you enter or leave a difficult pose in yoga, for example, can give you insight into the way you approach challenging situations in life. The practice of self-study can also refer to the study of sacred texts such as the The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali or the Bhagavad Gita. These texts allow you to see that your experiences are universal.
The greatest benefit and importance of practicing svadhyaya is getting to know yourself better. When you deeply understand yourself, you’re able to know what you need, what obstacles are likely to get in your way, and how to put yourself in a better position to succeed. As you observe and study your own habits, you can figure out ways to improve all areas of your life and learn from your mistakes along the way.
5. Ishvara Pranidhana
This practice of devotion, or surrender, can refer to either surrendering to a higher power or to your higher self. In yoga, you may see this in action when you surrender to a challenging pose or surrender to what your body needs on any given day. In daily life, it can appear as developing greater trust or cultivating a deep sense of authenticity within yourself.
Ishvara pranidhana is an important practice to help acknowledge the universal connection of all things. Through this realization, you can become more open and connected to something bigger than yourself. Additionally, as you practice the art of surrendering, you are better able to experience life as it comes without trying to control it.
Now that you understand the 5 niyamas, take note of how you may already be incorporating them into your life and practice without realizing it. With greater awareness, you can see your daily actions in a new way.
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