We know yoga is nothing new–it’s been around for thousands of years. I guess it really does bring to life the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
So where did it come from? If you’ve been around the yoga block for a while, you’ve probably heard the name Pantanjali – the wise man who complied 195 guidelines, or sutras, that make up the widely accepted handbook of ancient and modern yoga.
The Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali outlines a framework for yoga practice made up of 8 different limbs. I like to think of it as a tree with 8 main branches extending from the trunk, and some of the branches have even smaller branches extending from them.
The second branch, or limb, of Pantanjali’s yoga framework is Niyama.
What Is Niyama?
Niyama means ‘rule’ or ‘laws’ and are suggestions Pantajali provides for internal awareness and observance. They’re suggestions on how we can relate to ourselves.
Five branches extend from the Niyama limb that Pantajali believes will create a healthy internal environment. Sometimes referred to as the “dos” the Niyamas add to the quality of your life. Pantanjali believes they will enable you to live your highest quality life and reach your potential.
So what are these lovely “do's” that pave the path to personal growth?
Here are the five niyamas:
- Sauca – purity, cleanliness of mind, speech and body
- Santosa – contentment, acceptance, optimism
- Tapas – persistence, perserverance, austerity
- Svādhyāya – self study, self-reflection
- Īśvarapraṇidhāna – contemplation of the Divine
How can you practice it?
1. Sauca, or purity, is two dimensional. The first dimension is outer cleanliness – you know taking your morning shower or washing your hands after you pop to the loo. For me, a great daily way to practice Sauca is to stay around the outer perimeter of the grocery store and fill my trolley up with the pure goodies. This brings me to the second dimension of sauca – inner cleanliness and internal purity of the mind.
So from clean eating to flushing your internal organs with water, think about creating a pure internal physical body. Crucial to this niyama is cleansing the mind of disturbing thoughts and emotions like hatred, passion, anger, lust, greed, delusion and pride.
The two dimensions of this niyama are interconnected – when your physical, outer world is unclean and cluttered, how can your internal body be healthy and the mind be clear and focused?
2. Santosa is learning to accept and be at peace with what you have. It’s about finding happiness, and contentment, even when things get tough – you know, making lemonade when you have lemons.
It’s not only about accepting and finding happiness with what you have, but it’s about accepting yourself as well as others. At the end of each day, write down three things you’re grateful for from your day. Actively practice finding contentment in what you have and you’ll find you don’t have room to think about what you don’t.
3. Tapas is the disciplined use of effort. For me, tapas is about focusing your efforts to achieve your goals. So if you’re trying to eat cleaner, you can practice tapas by being disciplined about taking your lunch to work, rather than buying from the fast food restaurant down stairs.
4. Svādhyāya means to intentionally turn inward and study yourself. We do this a lot in asana, but see if you can do it off the mat as well. The way you treat yourself today—the food you eat, the sleep you get, the thoughts you think, the spirit you devote—all of this affects the way you feel tomorrow.
5. Īśvarapraṇidhāna, the fifth niyama, urges you to to contemplate the Divine. To surrender to it. To make choices that are for the good of all that you are in contact with.
As you can see, these guidelines for internal awareness and development Pantanjali gives us are not just "high brow philosophy", but things you can actually practice off the mat.
We’d love to hear what you think! What are some of the ‘real life’ ways you practice Niyama off the mat?