Following on from the first in this series: The Eight Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga Series: The Yamas, we have an exploration in to the Niyamas: Observances.
If the first limb, the Yamas, is about how you treat those around you, the Niyamas are how you treat yourself. This is so beautiful! I love this idea! This says to me that the path of Ashtanga Yoga starts with being a good person to those around you, and then when you’ve nailed that, turning that goodness in and being really good to yourself. It’s so simple, but so amazing! To me, these two steps – these two limbs – are life changing stuff.
Let’s have a look at my take on the second limb of the Eight Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga, the five Niyamas:
Saucha – purity, inside and out
The ‘inside and out’ part of Saucha is SO important; it refers to purity, of the mind, the body and of surroundings. Practicing yoga and meditation helps with the ‘inside’ bits – cleansing the body and the mind, releasing tension, helping to remove toxins, calming the monkey mind, and more.
Have you ever been craving pie, or pizza, or something similar, so you promise yourself a big fat dinner after yoga? But then you go to yoga, and after class you really just genuinely want a salad? You could say that this is the process of purification in action! The body and mind feel purified and they want to keep this going, so they change your thoughts and actions a little to stay that little bit more pure.
In terms of ‘outside’; Saucha advises us to purify – to clean and tidy – our surroundings. An untidy or dirty room can distract us from our practice of yoga and meditation, potentially lessening the impact (and potentially increasing the toxins we take into our bodies, but that’s a whole other blog post topic right there).
Ultimately, Saucha is about purifying the house your soul lives in: your body and your surroundings. Food for thought hey?! I’ll leave it with you…
Santosha – contentment
Contentment: Being content with your lot, as it is, right now. In ‘An Attitude of Gratitude’ we talked about how easy it is to think “I’ll be happy when x or y”. “I’ll be happy when I get a promotion / get a new car / fit into my old jeans etc”. But why wait? What can you be content with, right now? This Niyama is so important! How much of life passes by while we’re waiting for x or y or z?
On the 300 hour teacher training in Goa, top yoga Guru Sudhir mentioned Santosha’s direct translation is ‘Cheerfulness’. Isn’t that great! Think about being cheerful with your lot: your health, your life, your friends etc etc. Cheerfulness, contentment and gratitude are all huge steps to happiness, and they’re seriously contagious.
Putting it into practice: Today, notice what you think and say, and just be aware of how much of it is about wishing for more. Just be aware of it, you might be surprised!
Tapas – discipline
Tapas is having the discipline, the wherewithal, foresight and patience to work towards something without becoming attached to the goal. Having the motivation to get up and practice yoga, to meditate, to better ourselves, without e.g. being determined to do the splits before the end of the year, say. (See contentment above!)
Bit of a curve ball for you: The principle of of the Niyama ‘Tapas’ inspired the name ‘Yoga Hero’, so it’s very close to my heart! I think having the discipline to get off the sofa, or to avoid the pub and to instead roll out your mat, or come to class, or take a seated pose of meditation is a heroic act. You are a Yoga Hero! And I really think this discipline can then translate in to all areas of life; improving patience, staying power, willpower and so much more.
Tapas also translates as fire, or heat, or burning, and actually the two translations of fire and discipline go incredibly well together. Think of it like this: getting onto your yoga mat, doing some sun salutations to warm up, the discipline of this action, and the actual physical heat generated by your movements and your Ujjayi breath then fuels more yoga, or some meditation, or a desire to eat healthily etc etc. The heat from the Tapas burns off distractions, temptations and anything else that may stray us from our path.
Svadyaya – self-study
The process of observing and studying the self, building up and adding to a body of knowledge via yoga, meditation, mantra, mudra, mindfulness, books, classes, workshops, peacefulness and so on.
What is the self? First read this: Yoga Immersion 101
Svadyaya, to me, is an important Niyama that reminds us that we are a tiddy, tiny, little piece in a massive universe, and just a few decades of many millions of years. As soon as we think we’re the centre of the universe, Svadyaya just comes in and shows you all the things you don’t know, and may never know, but can work to start to learn. To me, Svadyaya is the bigger picture; keeping you on track – learning, with a beginners’ mind, always interested, but all the while, humble.
Ishvara Pranidhana – Surrender
In the learning I’ve done over my yoga years, Ishvara Pranidhana has almost always been in reference to surrendering to a Higher power, be that a God, fate, Karma…
This Niyama, to me, builds on Svadyaya. It is about continuing to remind us of the bigger picture. A reminder that it’s out of your hands. It’s having trust in the path, belief in the system, not fighting with life. To me, the principle is ‘believe in whatever you want as long as it’s bigger than you, and it’ll always serve as a reminder that all is well, all is transient.Let go. Go with the flow. Be peaceful.’
Written by Holly
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