Yoga Beyond the Mat:
Niyamas: 2nd Limb
The Niyamas are additional qualities which the Yogi could be wise to bring into their lives. In contrast to the Yamas which are more related to how the Yogi interacts in their environment and with others, the Niyamas are more related to how the Yogi manages themselves.
One could say that the Niyamas actually provide us with guidelines on how to bring Self-care in our lives. This ultimately allows us to connect to our true nature, this wise Self within.
The 5 Niyamas are: Saucha (cleanliness), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (self discipline), Svadhaya (Self study) and Ishvara Pranidhana (Devotion to the Divine). These are all the direct translations and as mentioned in the previous blog, it is important to remove the layers and go deeper into the true meaning.
Directly translated as purification or cleanliness. It does not mean that we are impure beings that need to cleansed of our sins, but it allows us to think more about what we put into our body and release out into the environment and question the purity of this. This Niyama is requesting that the Yogi check in with how consciously they are living their life. Are they conscious of the things they e.g. food, clothes, etc. Are they conscious of the type of food they eat? Do they ingest any toxins such as cigarettes, drugs and alcohol. Is this consumption harming other beings or animals? Patanjali is asking us to check in with this to identify if these habits are having an impact on our prana or energy flow. Do we feel better after exercising, limiting alcohol and eating a vegetarian diet? When our prana or energy is flowing and not stagnant, we see clearly and have the desire for evolution. We understand that our Yoga practice i.e. meditation, pranayama, asana etc contributes towards this evolution and that some of these substances limit that. Patanjali is asking us to query, is there a better way to live our lives without doing this? Patanjali is also asking the Yogi to explore what they put out into the world. Are you conscious about your waste and the environment? Are you joining in the collective movement to reduce waste and the use of fossil fuels?
Explore your life and identify if you can take on board some of Patanjali’s wise suggestions.
This idea of contentment is again simplistic and there is a much deeper meaning to this Niyama. Patanjali is requesting that we explore this idea of contentment, but not just being content with what you have, happy with your lot, but more about being contentment with what you have and don’t have. This quality of accepting the pleasure with the pain. Accepting the sadness with the joy. Understanding the dual nature of life and attempting not to attach to either side. When we meditate, we have the benefit of reaching a state where this can be achieved. We can learn this in our practice and this learning transmutes out into our daily lives without us even trying. It just happens. You start to become more balanced more equanimous. You can still be present and take pleasure from the ups and you are also less affected by the downs. You have the capacity to remain in a balanced state, despite the external circumstances. This is a work in progress but with deeper meditation practice it is possible to experience this.
Tapas is self-discipline. It is the courage and fiery passion within us that allows us to do what we need to do. It allows us to challenge our self beyond the mind. In terms of our Yoga practice, it may be dedicating yourself to a daily morning sadhana or practice. In other parts of your life it may well training for that marathon or doing that mountain climb that most often than not your mind has convinced you that you should not do. Tapas is also mixing up our habits, stepping outside our bubble. It maybe something simple as changing your morning routine or running route. It is adding that little bit of fire or zest into your life to keep you aware of the impermanence of life, that everything is always in this process of change and that nothing ever remains static.
Tapas can also be described as a process of purification when we are faced with challenges. It is the quality that allows us to cope with challenges and to see them as teachings and guidance towards our growth as individuals.
This is described as self-study and contemplation. The ability to see our true nature based on the our life experiences. Observing the challenges and the successes, the highs and the lows, our strengths and the weaknesses. Using our mistakes to learn lessons and grow towards our true nature. We can apply this through observation of our self and also through a dedicated practice of meditation.
Svadhaya is also achieved by studying the ancient texts, attending workshops and retreats. Dedicating oneself to the expansion of knowledge which leads to a greater insight into who we really are.
This can be described as celebrating and surrendering to the Divine. Firstly, it is the recognition that there is a higher power. This does not have to be our classic image of what God may be. For you it can manifest in any way which is relatable to you. The Divine in your life could be nature, the ocean, the trees. It could well be a figure of Relgion such as Buddha, Jesus or Allah or God’s and Godess of the Pagan traditions.
It is celebrating this divine in every moment of our lives. Observing the wonders of life. Observing how we can all exist simultaneously without doing anything. How our hearts beat and know how to keep beating. How animals exist in nature and know how to survive. How the seed just knows that it is a beach tree and not an oak. This is the magic of life and when we start to explore in more detail the wonder truly shines.
There is great power in surrendering to what is. To be non attached to the outcome of any experience. To let go. Surrendering gives us great freedom and strength. It does not mean that you are giving up on life. Actually, you are committing more. You give 100% percent in everything you do. You try and be the best version of yourself in every moment and simultaneously you are non resistant to what is. So if your life does not proceed in this linear fashion, as are conditioned to believe should happen, it is ok. We are comfortable with the bumps, with the uncertainty. We are comfortable with not being able to control everything. We surrender to this Divine power and know that every experience of your life has got you to the place you need to be at.
Check in Next month when we will explore the 3rd Limb of Yoga – Asana.