What Is A Yogi? (And How Do I Become One)- Part Three: Niyamas

The second limb of yoga is Niyama. Niyamas are rules of conduct as they apply to the individual. So, unlike the yamas which focus on your relationship with the people around you, the niyamas focus on your relationship with yourself.

The five niyamas are:

1. Saucha (purity)
2. Santosa (contentment)
3. Tapas (ardor/austerity)
4. Svadhyaya (study of the self)
5. Isvara Pranidhana (dedication to the Lord)

Let’s jump right in!

1. Saucha translates to purity. It is said that purity of the body, mind, and intellect is essential for our well-being. For the physical body, this means that we need to not only cleanse ourselves literally and engage in good hygiene, but we also need to remain physically active. Our asanas (yoga postures) can be a great way to keep our bodies pure. Another way is through the food we eat. We should not eat too much or too little food, and we should choose foods that are simple and nourishing that soothe our bodies. According to B.K.S. Iyengar (Light on Yoga), we eat in order to promote health, strength, energy, and life, and our food choices should reflect this. When it comes to purity of the mind and intellect, we can use the asanas, pranayama (breath work), and meditation. These can be used to cleanse our insides and can bring benevolence and banish pain, sorrow, and despair, resulting in the ability for us to see the good in others rather than their faults. When we respect our body by keeping it pure on the inside as well as the outside, it also allows us to see the good in ourselves.

2. Santosa translates to contentment. Iyengar says “a mind that is not content cannot concentrate.” (Light on Yoga) A yogi should not desire for anything and should be content with what they already have, so that they can focus on the task at hand: achieving inner peace and happiness. Just like anything else, contentment is a state of mind, so we can work towards feeling content no matter where we are in our lives and no matter how much we have. Yogis should feel the lack of nothing, because everything they already have is everything they need. I like to think of it on a moment to moment basis. Think about it. Right now, in this exact moment, do you have everything it is you need to go on living your life? Not in a few hours, not tomorrow, not next week or next year. Now. Right this moment. Do you have everything you need? You are alive. You are here. Be content. Because this moment that we are experiencing right now is all we will ever have, and you already possess everything you need.

3. Tapas translates to ardor and austerity. A burning desire and determination to achieve your goals in life no matter what. This requires self-discipline and is meant to build character and make the yogi strong and hard-working. However, we should be chasing these goals not for a selfish motive or in hopes of gaining some reward. Instead, we should hope to make the world a better place by living out our purpose for being here. There are three types of tapas: Kayika (body), Vachika (speech), and Manasika (mind). Tapas of the body include continence (brahmacharya) and non-violence (ahimsa). Tapas of the speech include using non-offensive words, being truthful (satya), and not speaking ill (gossiping) about others. Finally, tapas of the mind include remaining tranquil, not getting caught up on either joy or sorrow but balancing the two, and practicing self-control. Our goal in practicing tapas of the mind, speech, and body is to gain courage, wisdom, integrity, straightforwardness, and simplicity in our lives. It’s all about learning and practicing discipline.

4. Svadhyaya translates to study of the self. Iyengar talks about how education is the “drawing out of the best that is within a person.” (Light on Yoga) He goes on to discuss how different self-study is from other study because the teacher and the student, in this case, are one in the same. This makes it so much more complex, because as the student studies the book of her own life, she is simultaneously writing and revising it. So, there is a beginning, but there is no end. And the knowledge one gains from this study of the self is so much more important than any other type of study, because what you uncover here becomes a part of you and who you are, and can result in a change of your entire outlook on life. One realization that often comes out of this type of study is the idea that the energy that moves inside of you is the same energy that moves the entire universe, which could cause a shift in your behavior toward other people and the world. Also, study of the self can help the yogi understand how to deal with difficult life situations whenever they arise.

5. Isvara Pranidhana translates as dedication to the Lord. Yoga is not a religion itself, but it is sort of a science of religion, because an individual will be better able to understand her own religion and her faith, whatever that may be, by the study of yoga and all of its limbs. Just to clarify, the “Lord” here can be whatever higher power you believe in, and if you don’t believe in any higher power, then “Lord” here will translate to “the greater good.” You don’t need to be religious or have any type of faith to practice yoga. Everyone is welcome. Basically, when someone can no longer rely solely on her own resources, she often turns to the Lord (or the universe) for help. She gives up all of her external attachments and becomes dedicated to the Lord or the higher good of humanity. This niyama is often a destination point for yogis, and their hope is to reach a state of dedication where there is no longer the concept of “I” or “mine.” When a yogi reaches this stage, she is said to have reached full growth.

Think of the niyamas as a personal reminder to treat yourself with love and respect. 1. Be pure in your body and mind. Stay active, move your body, and use your breath to cleanse away any dirty energy you have stored in your body. Eat foods that nourish you and make you feel good from the inside out. 2. Learn to be content with what you have. Stop looking for more. You already have everything you need, and the universe already has a plan to give you more as needed. Trust in that. 3. Don’t let your inner fire ever burn out. Keep that burning desire to become everything you’ve ever dreamed of becoming. Develop self-discipline and work hard to reach your goals. 4. Spend some time studying yourself and using your study to change your mindset and become the best version of you there is. And 5. When you get to the point of a certain enlightenment, you will no longer live within the confines of your ego, and you will give yourself up to a higher good. This is a destination point, but just like everything else, yoga is about the journey, not the destination. In conclusion, together the yamas and niyamas help us to become better people. They keep us in harmony with the rest of the world, and they keep us in harmony with ourselves.

Stay tuned for the next post on the third limb of yoga, asana. Also, if you have ANY questions at all, please email me at nicol.eliz.yoga@gmail.com. I’d love to hear from you!

Note: my study of this limb of yoga came from Light on Yoga and The Tree of Yoga, both by B.K.S. Iyengar.

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