According to Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the eight limbs of yoga is essentially a path to liberation, Moksha. It is a way to liberate our minds, our restrictions, and our ego. Part one covered the first branch, the yamas. This second part will cover the second limb, the niyamas.
The yamas are five principles directed towards the outside world and our interaction with it. The niyamas are duties directed towards ourselves and our actions to the outside world. As we move through the first and second limbs of yoga, practicing and turning inwards, we are peeling off our outer layers to get closer to our core. As though we are peeling off the layers of an onion, these principles help us achieve freedom and get closer to our divine essence.
The niyamas have five principles:
Purification. This niyama encompasses all aspects of cleanliness. The physical, mental and emotional. Paying attention to a clean physical body is important. Paying attention to what you consume and how you treat it. As B.K.S. Iyengar wrote “The body is my temple, asanas are my prayers.” Treat your physical body as such by eating healthy foods and not consuming toxic substances. It can be as simple as doing a detox and even scrubbing the skin with a loofah or doing a body scrub.
Apart from the physical purification, we have the mental and emotional cleanse. Negative thoughts, when fuelled with emotion can be detrimental to your health. As the Buddha said “Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Negative feelings and emotions can destroy your physical body. Meditation and breathing techniques help with the purification of the mind, bringing awareness into your life. It is all about recognizing our thoughts and choosing different ones in its place.
Saucha is also about cleanliness in our environment. Whether it be, our house, our circle of friends or the outside world. Keeping things clean and in order in our surroundings reflects our inner world. Clean energy on the outside= clean energy on the inside.
Contentment. This niyama means to not mix pleasure with happiness. “Happiness is an inside job” stated by William Arthur Ward. It is about having gratitude for what you already have and not seeking for desires to fulfil you. Acceptance of what is, gratitude for the blessings in your life and letting go of things from the past, all help you to practice santosha. While this might be a long life process for some, it is also one of the most liberating ones.
Discipline. This niyama has a meaning of passion and heat. It means to put things into action. Practicing the yamas and niyamas involves tapas. It is the self-discipline of creating a better life for yourself. The discipline to choose love over negativity, to eat fruit over candy, to be in the present moment over dwelling in the past, are all examples. This is where it all beings, through tapas.
Self-study. This niyama incorporates us taking a deep dive within. To reflect and observe our actions, feelings and intentions. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali says “Study thy self, discover the divine.” The more we focus within and realize what we are not, the more closer we get to who we truly are. Awareness is the key component to this. Observing our thoughts and where they stem from, our feelings that are fuelled by thought, our actions and reactions to situations, etc. Our lives are made up of habits and knee jerk reactions. Svadhyaya is sitting back and noticing and questioning where this is coming from. Recognizing that the one that is viewing all this is your higher self, your inner being, not your mind or ego. So we are essentially yoking, which is the meaning of yoga, to the true self.
Surrender. This niyama means to surrender to divine, higher power. Dropping selfishness and surrendering to the divine can be tough. Look at the outside world and appreciate all that is. Recognize the blessings and the people around you. Once again gratitude. Taking the attention away from the “I,” the ego, and placing it on the universe, the divine, the life force within us and around us. Dropping the ego is not an easy thing, as we do need it, but not to let it run our lives. See how many times you say “I” the next time you talk to someone. Meditation and breathing techniques help bring us inwards away from the mind, as does active meditation. Being aware and in the present moment as you do things.
The yamas and niyamas are guidelines and principles to incorporate into your life. Taking it easy, perhaps one yama and niyama at a time might be more beneficial. As too much might be overwhelming. Sometimes even a good chuckle at your efforts and egoic behaviour is in order, as we are all human and it is trial and error most times.