The Niyamas: The Second Limb of Yoga

Continuing our journey through the Eight Limbs of Yoga into the Niyamas. You can think of the Niyamas as the practices around the self.


Yamas are concerned with the outside world and how we interact with it, and Niyamas can be thought of as our inside world and how we interact with our inner selfs.


The Niyamas are quite nuanced. Each person's practice and experience is multifaceted, and there are many different ways to practice each of these Niyamas. This is because we are working with our own internal worlds and each person's inner world and experience is different.


There are 5 Niyamas:


Saucha (cleanliness)

Santosha (contentment)

Tapas (discipline)

Svadhyaya (self study)

Isvara Pranidhana (surrender)


Saucha


Sanskrit often has literal and metaphorical translations, and Saucha is a really good example of this. It's pretty self explanatory that cleanliness is important as a human to keep healthy and well.


Cleanliness also has a bit of a ritualised element and many yoga practitioners use cleanliness and bathing as part of their pre and post practice ritual. Personally, I clean my hands before and after teaching, I shower after teaching a class (if I have time) and put clean clothes on before I teach each and every class, never teaching in the same clothes all day.

Sascha also refers to cleanliness of mind - noticing habits or things in your life that don't serve you, the things that don't make you feel great and making moves to remove those things, and lessen their impact.


Santosha


This is probably my favourite part of yoga philosophy and the lesson that has helped me tremendously - and that is through contentment, we can find happiness.


It's about choosing to be content with where we are right now, letting go of the striving and the "I'll be happy when I get a new car/bigger house/promotion..."


Santosha and cultivating contentment is all about choosing to be okay with where we are right now, letting go of control and finding the joy in the here and now.


Tapas


The direct translation of Tapas is heat. Again, because this is Sanskrit, it is multifaceted and in reality it is about the fire that stokes our souls - the thing that gets us going and our inner determination or discipline.


It might be the fire to get up and learn something new, your work, a hobby. For me, I'd say this boils down to your deepest purpose - the thing we sometimes ignore for various reasons.


Svadhyaya


Svadhyaya is all about self study and this looks different for every person. A big part of my own practice is Svadhyaya - and that is learning new skills and learning about myself through that, how I learn, my mindset.


For a lot of people our Asana (physical practice) is a big place for the practice of Svadhyaya. That observance of our experience in shapes, how we respond to discomfort, tuning in and adapting poses based on how we feel is a practical application of this Niyama.


Isvara Pranidhana


This is a tricky one for every yoga student to get to grips with and this is all about surrender. It's often translated as a surrender to a higher power or a God, but personally this doesn't resonate with me and it might not for you either (maybe it does and that's cool too).


It's essentially about letting go of our expectations and letting things be as they are. Personally, I find that if I push and try and force things in work as well as in life, they push back. But, if I take a bit of a step back and get comfortable with all of the possible outcomes and surrender, everything usually works itself out - plus, it's less stressful for me too!



Now, I'm not saying that any of us are perfect or we'll grasp these concepts immediately. Some of these things are themes I thread into my classes - this idea of meeting ourselves where we are and not stressing if we don't get a pose (Isvara Pranidhana, Svadhyaya), being willing to give things a go (Tapas), meeting yourself where you are (Santosha). As always, there's lots going on beyond the shapes!


Next up, we're going to cover Asana and Pranayama - probably the two most recognisable elements of any yoga practice.

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