In my previous blog, I discussed the first of the Eight Limbs of Yoga. In this blog, we are moving to the second limb, the Niyamas. The first limb, the Yamas, referred to the social ethics we, as yogis, aspire to follow. The Niyamas refer to the personal ethics we aspire to. Briefly, the Niyamas are personal conduct, diet and lifestyle. But, like the Yamas, there are five distinct guidelines.
The first niyama is Sauca. Sauca refers to cleanliness. Patangali, like John Wesley, felt that cleanliness is next to godliness. Our body is obviously where we start with cleanliness. We learn from infancy that to be healthy the body must be kept clean. Sauca also means cleanliness within, of the heart and mind. What you put into your heart or mind determines their health. Lastly, keeping your environment clutter free and clean can also be practicing Sauca. When we are in the middle of a creative spurt or a busy time, our environment can get messy. But doesn’t your mind become calmer once you are able to put the clutter away? That is Sauca.
Niyama number two is Santosha. Santosha means contentment. How does one find contentment? By having gratitude for what we have. When my kids were little, they liked to watch VeggieTales. One of the songs from Madame Blueberry has stuck with me since then. The lines “A happy heart is a grateful heart. Be glad for what you have that’s an easy way to start” have been with me. I sing them to myself when I start feeling jealous of what other people have or accomplish. Also, don’t compare yourself to people on Facebook or Instagram. I know I do not post any unflattering pictures or status updates. I’m sure no one else does as well.
Tapas is the next Niyama. It refers to practice causing change, aka self-improvement. The word Tapas derives from tap, which is heat. When we try to make positive changes in our body, mind or even habits, it is not easy. Performing yoga asanas is a perfect example. Sometimes in class we get hot and tired. We keep on going since we know it is good for us. Bad habits are something else entirely. We all know just how hard a habit is to break. The effort making these improvements is Tapas.
The fourth Niyama is Svadhyaya. Svadhyaya is self-study. How do we know what we need to change about ourselves? We must honestly look at ourselves, our motivations and desires. This is not all inward thoughts. We need to open our minds and read about self-improvement. Maybe even reading sacred texts. Then apply what is read to find our strengths and weaknesses. When we find an area that could use improvement, we go back to Tapas.
The final Niyama is Ishvara Pranidhana. Ishvara Pranidhana is devotion to God. It is also translated as surrender to a supreme being. In my life, this is where Christianity intersects yoga. My relationship with God is important to me. I humbly follow Him and devote myself to studying His word and trying to become more Christlike in my life. I thank Him that He has given me this career and I know that this is where I should be at this time.
That is it for the Niyamas. Next blog that I write will go over the two limbs that most people associate with yoga, the postures and breathing.