Have you heard of the term Niyama in the context of Yoga? If you’re an Indian, you probably have come across this word and are familiar with it – in many Indian languages, Niyam(a) means rule. What does it mean in Yoga, though? Does it retain the same meaning? Let’s discuss!
What is Niyama?
In Classical Ashtānga Yoga (What is that, you wonder? Find out here), the eight-fold path enumerated by Sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutra, Niyama is the second of the eight steps. The first step is Yama, which I spoke about in an earlier article (read it here).
Often, when Sanskrit words are translated into English, the meaning may not be adequately and effectively conveyed. Roughly translated, Yama are restraints, while Niyama are the observances or things that we should do.
What do we mean by observances in this context? Niyama states the things we should be doing for ourselves to be healthier, happier people and progress on our spiritual journeys. It gives us tools to connect better with ourselves and become better versions of who we are.
There are five Niyama given by Sage Patanjali:
- Saucha or cleanliness and hygiene
- Santōsha or contentment
- Tapah or perseverance
- Swādhyāya or self-study
- Īshwara Pranidhāna or surrender to a higher energy
Each of these apply at the level of actions, words, and thoughts. What does this mean in a practical sense? Let’s take the example of Saucha. We all follow some cleanliness routine daily – brushing teeth, taking a shower, wearing clean clothing, cleaning the place we live in, and so on. But along with this, it is important that we speak clean as well – avoiding gossip, abusive language, rudeness, and such. We also need to avoid these things in our thoughts, by not thinking bad about others and avoiding negative self-dialogue, among other things.
In my experience of applying these Yogic techniques to life, I found it impossible to practise the other steps of Ashtanga Yoga without incorporating these principles at least to some extent into everyday life.
Let’s apply these principles to Āsana practice as well.
- Saucha – clean clothes, clean mat, clean surroundings, clean airway before practice
- Santōsha – being content with where we are in our āsana practice while striving to be better
- Tapah – practising regularly and working on techniques even when they aren’t easy initially
- Swādhyāya – understanding the body’s strengths and weaknesses through practice
- Īshwara Pranidhāna – surrendering all effort success, and failure to a higher energy and holding on to humility in practice
Niyama is important to keep our practice authentic, real, and sustainable. Social media can lead us astray in our practice, push us to contort ourselves in ways that might be harmful and lead us away from ourselves instead of closer to the real self.
These observances keep us grounded, humble, and open to learning no matter how long we’ve been in this world. It also reminds us to cut ourselves some slack and be happy with ourselves.
What are your thoughts on these concepts? Leave a comment or message me and share your thoughts!