What Is Niyama: 2nd Limb of Yoga

Maharishi Patanjali defined a step-by-step guide of 8 limbs to achieve a state of samadhi, where one can feel the union of body, mind & soul in a single entity. Niyama, a set of 5 rules, is second in these 8 limbs.

Here is the description of 5 niyama along with tips that lead you to the path of enlightenment through yoga.

What is Niyama?

Niyama is a Sanskrit term for ‘Rule’, the rules of developing positive conduct in a yoga practitioner by means of different observances.

Why Patanjali places niyama in the so beginning, even before ‘asana‘ & ‘pranayama’, of 8 limbs yoga is because practicing it cultivates a positive environment in a person’s mind. This positive attitude is necessary to resist any obstacles that come in a way to 8 limbs of yoga. In nutshell,

Practising Niyams is like getting the oars ready before venturing into deep and turbulent waters of spiritual sadhana(Practice).

The objective of the Niyams is to maintain a balance within and to cleanse the inner environment of body, mind, and spirit so that the ultimate nature of mind and body can be realized.

Niyamas differs from 5 Yamas (first limb) in terms of:

  • 5 Yamas decides how to act with others (social ethics), while 5 Niyamas is about acting with yourself (Personal ethics)
  • Yama is the list of “don’ts” activities while Niyama is “dos”

Without practicing the first limb, the second limb can’t be practiced. Together, Yama & Niyama are called the backbones of yoga.

5 Niyamas

5 niyama - saucha, santosha, taps, swadhyaya and ishwara pranidhan

5 Niyamas the fundamental practices that make you ready before going for the spiritual voyage. This list of 5 niyamas is helpful in developing personal ethics in you.

  1. Saucha – Purity of body and mind
  2. Santosha – Contentment or Inner happiness
  3. Tapas – Removal of impurities
  4. Swadhyaya – Study of the self
  5. Ishwar Pranidhan – Surrender to God

Let’s understand each of these 5 niyamas in detail.

1. Saucha (Purity)

Saucha means cleanliness or holistic purity of both body and mind. It is considered to be the most important factor for maintaining health, happiness and general well-being.

The bodily purity can be achieved through daily ablutions, while inner or mental purity can be achieved by the conscious practice of Asana (physical postures), Pranayama (Breathing exercises), and Dhyana (Meditation). Along with daily ablutions to cleanse one’s body, the concept of Shaucha also suggests clean surrounding. Saucha also includes purity of thoughts and speech.

Let’s learn how to make the mind pure and clean.

How to make MIND Pure:

The impurities of the MIND are cleansed through the process of self-examination or knowledge of self (Adhyatma-Vidya). Knowledge of self can be gained by being mindful of thoughts, state of mind whether balanced or not & reasons behind each action.

Being mindful or meditative is like building muscle which can be developed with time by regular practice of physical postures, breathing exercises and meditation.

Some practical ways to make intellect and mind pure:

  1. Eating pure and fresh food makes us feel energetic and focused all the time. Food which is too spicy, salty, oily, dry disturbs the focussed mind and makes it dull.
  2. Doing an act of kindness every day makes us feel good and breaks the limitation of an individual by connecting him or her deeply with others.
  3. Speaking politely with people makes the mind feel relaxed and calm.
  4. We should keep busy with useful work. An empty mind is devil’s workshop.
  5. Continuous learning is a key that is why sage Patanjali talks about Swadhaya (Self-study) in one of the Niyams which includes studying reading books and oneself.
  6. Worshiping the qualities of the God you believe in and practising moral values every day make you stand out in society.

Maharshi Patanjali has described the end result of practising Saucha in these words:

Through cleanliness and purity of body and mind comes a purification of the essence, a goodness(energetic) and gladness(peaceful) of feeling, a sense of focus with intentness, the mastery and union of the senses(the self-realized state), and a fitness, preparation and capability for self-realization.”
~ Patanjali, Yogasutras 2.41

2. Santosha (Contentment)

Santosha is an act of being happy with whatever you have & it’s interpreted as the greatest happiness, the primary joy which can be never be shaken by the toughness of life.

The attitude of being content is going to bring a lot of happiness and stability to face any hardship in life. How?

When you are satisfied with whatever you have, you will think of the next desire or endeavor from the perspective that it will make you feel complete. And then the action that you will take to achieve anything more in your life will not be from the center of lack, but it would be from the center of completeness.

The second niyama, Santosha is considered to be a long tread of the staircase to self-realization but most people ignore it and try to jump over it to the next tread. Until peace comes from satisfaction is not realized, one can’t feel the peace comes from meditation.

Saucha makes us ready to do things, Santosh is an art of figuring out what we have and what we actually want to achieve.

In other words, Santosha is practicing to feel gratification and thankfulness of what we already have. You might confuse, What actually it means from practicing ‘Santosha’, right?

Practice of Santosha

The moment we realize that we are breathing, and have eyes to see, nose to smell, skin to feel, tongue to taste and life to experience, we automatically feel peaceful and contented, but there is always a room for improvement.

Human beings can truly be satisfied by fulfilling all the elements of life. Maslow’s needs hierarchy has given the world the elements of life that have to be fulfilled if a person really wants to be happy and peaceful.

Here is the mountain we need to climb on:

Santosha niyama through maslows hierarchy of needs

When we observe the continuous efforts of all the people in their day-to-day lives and think of the purpose behind it, we realize that all these efforts are to gain satisfaction and peace. We try to derive the contentment from outside things and nothing is wrong with acquiring materials as long as somebody is not harmed by your actions or your desire to acquire things are not influenced by greed and jealousy. The desire to get something should come out of your needs not by greed.

Patanjali in sutra 2.42 said about (Santosha) contentment:

One who constantly learns to be contented, all his excessive or superfluous thirst gets weakened and the sattva (purity) is heightened. Such a person experiences the maximum happiness and feels the pleasures from heavens.

“The interesting part is that we are running all day to get the things we want but we are not doing things with a peaceful and a clear mind. The state where we are conscious, clear and deeply satisfied while doing action is called a state of self-realization.”

How to achieve contentment

Contentment can only be achieved if there is less disturbance or clarity of thoughts. The less disturbed state of mind is the ultimate goal of Yoga that is why the elimination of mental modifications or vrittis is yoga.

The state of focussed mind can be achieved through the continuous and conscious practice of physical postures, breathing practices and meditation.

Yoga practice doesn’t end in an hour, it has to be practiced out of your mat. The way you sit, the way you work, the way you keyboard, the way you walk, when every action is done with full involvement that is yoga.

Nothing comes easy not even the contentment, it needs to be acquired through constant practise. That is why TAPA i.e., Perseverance is the next Niyam.

3. TAPA (Austerity)

Tapa means to bear some trouble with an intention to grow personally. Even if there is some physical or mental trouble, one should continue doing that. This is known as Tapa.

While understanding Yogic theory and practicing some yogic asanas or while doing your job, there may be some physical trouble. One should conscious of it and try to look at the hardships from a positive perspective. It’s the practice of tapa. Tapa is also known as perseverance. Perseverance is the only key to success.

Every work has got to pass through thousands of difficulties before succeeding. Those who know practicing perseverance shall see the light later or sooner.

Here, one needs to understand that Tapa doesn’t have to mean being serious, this fieriness is something that gets our heart pumping, hope awakened, and heightens our desire for personal growth.

4. Swadhyaya (Devotion)

Swadhyaya means self-inquiry & it is the most important technique to be a self-realized being.

It involves being aware of what the mind is thinking, what body is feeling, what emotions a person is experiencing.

Most of the people are not aware of how there body is feeling after having a particular meal. Once a person becomes aware of how he feels after eating a meal or dish, a person can change the habits if he doesn’t feel good after eating a particular dish. It invariably starts after getting the awareness of what is happening in body and mind. And if a person becomes aware of all the thoughts in the mind and the “actions”, he will definitely introspect and gain self-knowledge.

The western intellectuals researched and understood the outer world that is why they were able to create bulbs, cars, computers, machines, etc., but the Indian intellectuals i.e the rishis and yogis understood the inner world of thoughts, emotions and feelings that is why they were able to become self-realized.

Sage Patanjali himself used this Niyam to understand the vrittis, kleshas and the ultimate state of peaceful mind.

The word spirituality means “inner” in English and “adhyaatmik” in sanskrit which means awareness of body and mind. So, the regular practice of yoga asanas makes us aware of each part of the body and pranayama makes us aware of the breath, and meditation helps us to be aware of our thoughts.

It’s all about how much you know yourself that is why Lao Tzu said:

One who knows others is wise and one who knows himself is self-realized.

5. Ishwara Pranidhan (Devotion)

The last niyama, Ishwara Pranidhan is the practice of surrendering or devoting the fruits of action to the higher self or for the higher purpose. This attitude of surrendering let not introduce the ego of ‘I-am-ness’ in you and your work would automatically become part of karma yoga.

Patanjali defines Ishwara as a ‘purusa vishesha’, a special kind of Purusha (pure consciousness) – one who was never embodied, is not embodied, and who will never be embodied.

The whole practice of yoga is centered around the fact “consciousness among all has one main source”. Through Ishwara pranidhan we actually realize this fact when letting our awareness flow from thoughts to thoughts in mindfulness.

The practice of Ishwara pranidhan also can be a solution for all your sufferings.

Maharshi Patanjali considered OM (AUM) as the solution to all the sufferings of a human being. All the rishi have experienced the supreme strength just by chanting the syllable AUM.

Chanting AUM is the easiest tool to make the mind focussed and body agile. You can chant it while driving, while sitting, while traveling, while walking, while working. You can try it yourself.

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