Yoga Break: The Niyamas

It’s Tuesday again, and you know what that means: Yoga Break! We are right back at it this week with a brief discussion of the second limb of yoga. Just as there are five Yamas (see last week’s post), there are also five Niyamas. While the Yamas deal more with the way we interact with others, the Niyamas have more to do with our treatment of ourselves. I tend to find the Niyamas a bit more personally challenging simply due to the complex relationship I think many of us have with ourselves.

I’m a Virgo and a Pitta (-Vata), and I like lists so let’s start with that:

  • Shaucha
  • Santosha
  • Tapas
  • Svadhyaya
  • Ishvara Pranidhana

Well, those look a little unnerving…

Just like we did with the Yamas, let’s unpack these one by one, starting with Shaucha. Shaucha (although it sounds like a woman’s name) is often translated as “purification” or “cleanliness”. Because the latter tends to sound purely physical, I think the practice of “purifying” oneself is more aptly translated as Shaucha involves not only physical cleanliness but emotional, mental, and spiritual purity as well. As we know, yoga is a spiritual (and also physical) discipline whose main goal is to lead us to a pure state of being. So, when pondering ways to put Shaucha into practice, consider both your physical purity (hygiene, diet, etc.) and your spiritual purity, which could include such things as where you spend your time, who you spend it with, and your inner dialogue.

Santosha means “contentment”, and that is the most common translation I have seen across the board. This one is tough. How on earth are we supposed to feel content in the times when it feels like the world is crashing down or we’ve been abandoned by people we love? It’s not easy (and I definitely don’t have this one all sorted at all), but if we can manage to approach each moment from the perspective of having enough, Santosha is much more easily grasped. Of course we aren’t going to be happy every second of every day – that’s not real life! And, what’s more, feigning happiness is not being true to ourselves. But Santosha…? Contentment? Acceptance? There’s the sweet spot.

I really wish I could tell you that Tapas is a yogic mandate to eat more Spanish appetizers, but alas, it actually refers to self-discipline. If you can eat only a few tapas and then cut yourself off gracefully, you would actually be practicing tapas! So there. Okay, in all seriousness though, tapas is a pretty damn important concept. When you exercise self-restraint and control in your life (be it with food, gossip, rolling out your mat to practice when you don’t feel like it, or resisting the urge to really unleash wrath upon your ex), you’re practicing tapas. The idea is that this restraint stokes an internal fire that can start to burn through some of our built up mental and physical impurities.

Svadhyaya is often translated as “self-study”. Sitting behind a pile of books in the library was the first thing I thought of when I learned about Svadhyaya (“Teach yourself French in 30 days!”), but no – this Niyama is about examining your inner workings, your lifestyle, and your truth. What I like about thinking of self-examination through a yogic lens is that the goal is not simply to find areas in which you are “lacking”. Equally important is uncovering who you are, what makes you tick, and what makes you feel truly alive. Get to know yourself and fall in love!

The last of the Niyamas, Ishvara Pranidhana, is quite interesting because it actually shifts the focus off of ourselves. This one is roughly translated to “surrender”, and depending on your religious beliefs (or lack thereof), this can vary quite a bit. Ishvara is about moving away from our selfish tendencies and surrendering ourselves to a higher power, whatever that may be for you. It could be G-d, it could be the Universe, or it could simply be acknowledging that we’re all connected and offering yourself for the care and keeping of others.

As always, I would love to answer any of your questions, and please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below! We grow by listening to each other, and everyone has a unique voice to add to our discussion.

Enjoy your week, and we’ll see each other right back here on Tuesday.



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