As the name suggests, Niyama means rules. These are 5 Do’s described by Patanjali to be followed by any practitioner of yoga. They are: Shaucha, Santosha, Tapa, Swadhyaya and Ishwara Pranidhana.
Shaucha (Cleanliness): Cleanliness is next to godliness they say. This doctrine of Indian culture is not to be practiced just for the sake of cleanliness, but with the purpose of advancing spiritually as well. Keeping one’s body and surroundings clean not only keeps diseases at bay, but also infuses positivity, energy and happiness in life. Pro tip: if you are feeling restless or agitated at any time, try cleaning & de-cluttering your home. It will leave you with a sense of accomplishment, satisfaction and overall joy.
Santosha (Contentment): Patanjali’s inclusion of Santhosha in the list of Do’s suggests that, satisfaction or happiness is something to be practiced, and not to be expected. That is, we should not wait for happiness but instead, just be happy. This is just a subtle way of Patanjali telling us that satisfaction should be unconditional i.e. not dependent on our situations. Practicing being content, will in fact lead to more happiness and joy.
Tapa (Penance): Obviously this does not mean we literally stand one legged, on a mountain and chant a mantra for years together so that God appears and gives us a special boon. Though, we can draw parallels to this image and apply it to our lives. Tapa means to practice a skill/routine, with consistency, dedication and undivided attention, till we master it and obtain the full benefits from it. This applies to our jobs, studies, hobbies and also yoga practice.
Swadhyaya (Self-study): Excellence can never be achieved without knowledge, and knowledge comes with studying. Studying helps us refine our skills. A mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone. Good books have the power of transforming our lives for the better. Thus it is important to dedicate some time every day in our schedule for reading books with positive messages for life.
Ishwara Pranidhana (Surrendering to god): God can mean different to different people: an entity, any natural force, an abstract concept, the almighty, a supreme being, mother, spouse, love etc. The list is endless. The idea of Ishwara pranidhana is to believe that there is a something much bigger than our egos, thus bringing more humility in life. This can be achieved by letting go of our fears and achievements, even if we can do it sitting down with closed eyes, for just 5-10mins of the day. This is what prayer actually should be – feeling grateful and humble.
**If the steps in Ashtanga yoga are considered as a rite of passage of sorts, none of us would be eligible for the practice of asanas, since none of us actually practice all of the Yama and Niyama. But nothing in life is achieved through rigidity, and it’s better late than never. So let us make a point to start practicing Yama and Niyama in our lives, so that our Yogabhyasa becomes more progressive and rewarding.
Dr. Deepa Nair BAMS, MD(Yoga)