The Niyamas: Internal Practices of the Eight-Limb Path

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Last week, I covered the Yamas, or social ethics, of Yoga’s eight-limb path. This week, I’m diving into the Niyamas, or internal practices, that are part of this path. There are five of them, just as there are also five Yamas. While the Yamas give guidance on how to live in and interact with the external world, the Niyamas are practices that work from the inside out, so to speak. Read on the learn more about these five practices…

 

The Niyamas

1. Saucha/Purification

Saucha or purification is a central aim with many yogic techniques, as it has been discovered by many yogis that impurities in both the external environment as well as the internal body negatively impact our state of mind and keep us stuck or blocked in many ways, prohibiting us from reaching true wisdom or spiritual liberation. The practices of asana, pranayama, and meditation purify the body as well as the mind, while also increasing their capacity to maintain a pure state of being. We must also consciously work toward creating a pure environment (both internally and externally), to the greatest extent we are able, as it relates to choices we make regarding what we eat, or anything we put into or on our bodies (think of alcohol, various drugs and/or pharmaceuticals, and even the products we use to cleanse the body and cosmetics we use), as well as our friends, our work environment, the transportation we use,  home furnishings, and entertainment. While it is just about impossible to eliminate all impurities within us and in our surrounding environment, it is possible to evaluate our choices in these areas and be honest with ourselves about whether or not they are helping us purify or taking away from purity, and going forward, doing the best we can in each area. 

2. Santosha/Contentment

This practice is pretty straight-forward. Santosha is both not craving or desiring what we do not have, as well as not being envious of others or coveting their possessions. When we live in true and perfect contentment with that which life gives us, only then are we able to arrive at true and lasting joy and happiness. We so often allow ourselves to be led astray by our minds, buying into the belief that material possessions or goods will bring lasting happiness – however, when we are honest with ourselves and look at our lives and the lives of those who have come before, it is quite apparent that this just is not true and that the feelings of happiness that are experienced through material gain are quite fleeting and temporary. Through practicing contentment, we are freed from the unnecessary suffering of always wanting a new material good or different experience or situation, and are then able to find both gratitude and joy in the multitude of life’s blessings. 

3. Tapas/Asceticism 

This yogic practice is one of intense self-discipline as well as attainment of willpower. In a nut shell, Tapas is doing something you do not want to do that will have a positive impact on your life. When conflict is created between our will and the desire of our mind, there is an internal “fire” that develops, and this fire illuminates and burns up both mental and physical impurities. Just like actual fire, Tapas transforms. And this transformation cultivates a strength within us that helps us become more dedicated to our practice. It also brings about awareness of and develops control over unconscious impulses and poor behavior. 

4. Svadhyaya/Self-Study

This is the ability to recognize our true, divine nature by way of contemplation of our life’s lessons, as well as through meditation on the truths revealed by the seers and sages who have come before. Life presents this amazing and endless opportunity to learn about ourselves; mistakes allow us to learn and our flaws and weaknesses have the capacity to spur us on to growth. The practice of Svadhyaya also involves the study of spiritual and sacred texts, which act as a guide, leading us to our interior world, where the true Self resides. Self-study involves both seeing who we are in the moment, as well as seeing beyond our current state so as to recognize our connection with the Divine. 

5. Isvara Pranidhana/Devotion

The final internal practice or Niyama is dedication, devotion, and surrender of the fruits of one’s practice to a higher power. It fuses two common aspects of Yoga: the devotion to something greater than the self and the selfless action involved in Karma Yoga. Patanjali states that to reach the goal of Yoga, we must dissolve our egocentric nature and let go of the constant identication we have with ourselves. In order to do this, our practice and all of the benefits we receive from it, must be seen as an offering to something greater than ourselves. Through this dedication, we are reminded of our connection to our higher power; and through this, our Yoga practice is filled with profound grace, deep inner peace, and abiding love. 

 

Of course you cannot learn all there is to learn about the Yamas and Niyamas just from this blog. I encourage you to dive deeper if these practices resonate with you or speak to you in some way. Seek out other texts and authors on these practices and on the entire eight-limb path. Also, listen to the wisdom within; meditation is a great way to cultivate the ability to do this. I wish that you all will find profound grace, deep inner peace, as well as abiding love on this path of life.

 

 

“The game is not about becoming somebody, it’s about becoming nobody.” -Ram Dass

 

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