The Niyamas are the second limb of Patanjali’s eightfold path to a more liberated way of living – a guideline to help us free ourselves from suffering.
The Niyamas are positive duties, observances or actions needed to address the “challenges” introduced by the Yamas, which we briefly looked at in our last post (as a reminder, these are: Ahimsa – Nonviolence, or not causing suffering; Satya – Truthfulness, or not lying; Asteya – Not stealing; Brahmacharya – Not wasting resources or energy; Aparigraha – Abstaining from greed).
There are five Niyamas, as follows:
Putting aside the many variations in translation, the Yamas and Niyamas also give rise to variations in personal interpretation – and for us, therein lies the beauty. How do these guidelines speak to you on a personal level, so that they ring true for you?
For example, Saucha, the first observance, in our view applies to cleanliness of both the body and mind. Physically this can be as simple as our hygiene and diet. But mental cleanliness is equally as important and requires the same commitment and consistency – putting time aside to check in with yourself in whatever way is meaningful to you, and to give your mind space from thoughts, for example through meditation. Outer cleanliness or purity prepares the way for realisations that lead to inner purification, which increases our capacity to see ourselves more clearly or “truthfully”.
Santosha might be seen as practicing gratitude for who you are, what you have and an acknowledgement that what you don’t have, you don’t need. Finding contentment in the small, beautiful things that present themselves in our daily lives. Accepting yourself and your innate traits, and also accepting others and theirs. Gratitude and acceptance help ground us in the present moment and bring us back to the innate truth that everything we have as it is now is enough.
The concept of tapas is commonly interpreted as learning from suffering or pain. When you experience suffering or pain, do you try to ignore it and turn away from it? Or do you acknowledge it and learn about why you are suffering so you can find a way out, perhaps through instilling more discipline and structure in your life, in line with the Niyamas?
When we use the practice of Svadhyaya — self-reflection — effectively, our actions and thoughts become a mirror in which we can learn to see ourselves more deeply. If we are willing and courageous enough to look at how we tend to operate – the behaviours, motivations, and strategies we habitually use to maintain our own self-image or ego, we can use Svadhyaya to pierce through the veil that this self-image creates and into the nature of our own essential being.
And then, through Ishvarapranidhana, we come to know we are not simply our ego, our personality, our thoughts, behaviours, and patterns. Ishvarapranidhana is about “realizing a dimension within yourself that is infinitely more vast than thought. You then no longer derive your identity, your sense of who you are, from the incessant stream of thinking that in the old consciousness you take to be yourself” (Eckhart Tolle – A New Earth)
Written by: Leigh Bosch | May 2021