Niyamas – Sauca, Santosha, Tapas, Svādhyāya, Ishvara Pranidhana

NIYAMAS by Claudia Blaxell

Once we begin practising yama, we can strengthen these behavioural restraints with five specific actions that constitute the second limb of yoga, niyama. In niyama, Patañjali gives us tools to help us refine ourselves, so we can live more happily and wisely.

Sauca means purity. You are practising sauca if you have pure food, pure intentions and pure thoughts, cultivating a pure body and mind. On our yoga mats we cleanse the body by eliminating toxins and irrigating it with fresh blood and prana. We also purify our minds. In the second Yoga Sutra Patañjali says: “Yogaś Citta Vṛtti Nirodhaḥ”, which means, when the chatter of the mind ceases, yoga happens. One of the reasons we feel happy after yoga practice is the chatter of the mind is considerably less, and, as a result, the cosmic force of our true self is more apparent.

Santosha is about cultivating contentment by learning to maintain equanimity of mind regardless of circumstance. When we meet resistance on the yoga mat, performing an āsana we find particularly challenging, over time and with many practises, we learn to work with the discomfort and eventually move beyond it. It’s a lot like life. On an experiential level, yoga helps us develop the strength and composure not to collapse into life’s highs and lows. We learn to stay balanced as we accept the difficult times along with joyous moments and times of ease, remembering that nothing remains the same.

Tapas refers to passion for disciplined practice. It’s the discipline that makes you leap out of bed at 5am and go to class instead of snuggling under the warmth of your blankets. It’s the discipline that makes you do another class after work instead of going home and having a few beers. Tapas literally means ‘to burn’. Like smouldering embers that ignite to a roaring fire when fed with twigs and leaves, the more you cultivate a disciplined yoga practice, the stronger your passion becomes.

Svādhyāya means self-study. Personal growth through self-reflection and self-scrutiny is one of the benefits of maintaining a regular yoga practice. Reading spiritual texts and deepening your practice through study is an important part of evaluating and refining who you are, too. It helps you to see the truth and make sensible choices, rather than operating on the basis of delusions about yourself and consequently making bad decisions.

Ishvara Pranidhana is about surrendering to the divine. If you believe there is benevolent power greater than ourselves, you can set a silent intention at the beginning of class, devoting your practice to this force, or someone in your life that needs divine love and support. Meditation at the end of class is another opportunity to move your attention away from ‘me’ and focus instead on the divine presence within and without. Also, by surrendering to the divine, it releases you from the pressure of trying to ‘make things happen’ because when you surrender your will to this intelligence, everything flows as it should. Enjoy the doorways that open through being attentive to the divine.

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