You can find page after page of very important-sounding and traditional-feeling descriptions about the Yamas and Niyamas. I don’t want to rehash what those pages said in the same way, because that’s not my style. I want yoga and a yogic lifestyle to be accessible, which means making the information less dry, scientific, woo-woo and ‘mumbo-jumbo-sounding.’
Niyamas Are Good Habits
That’s really all there is to it. No matter what you call a habit, a “positive duty” or an “observance” – it’s the same thing. The Niyamas are good habits to follow so that you lead a healthy, happy life. There are five of them, and I’ll break them down really quickly here. We can go into more detail on each of these in the next few weeks.
This is called ‘Saucha’ in Sanskrit, and it means more than just physical cleanliness. We all know we should shower, that’s clear. But there are also practices that you can follow to observe Saucha in your daily life: eating clean, keeping your house tidy, cleaning your yoga mat, keeping our thoughts positive, to name a few.
Known as ‘Santosha’ and roughly translated to contentment, the second Niyama is all about having a positive relationship with ourselves. In short, we cannot have positive, truly authentic relationships with others until we are connected to ourselves.
‘Tapas’ is the Sanskrit word for the third Niyama (and no, it’s not all about tiny mouse plates of appetizers). It translates to discipline or austerity in English, but it also might mean “a burning passion.” When we cultivate a practice of self-discipline, we are burning away the impurities in our lives, which brings a higher awareness and desire for personal growth.
There is a difference between self-study and study of the ‘Self,’ and it’s the second that the Sanskrit term “Svadhyaya” refers to. Self-study is a long-term practice, built out of small exercises that allow you to be more aware of your motivations and desires and work with them to live authentically.
“Isvara Pranidhana” is the last of the Niyamas for good reason. There’s a bit of a laugh to be had when you read that a really well-known Swami said that you don’t have to practice any of the other Yamas or Niyamas if you can master this one. In short, practicing Isvara Pranidhana means to cultivate a deep and trusting relationship with the universe.
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