Patanjali’s Niyamas - Second limb on the Path to Enlightenment.
Updated: Oct 16, 2019
Niyama - Observance - How we behave in ourselves
The 5 Niyamas are the second limb on Patanjali’s path to enlightenment. Patanjali sets out the Niyamas as observances of ourselves, how we behave, act and look after ourselves. The Niyamas are a set of actions to take towards yourself to cleanse, change and transform yourself, to become a better person every day.
A quick rehash of Patanjali’s 8 Limbed Path to Enlightenment:
Patanjali set out his 8 Limbed Path to Enlightenment many thousands of years ago. This guiding manual gives us practical steps to take to become happy and content in our lives; to live a Yogic lifestyle and ultimately become enlightened.
The word enlightenment does get thrown around quite easily these days. To me enlightenment means just that; casting light onto everything. It’s using these amazing practices of Yoga to journey deeply into yourself and shine light into each corner, crevice and cranny. It’s sitting with all your darkness, your shadow and your ignorance and choosing, day after day, to learn more, to open your mind, to be comfortable with the discomfort of change. I’ll write a whole blog on my feelings about this soon...look out for it.
The 5 Niyamas are as follows:
Purity, cleanliness (sauch=to be radiant)
"When one maintains a clean body, one loses attachment to their own body as well as to the bodies of others."
Saucha speaks to the cleanliness of our body, our habits, of what we consume. It’s becoming mindful of thoughts, words and actions that take us away from happiness. The practice of saucha is to keep the body, mind and actions clean; of curating what we allow into our body, through food, screens, books, magazines, songs, podcast etc.
To the yogic way of thinking the only real dirt is avidya: ignorance of the true self. We practice saucha to bring us closer to our true selves and remove ignorance surrounding who we think we are. When we become established in the practice of saucha we consciously ensure that whatever we consume is helping us to move away from ignorance and towards knowledge and understanding.
Contentment (sam=same + tus=to be satisfied)
Contentment results in happiness. This observance has everything to do with gratitude. Being grateful for what we have. Happiness can never come from the outside, if it does, it’s usually fleeting and temporary. The conditions of this external happiness are always subject to change. Lasting happiness comes from within us and the first step to start to create our own happiness is being grateful for the things in our lives. From the people in our lives to the food we eat to the experiences we have. Being grateful for everything leads us to happiness and contentment. Being satisfied with our lives, with all its challenges and victories is a sure way to cultivate pure contentment.
To burn, self-discipline, austerity (tap=to be hot)
The Yoga Sutras say: “When impurities are destroyed through self-discipline, perfection of body, mind and senses is achieved.”
Tapas refers to a burning desire to achieve through disciplined practice. It is being so committed to something that nothing will stop you from achieving your goal. This burning desire could be for something big like a financial goal, buying a house, finding the perfect partner, but it could also be for small things like lasting 5 breaths in that really difficult pose, holding your boundaries in a difficult situation or doing something that is right over something that is easy. Tapas also translates as passion or fervor for the subject, sticking to it no matter what.
Study of the Self (swa=own + ad + a + I + to go, so one’s going into one’s own)
This Niyama is the practice of looking at ourselves, in all our humanness, all our strengths and weaknesses, all our “stuff”, and working deeply on processing that. It is working on letting go of unnecessary traits and constantly changing into a better person. It’s using every thought, moment and interaction as a lesson. To look at ourselves and readjust or change anything that is not serving our greatness...anything that is not reminding us of our power and magnificence.
It is using the ancient texts (ie. Vedas, Upanishads, Yoga Sutras, Bible, Quran, Torah etc), to delve deep into the spiritual practices to gain tools to help us be a more conscious, kind, compassionate human. It’s about practising mindfulness, awareness and trying to be conscious in everything we do. It’s the practice of taking ourselves off autopilot and truly understanding why we do what we do. Ultimately, doing this practice brings us to the realisation that we are divine. That great and powerful universal energy that we’re taught is separate from us, is actually who we truly are.
Devotion to god (ishwara = lord + pranidana = to give your efforts, devotion)
Perfect samadhi comes to one who surrenders to god.
Now, I’m pretty sure you’re asking yourself something along the lines of “God? I thought this was about Yoga. Is this a religion? I thought I was going to learn how to do a downward dog.”
When we refer to god in Yoga it is not in any way the religious sense of what we’re taught god is. Yoga speaks of source energy, higher power, the universe, pure consciousness. I believe it is absolute unconditional love. Whatever you believe in, is the right thing. It’s that energy that runs through us all. That connects us. That feeling inside of us that speaks to love, kindness and compassion. This, under all our human complications, is who we truly are. Each and every one of us. Patanjali says that if we can realise this and absolutely surrender to it, then we will be happy, content, enlightened. When we realise that we are the divine, we are the universe, we are the entire ocean in just one drop, that is when all the human suffering falls away and we realise bliss. All our human stuff pales in comparison with how powerful we truly are. There is so much to explore on this topic so, again, look out for a full post in the near future.
These niyamas or observances are given to us as practices. It is near impossible to be 100% perfect, but it is important that we are trying, that we are practising, that we are consciously walking this path to become better humans.