yoga, yoga philosophy

The Niyamas

On Sunday, January 20 I went to a moon day “chai and chat” at my studio, where we discussed the second limb of yoga, the Niyamas. (unfortunately I was on vacation when the talk about the first limb took place) This was not something I had looked into at all prior to the talk, so it was extremely informative for me.

There are five different Niyamas:

  1. Shaucha (purification)
  2. Samtosha (contentment)
  3. Tapas (discipline)
  4. Svadhyaya (self-study)
  5. Ishvara Pranidhana (devotion)

Shaucha has to do with the purity or cleanness of body and mind. My teacher gave some examples of what it means to achieve this, such as eating healthily (most of the time), cleaning oneself and one’s things, having a clean and tidy living environment, and being clean in one’s speech. I would like to work on these last two – my house certainly isn’t unclean, but there is clutter that I would prefer wasn’t there, and I think I would be happier without it. I also could definitely benefit from cleaning up my speech, as I currently swear a lot.

Samtosha involves not wanting for what you do not have. This is a tricky one in western cultures, I think. I know that for me, at least, it is hard to not wish for things or look to the future. Personally, my greatest struggle with this involves wishing I were somewhere else. I desperately want to live in New York City, so it can be frustrating to be living here instead. I also love to travel, so I’m often thinking about my next trip or wishing I could go back to somewhere I’ve been. I recently went on a trip to Cuba and find myself often wishing I was back there.

Tapas is, essentially, exercising will power over the desires of the mind – forcing yourself to do things that are good for you even though you may not want to, or stopping yourselves from doing things you want to that will not serve you well. I am lucky in that I don’t have the common problem of lacking willpower, which is helpful in maintaining a practice and staying healthy. However, I do also think it is important to relinquish willpower at some times so as to partake in the joys of life and avoid rigidity. I had a bad habit of overusing discipline in the past, so I know how destructive it can be.

Svadhyaya is the studying of oneself through the examination of one’s life lessons and studying various texts that shed light on universal truths. I tend to be pretty self-analytical, so I resonate with this one. I have a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, so I am no stranger to examining myself and my deeply rooted assumptions and beliefs, as well as to studying plenty of texts about life and the human condition. I have definitely drifted away from studying this kind of material since completing my degree, though, so I am hoping that studying the Yoga Sutras and other pieces of yogic philosophy will rekindle my interest.

The last Niyama, Ishvara Pranidhana, is the hardest for me to grasp or resonate with in any way, as it involves devotion and surrender to a higher power. In this way, one’s yoga practice is seen as an offering to this higher power. This is difficult for me, as I’m an atheist and struggle to reconcile this idea with my general belief system. I am, however, quite interested to learn more about this as I read through the Yoga Sutras.

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