The Niyamas (or the yoga of self-care) were outlined by Patanjali, 2,500 years ago, in ‘The Yoga Sutras.’ Due to the 21st century’s obsession with the physical practice of yoga, the philosophies have been lost to time. The depths of this ancient tradition have been lost to time. This is where looking into the philosophy behind the yoga can help. We can develop our appreciation for this ‘exercise class’ while gaining insight into how yoga can benefit us. The
While the first limb of yoga, the yamas, looked at improving how we treat others; the niyamas deeply examine how we treat ourselves. In the 24-hour life we lead, the incidence of low self-esteem, anxiety and depression are more prevalent than ever. Much of this is related to the way we talk to ourselves and how we look after our greatest asset – our body.
Niyamas – The Yoga of Self-Care
Just like the yamas, the niyamas are split into five distinct but related ideas. Each one interlinks with the others, providing crossovers which help to enhance the benefits and meaning behind each concept.
Sauca – cleanliness
The niyamas begin with sauca which means cleanliness. This is not just about taking a shower, although that helps! It is about maintaining a level of purity within your mind, body and spirit. This could be avoiding watching ‘entertainment’ which has a high violence content. We can apply sauca by looking after our mat, cleaning it and storing it carefully. As we begin our yoga practice we could approach it with a clear/clean mind, leaving behind any thoughts or worries.
Santosha – contentment
The second of the niyamas is santosha which links closely with the concepts of Aparigraha (non-hoarding) and Asteya (non-stealing.) Santosha is all about contentment – actively choosing to be happy. This niyama asks us to switch our perspective. Instead of seeing all that is wrong in our world, we look to all that is right. Shifting our viewpoint can be deeply rewarding as it can encourage a mind-shift. On our mats, santosha encourages us to not push beyond our current ability level. As we accept where we are on our journey through the yoga of self-care.
Tapas – self-discipline
The third of the niyamas is the idea of Tapas. Now I know what you’re thinking, ‘mmm, tapas!!!’ But in Sanskrit it translates as self-discipline or perseverance. In our yogic practise this means getting on your mat each day, regardless of how busy you are or what else is going on. If you set the goal to do your yoga, you follow through on that promise to yourself. It could also mean restraining yourself from eating too many tapas at a Spanish restaurant, but let’s just stick with the yogic references today.
Svadhyaya – self-study
Our fourth niyama is Svadhyaya which is all about self-study, or knowing ourselves. During Lockdown, many of us have seized this opportunity, while others have shrunk away from getting to know themselves better. In order to be a better person (if that’s something you’re after) you need to know what you’re working with. Svadhyaya is the yoga of self-care, knowing what you need and implementing it, lead to a happier you. It’s all about accepting yourself and letting go of the need for perfection, allowing your uniqueness to shine through.
For me this is all the mistakes I make while teaching (left or right? I don’t know!) and being honest enough to not teach poses I am not confident with myself. But it is also about understanding why I am not confident in these poses, and deciding if I want to change that. This is why I have begun working on backbends again, I want to be able to offer these poses to my classes, but to do this I had to figure out why I was avoiding bending over backwards when I was on my own mat.
Isvara Pranidhana – surrender to a higher power
The final niyama is Isvara Pranidhana which encourages us to stay humble as we surrender our intentions to a higher power. This could be God, the universe or any other concept you identify with, we all know that yoga is not religious but it can be used to enhance a religious practise. I practise Isvara Pranidhana every time I begin to teach a class. I have put in the study, the planning and preparation time and am as ready as I can be to lead my students through a carefully crafted class. But by surrendering the outcome to a higher power, I am accepting that the class will be what it needs to be, and that any mistakes I make are fine.
I am also practising Isvara Pranidhana whenever I write my blog posts. I do this because I love to write, the intention is not to have a post ‘go viral,’ or to become an internet super-star. When my post is written, I hand it over to the ‘bigger picture’ and where it ends up is out of my hands. But who knows, maybe it will end up being read by someone who needs to hear the content?