The second limb of yoga, the Niyamas, is essential for yogis, and everyone who aspires to live a crazy healthy life:
Saucha, the first niyama, teaches about the importance of cleanliness. It is easy to think of this as a directive to shower before and after yoga practice, and keep your practice space clean and organized. At a deeper level, however, saucha teaches us to organize our emotional and spiritual energies, separating those that serve us from those that do not.
Santosha teaches us to cultivate contentment in our lives. When we accept life as it is today, we realize that we are already happy. There is no thing that will make us happy, because happiness is what we are inside. By practicing santosha, we give power to this happiness, so it can shine through, and illuminate our lives.
Tapas literally means “to generate heat”. We create heat in our lives through physical, spiritual, and emotional disciplines. It is the friction of the disciplines that help us strip away what is unnecessary. The heat of tapas burns away the heaviness that covers up our happiness. Personally, tapas has helped me learn to love my home practice as much as I love to take classes.
Svadhaya teaches the importance of self-study. This Niyama teaches us to practice awareness of ourselves, so that we might draw closer to God. It also helps us refine who we are, and what we do. Svadhaya has become increasingly important, as I strive to write something meaningful about yoga each day. The more I study what yoga means to me, the better I can share the benefits of yoga with you in this blog, and with my students in class.
Ishvara Pranidhana is the relentless pursuit of relationship with God. It teaches us to let go of our ego (specifically, what we want from life) and give our heart, mind, and body to God. It can be incredibly uncomfortable at first, because it forces us to surrender our wishes, so that we might honor God’s desires. That can be really really hard. Over time, however, ishvara pranidhana becomes a more comfortable way of living, because it reveals our connection to the world around us, and reminds us that we don’t have to go it alone.
Personally, I don’t think it is possible to practice real yoga without the niyamas. I tried it in the beginning of my yogic journey, and it always felt like something was missing. The niyamas helped me make more sense of my asana practice. They also make me feel more purposeful when I meet my mat, and that makes me really happy.