Niyama - inner observances & attitudes

The second limb or petal of yoga is Niyama, which translates from sanskrit as our own inner observances and attitudes. Similar to Yama, there are five observances or attitudes to take account of, with them again applying equally on the mat as well as off it.

(1) Sauca: Translated as purification or cleanliness, this guideline was originally thought to link to the concept of having a place to practice that was clean and without distractions. As we’ve now moved on several thousand years from when the Yoga Sutras were written, having a clean and tidy place to practice is important, but it is now more often interpreted as using a yoga practice to help you become ‘purer’ of body and mind in your general willingness to look after yourself.

(2) Santosha: Translated as contentment, this is working towards being comfortable with what we have and don’t have. From a yoga asana perspective, it can be considered as having acceptance with where the body is today and not setting unrealistic goals and being content in the moment (whatever the outcome, even if it isn’t possible to do a particular posture today!). B.K.S. Iyengar says the cultivation of contentment is to ‘make the mind a fit instrument for meditation as contentment is the seed of the meditative state.’

(3) Tapas: Usually translated as having a burning enthusiasm or discipline, whether that is for your yoga practice or other things in life. When I want to practice new or more challenging postures, I’ll often set myself a ‘Tapas’ based intention for my practice – I will try and try and if I can do it great, but if not, I practiced and gave it all my enthusiasm! Yoga teacher Donna Farhi suggests bringing this enthusiasm and curiosity to the practice and look deeply at our reactions and responses to difficulty or ease.

(4) Svadhyaya: Usually translated as self-study and reflection, in particular using the teachings and wisdom of those who have gone before to help us on our path. Donna Farhi notes that the turning of awareness inward can remind us again and again that the inner life we are seeking is as close as our nose. In day-to-day life and on the yoga mat this can help us to look deeply at our reasons and responses to difficulty or ease and recognise any patterns that need to be addressed.

(5) Ishvara Pranidhana: This can be translated in several ways and sometimes has a ‘divinity’ or ‘devotion’ interpretation. This doesn’t always sit right for some people, especially if you are not religious. I prefer to see this as accepting that there is more to life than just ‘me’ and celebrating being alive and surrendering to what happens sometimes – perhaps a bit more like fate. Another way of looking at it is to consider devoting your time and practices to that which is of the highest worth to you and what you’ll get the most benefit from.

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