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The Five Niyamas – Your Discipline is your Kindness to Yourself

Practice of the five niyamas frees you from sorrow and suffering. You will experience peace and joy and reconnect with your Higher Self.
The five niyamas can be loosely translated into self-conduct and discipline. A discipline is a practice, and like these students demonstrate, it requires patience and does not happen overnight.

Yoga is more than a methodology to stretch your limbs. It is a lifestyle, a philosophy and a spiritual path.

Last week, we began speaking about the eight limbs of yoga as enumerated by Sage Patanjali thousands of years ago. We went over first limb of yoga – the five yamas (social conduct) – and in this post, we’ll go over the next limb of yoga – the five niyamas (self conduct).

What are the Eight Limbs of Yoga?

yama niyama-asana pranayama pratyahara dharana dhyana samadhayo-‘stavangani

|2.29| Patanjali Yoga Sutras

Restraint, observance, postures, regulation of breath, substitute food for the mind, ability of the mind to focus, meditation and higher states of consciousness are eight limbs of yoga.

The limbs of yoga develop together; similar to how pulling one leg of a chair results in the entire chair coming toward you, when you practice one limb of yoga, the other limbs begin to develop as well.

What are the five niyamas?

The definition given above is observance and perhaps a better word to define the essence of niyamas is discipline. Discipline doesn’t have to be so strict that you brush your teeth for a full 5 minutes beginning from the left and going to the right and spending exactly 9.375 s on each of your precious 32 teeth. On the other hand, it should not be so lax that you only brush your teeth whenever it’s convenient to you. You must tread the middle path and like the practice of brushing your teeth yields the obvious result that your teeth stay healthy and in your mouth, the discipline of yoga is done to attain a certain goal.

The goal of yoga is more subtle and much more profound than what is commonly understood today. The goal of yoga is liberation from the worldly and mundane; liberation from sorrow and suffering and from all the things the mind imposes on you.

So what are the five niyamas?

  1. Shoucha (cleanliness and purity)
  2. Santosha (contentment and happiness)
  3. Tapaha (forbearance)
  4. Swadhyaaya (Self-study)
  5. Ishwara pranidhana (surrender)

Each of the niyamas have to be developed and like yamas apply to actions, speech and thoughts.

Shoucha (cleanliness and purity)

This one is an easy one. Yogic philosophy says that you should keep your physical body clean. People who are unclean do not feel that their environment is unclean.

five niyamas | The Five Niyamas - Your Discipline is your Kindness to Yourself

You must have seen spaces that are spotless and spaces that could use some love. Why the difference? The difference is that the user of each space does not feel that their space is dirty so they leave it as is.

five niyamas | The Five Niyamas - Your Discipline is your Kindness to Yourself

Mental purity is keeping your mind clean and happy. As you know, life is full of ups and downs, good times and bad times. All of these events have an influence on the mind, however the influence on the mind may be a lot more long lived than the event itself.

This is not the nature of the events.

This is all you.

Picture a flowing river with many different types of fish that go by. Now imagine casting a net across the river to catch the fish. Then, you walk away to tend to something and stop everyone who tries to go down to your spot on the river. You know you’ve got a big catch down there and you don’t want anyone going near it. Pretty soon, all your time is absorbed in keeping people away. You don’t ever actually go down there to check on it nor do you move very far away for fear of losing it.

Like this, when you decide to hold on to an event in life, whether it’s a positive or negative event, you are trapping both yourself and that event in your consciousness or your mental space. Not long after catching those fish, they will die and become extra weight in the net of your consciousness.

The events that you hold on to become like a broken record, the happy events are no longer happy and the sad events become even sadder. Your memories bring you nothing but suffering. For this reason, it is important to go back and clear out your net and then retract it forever and just go with the flow. Watch the fish in the river (the events in your life) go by. Enjoy them whether they are joyous or nasty. Either way, they will end.

Santosha (contentment and happiness)

Happiness is an attitude. Whether you have everything you could possibly want or next to nothing, you will not be happy unless you decide to be happy.

five niyamas | The Five Niyamas - Your Discipline is your Kindness to Yourself

In the world today, you are in a constant race for more. Have you ever stopped running to look and see what you already have?

Contentment is being happy with what you have, deciding that regardless what society or your mother and father or your neighbour says, you have enough.

Most of the time, it is an external factor that pushes you to chase more. Let go of that mindset and make time to appreciate all of the things you’ve worked so hard for.

Tapaha (forbearance)

This is an interesting one.

Tapah is fostering discipline and can also be translated as endurance and patience. It is defined as experiencing opposite values without negativity because you know the long-term benefits. For example, hiring a health coach and not complaining about the strict workout routine and muscle soreness the next day is tapah.

The practice of tapah shifts your focus from immediate satisfaction to long term benefit. It is easy to give in and eat a whole pizza. Restraining your senses and eating only your fill will keep you healthier and ultimately happier in the long run.

Tapah of speech is to train yourself not to speak negatively. Sometimes what needs to be said is not flowery and beautiful, but it can be expressed gently. Imagine getting bad news, your mind will begin reeling, it is not necessary for the messenger to also be nasty. In fact, the gentler the news is given, the less stress it will induce in your own mind as well. Like that, practice speaking gently regardless of who you are speaking to and what you are speaking about. There is no way to predict how your speech will affect another person. Keep it gentle and save yourself from future mental turbulence should the other person not take the news well.

Finally, tapah of thought ties in with santosha and is the practice of keeping the mind happy and content.

Personally, when I first started practising yoga, certain postures felt like torture. They were difficult and made me feel uncomfortable and self-conscious in class. Now, years later, the same practice has transformed my life. Challenging postures in yoga represent an un-turned stone and an opportunity to grow.

Swadhyaaya (Self-study)

The Self is known to you by many different names: the universe, the Divine, the higher consciousness, the cosmic intelligence, God, Om, Jesus, Allah, Waheguru are all different names that point to the Self.

Self-study is the study of the Self and is done in two ways. The first is the study of scriptures and books in which the Self is described and the other is a direct experience of the Self.

In the Layers of the Self, you read about the different layers of existence and learned that the subtlest layer of your existence is Satchitananda or the Self. The practice of meditation takes you from your grossest layer – the physical body – down to your centre – the Self.

five niyamas | The Five Niyamas - Your Discipline is your Kindness to Yourself

Ishwara Pranidhana (surrender)

Ishwara pranidhana is letting go and surrendering. Of the five niyamas, this niyama directly acknowledges that there is a higher intelligence and that you truly have no control. Recognizing the one Divinity in everything and letting go of your notions of control is ishwara pranidhana. Trusting and having faith that you are safe with that cosmic consciousness and that whatever is happening is meant to happen is surrender.

Surrender frees you and your mind from unnecessary worry. Recall that carefree child that had nothing to worry about because mom and dad were there to look out for him/her. Now go about your daily tasks with the same attitude. Put forward your best foot and trust that the rest will be taken care of. After all, you cannot control anything other than your own actions, speech and thoughts.

Practice of the Five Niyamas

Through the practice of the five niyamas, your body and mind will become stronger. You will experience peace and joy and ultimately reconnect with your Higher Self. Your interactions will become smooth and palatable, your actions will become effortless, and you will be free from sorrow and suffering.

Yogic scriptures have set out these guidelines to align yourself with nature and your natural behaviour. Observe these guidelines, become the best version of yourself and witness how your life transforms.

five niyamas | The Five Niyamas - Your Discipline is your Kindness to Yourself
Parm Saggu

Parm Saggu

Hey, I'm Parm! I help people who long for a deeper meaning in life but feel caged by societal expectations to break free, uncover the secrets of life, and forge a path to be the difference they want to see in the world.

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