What Are the Niyamas Classical Yoga's Second Limb
The Niyamas, like the Yamas, carry a deep and sincere wisdom within them, one that we wade into as we abide by them. They have an immensely valuable way of bringing us back to a centered space within, revealing more to us than I could ever say here. Similar to the Yamas, in that we learn them sequentially, over time we see that the Niyamas never act independently of one another. As we learn and grow with the Niyamas, we begin to observe and experience their exchanging quality not only with one another, but with the Yamas too. This shows us that the Yamas are more flexible than the definition of “external” observances only to leave the Niyamas for the “internal”; instead, they are mutually operative. Here, we begin our practice of the Niyamas, which are like the gateway; they offer the opportunity for us to connect with Happiness, though it turns out that Happiness isn’t quite what we expect it to be. The Happiness of our inner world isn’t at all the same as the happiness that our outer senses reach for in the external world. Inner Happiness is far more fulfilling and stable than that, it’s not whimsical nor based on circumstance, nor does it leave us swinging high and low. We learn that happiness is about ease and peace; and if we put the Niyamas to practice, we get used to its subtlety that’s so very lasting and present. This happiness doesn’t depend on, nor drive things to be good or bad…life will continue on as it does, but that easeful happiness comes from the inner stability that is free from reliance on circumstance.
The Niyamas separate us from the herd mentality, which is something we sense in those people who we consider “courageous” or “strong”. Don’t get me wrong, there is work to this, but it’s the kind of work that we end up wanting to do, because we begin to experience the value of doing it. Unless we were brought up in a religion that fit well with our nature, our internal lives aren’t a part of ourselves that we’ve been taught to acknowledge, be educated by, nor to strengthen and keep healthy. This means we usually come to our inner practice because of some event in our lives, otherwise we don’t usually address it. This means that the Niyamas, to start with, can be somewhat uncomfortable; as we learned from Satya in the Yamas, we have to be ready for Truth. And as we see in Ahimsa, bringing that Compassion toward self is just as important as extending it to the outer world. The Niyamas in brief, and in order of observance are:
Saucha: The Yamas have begun to bring clarity, so now we can move more deeply into the mystery of our inner lives. Saucha is the Niyama of "cleanliness" or "purity" and, like Satya, includes awareness of multiple levels of our being: the cleansing of our body, mind and emotion, spirit, and the spaces in which we live and work. It includes our lifestyle and our relationships. As we saw in our practice of Aparigraha, holding on to too much of anything, and past its expiry date, creates toxic buildup, and this affects Saucha. Saucha is an active practice, necessary as part of our daily routine….from the practical cleansing of our body through diet and bathing, to meditation and prayer for turbulent and outdated emotions and perspective, this cleanliness leads us to our purity of heart. In a way there is a theme of sacrifice, or of giving up, something of (the ego) self, in order to embody or have the capacity, to include higher energies that naturally coincide with a clearer, more peaceful, more at ease inner space.
Santosha: Learning to be touched by the heart rather than the mind, this brings the Contentment that is Santosha. We’re content when we’re fulfilled. Saucha’s influence on quieting the mind and emotion means we can be touched by the heart more easily. When we’ve abandoned the heaviness of the heart, it opens us up to our shared humanity, and we develop a greater willingness to partake in that humanity. We find that we can carry events more purely, the feeling level is more tolerant and therefore stable, which means that our skill to assess what we’re called to do to meet the task at hand is more refined. Hosting this capacity to feel and respond appropriately as life presents itself is a very contented way to live, simply because the drain and strain of toxic outdated emotions has shifted to an independent competency and capability. And this is a good thing. Santosha is a complete regrouping of mind that rotates our perspective of seeking happiness as something to reach for outside of ourselves, toward that inner connectedness that naturally brings the richness of contentment. Santosha has no attachment to “likes” and “not likes”, “wants” and “don’t wants” of the outside world, it is an aspect that calls us to serve.
Tapas: This is transformation, it is the chrysalis, it is phoenix from the flames, it is the purifying fire, it is the dark night of the soul. But there is purpose to it all. That purpose is our transformation. This is the equivalent of sacrifice; meaning, “What needs to be let go for my own personal transformation?”. This is the kind of sacrifice for the purpose of our soul growth. This is not picked up and dropped on a whim. When true Tapas occurs, it takes hold in a way that we realize we have no other choice, we’re driven forward by some aspect of our inner being. It’s a point in time in our life where we meet the road of our destiny and we must follow it, our inner compass follows it with clarity, and without waffling. It tests all of our comfort zones, it’s messy, and we’re left to dig deeper into ourselves, into our soul level, seeking and revealing what truly sustains us. This is not negative but it is testing, and we only have the immense value to gain from the experience. Having practiced the Yamas and the preceding Niyamas in earnest, we have a more solid foundation to serve this experience. Tapas is both the transformational power itself, and is also what brings the transformation to us.
Svadhyaya: This is not knowledge for the sake of knowledge; in fact, Krsna in the Bhagavad Gita, encourages us to have freedom from knowledge once we consider how very little we know. Instead, this is knowledge of insight, it’s knowledge from the wisdom and discernment that is gained from higher teachings and sacred texts. This is self-knowledge that begins to reveal itself as a result of our evolution through Tapas; it further strengthens our inner spiritual resources. This is a sincere study for one’s own awareness and purpose…it’s for nothing other than that. Knowledge of the human condition naturally arises from this, which increases our capacity for Ahimsa…that natural state of Compassion…Compassion being a quality of a person, not something we decide “to do”. In Svadhyaya the style of our questions deepen and broaden in scope; they broaden to a larger presence other than the concern around “me”, and this is because we become connected to “Buddhi” the higher mind that separates us from our daily sensory mind. We learn to turn to our own deepest self for understanding. From our efforts through Tapas, we consider now, how our own journey fits in with the larger journey.
Ishwara Pranidhana: This is the call to mystery, the Upanishads say “Neti-neti”…meaning, “it can’t be described”. This is the domain of Brahma, the all-pervading consciousness that dwells within everything, animates everything, from which all began and to which all returns; it’s the unified field that is God consciousness, to which we’re connected through our own Atman (our Soul self). This experience awakens through our connection to Buddhi (the higher mind we develop through asking the larger questions of life in Svadhyaya). Our Atman is our deep inner self that is the God self, no different from Brahma, where we perceive a higher reality other than the one we experience in the physical world. Because it’s experiential in nature, we cannot come to grasp this Niyama logically; the radical transformation of our being through Tapas, is an essential part of this.