The second limb of yoga is Niyama, and this limb focuses on inward observances or personal rules. Some think of it as self discipline and the spiritual experiences that go along into that focus. There are five that Patanjali offers to help us cultivate and uphold whatever religious traditions or practices we may have. The niyamas are inward practices to improve the self. A quick example to think of would be to develop a meditation practice as part of the second limb. This could include walking meditation as well as practicing the asanas of yoga.
These five rules are saucha (cleanliness), santosha (happiness, contentment), tapaha (self transformation, asceticism), svadhyaya (self-study), and ishvara pranidhana (devotion or surrender to the Divine). Below is a deeper dive into what each observance may look like.
Saucha - Cleanliness or purification is the first rule of observance in the second limb of yoga. This means both physical and mental cleanliness. We keep our physical body clean by bathing (outside) and drinking plenty of water (inside), but we must also keep our minds clean as well. This could look like identifying and releasing negative thought patterns that clutter up our minds and/or cause anxiety. This rule also includes your personal space and the environment you are in.
Santosha - The second rule of niyama is contentment or happiness. In a world of status and constant competition to keep up and do or be better, this observance might be harder to achieve than others. It is important to remember that this is a practice and we are always working towards the goal. Santosha is the practice of looking for the good, being grateful, and realizing our true nature. We already have what we need within us. Happiness and being content should come from within, not from things that are outside of us.
Tapaha - Literally meaning heat, this rule is often thought of as stoking our inner fire. Self transformation through self discipline or learning from pain or asceticism is described in Patanjali’s work and thought to produce the heat of tapahas. Today, we might interpret this a little bit differently. Now, we might think of practicing this through working up a sweat with different asanas or diving deep into a meditation practice. When we do these things daily and maintain these practices we are requiring self discipline and self control.
Svadhyaya - The fourth rule of Niyama is svadhyaya or simply, study. Historical interpretations meant to study and memorize sacred mantras, texts, and prayers. Today, though, it is practiced more in a study of self, to understand yourself spiritually. Svadhyaya is a deep dive into understanding why.
Ishvara Pranidhana - The final observance in the second limb of yoga is ishvara pranidhana. In sanskrit ishvara is a word for god, but has evolved into meaning best or highest expression of self. Pranidhana means placement under the fullness. Ishvara pranidhana translates to the process of holding consciousness fully upon one’s ideal embodiment of self, to trust oneself fully. To surrender to oneself is to trust oneself.
These five niyamas, as well as the eight limbs of yoga, may seem overwhelming or like impossibly high ideas that are unreachable at first. This is not so. Please remember, as it has been said before and does bear repeating, this is a practice–a lifelong practice. There is no need to feel like one needs to achieve perfection, you won’t. Yoga is a gentle ebb and flow of learning, strengthening, loving, and trusting yourself. Instead of putting these rules on a checklist to complete, let's approach this with honor and reverence, with a patient recognition that with a disciplined practice and commitment to yoga all of the yamas and niyamas will become a natural habit in our lives and we will begin to see balance. If you would like to deepen your practice or maybe you would like to begin yoga, Aligned with Green Wellness offers many classes for all stages. You can schedule online at https://www.alignedwithgreen.com/.