Like the yamas, the niyamas form the foundation of a yogic life, including ways of living ethically.
1. Saucha (living with a pureness of heart)
Physical purity is far easier to achieve than mental purity. I practice this in my everyday life through maintaining basic levels of hygiene and keeping my home free of clutter and clean (as best as possible given I have a three year old living in the house). I understand why this is important as I feel the effects mentally when I let my house go. As the house is in shambles, I have trouble relaxing, concentrating and feeling focused. In Feng Shui it’s important to clear out old dust and the neglected corners of the house to free up the energy. I can feel the difference once my house is tidy. More importantly, cleanliness of our bodies through a healthy diet, pranayama, and asana practice facilitates cleanliness of the mind. Through the practice of meditation one can come close to controlling the citta or mind. I’m working on this in my daily life, obviously through yoga, but also through thinking more positively and staying in the moment. I'm learning not to dwell too much on mistakes of the past or worries of the future.
2. Santosa (living with contentment)
Santosa and living with contentment is especially important in this time of consumerism and materialism. The internet has made our world smaller and we’re constantly bombarded with advertisements and products. New gadgets, devices and technology is evolving at a rapid rate and we find ourselves dependent on it and also addicted to it. This is an important niyama for me that I constantly strive to remind myself of. With social media it’s easy to get into the habit of comparing ourselves to others and striving for the next best thing. Thinking the grass is always greener on the other side is problematic. Through santosa were reminded of the sacredness of the moment and appreciate the little things in our lives. Gratitude and appreciation for my family, my modest home, my garden and knowing I have food on the table is very important to my daily practices of mindfulness and meditation. I appreciate the beauty of my surroundings, the flexibility my lifestyle allows, and the simplicity of my life. Being content, to me, means not envying what others have - knowing that we are born empty handed and will die empty handed. We live within our means and avoid debt.
3. Tapas (living with a commitment to consistent yoga practice and a development of an awareness of the present moment)
Tapas stems from the root word tap, meaning to burn in Sanskrit. I work towards this in my daily life with consistent yoga practice. This is one of the reasons I was drawn to Ashtanga yoga, as the flow of the asana and pranayama assists with burning away impurities and cleansing the body. Practicing asana on a consistent basis at least five times requires a lot of self-discipline. Thus, tapas is also defined as discipline and austerity. It refers to the act of discipline in order to reach ones goals. There are many areas of life I strive for discipline – physical in the sense of doing yoga, walking and physical exertion; spiritual through prayer and meditation; and mental through my work studying and writing. While tapas refers to this discipline, the other part of the niyama also refers to staying in the moment and not being too attached to the results of one’s actions. I constantly remind myself of this, that I should be doing what I’m doing for the sake of doing it and not for a particular result or outcome in the future. I try to stay in the moment as much as possible during my asana practice, using it as a time for active meditation and focusing on the breath.
4. Swadhyaya (self-study)
Throughout my life I have been very engaged with the process of self-discovery. From a young age I became interested in psychology and the workings of the mind, which led to an interest in spirituality, meditation and self-reflection. I’m a traveller by nature. It is my love and passion, mainly because through getting to know other people, countries and cultures, I get to know myself. I’ve also been doing a lot of self-reflection recently regarding my path in life and how I am to serve others. Previously I felt my purpose in life was to work with Indigenous communities and organizations towards protecting the environment. More recently, through much self-analysis and meditation, I’ve realized that my true course in life is more aligned with sharing yoga and teaching. It’s been a process of swadhyaya and figuring out what truly makes me happy and brings out the best in me. Through the study of spiritual books, including Buddhism and books by the Dalai Lama and Thich Naht Hanh, Ive been working on letting go of anger and frustration. At times in my personal relationships I can react to situations or aggravations with anger, but through swadhyaya, I’m learning to take a moment to pause, reflect and then act.
5. Isvara Pranidhana (living with an appreciation of a higher being)
Isvara Pranidhana refers to dedication and devotion to God, surrender to a higher being or personal God. For me, I’ve always been a deeply spiritual person. I was brought up as Christian, but through my life experiences and travels, my idea of God has expanded to recognize the commonalities in all religions. My personal beliefs are deeply spiritual. I recognize, appreciate, and respect the elements of different religions that strive for love, kindness and justice. I strive to be a better person through my dedication to a power bigger than myself. Spirituality, for me, is about moving beyond the narrow confines of my ego. I’m learning to turn my frustrations and dramas in life over to a higher force, which requires, more than anything, trust and faith. I try to see and act beyond my immediate life conditions to embrace the universality of love, compassion and giving. I try to think of my yoga practice as a way of personally connecting with that higher force, or God, or whatever you perceive it to be.