Niyamāhs

शौचसंतोषतपःस्वाध्यायेश्वरप्रणिधानानि नियमाः॥३२॥
II.32 śauca-santosha-tapah-svādhyāatśvara-pranidhānāni niyamāh
The observances are cleanliness, contentment, austerity, study, and surrender/ devotion to God

The yamas were the first limb of the Eight Limb Path of Yoga. They had to do with your relationship to the outside world, desisting in certain activities that are harmful toward the pursuit of awareness, things that cause distraction and clutter the mind. The niyamas are the second limb, the second half to the ethical pillar that is the foundation of a well rounded yoga practice. They are your personal discipline and practice.

Śauca is cleanliness. This can pertain to your body, making sure you are taking care of yourself with proper hygiene, or any kind of cleansing rituals that work for you to refresh your senses, and respecting the body (feeding it good food and protecting it from harsh elements like the sun or pollutants). You want to make your body as pure and undisturbed a system as possible because fatigue and illness are obstacles to the practice of yoga. Śauca also pertains to your environment, taking responsibility for your personal space, and the cleanliness of the Earth. When our internal and external environments are clean and simplified, it is easier to practice the other limbs of yoga.

For contentment I will give you a quote from Richard Freeman’s book “The Mirror of Yoga” because I think it is the best description, exactly what I try to abide to, and I think what many people have trouble understanding. “Contentment is the ability to be happy right now for no particular reason at all. You can actually cultivate this feeling by simply deciding, ‘right now I am going to be content’. This may sound overly simplistic, but what it actually means is that for right now you are going to temporarily suspend your worries, your cares and desires, and you are going to drop your theories and conclusions about what is happening and simply experience the radiance of pure being as it is… to be content with life’s circumstances, the skill of seeing the sacred nature of the world as it is… [is] one of the keys to the entire practice of yoga… you are present with the raw truth- good, bad, ugly, or sublime- of whatever is arising.” So many people don’t think it is their choice to be happy, that they won’t be happy until… Nope. It is a choice, and not until we can be content in the present moment will we be able to sit still, not distracted by the world’s turmoil.

Tapas is the heat that is cultivated by the dedication to consistent practice. It is a hard thing to understand, but if we can think of tapas as the intensity or discipline of staying with the tensions created by the practice, the heat of that intensity burning within us, tapas can be a very powerful tool for the mind. Michael Stone, in “The Inner Tradition of Yoga” describes tapas as the practice of patience and stillness. We are grounded in what is happening in the now, the good the bad and the neutral, without looking for how to hold on to the good or for escape routes out of the bad.

It is said that the heat of tapas burns away the habitual patterns in our minds that avert change. With this tapas we are able to ‘self-study.’ We are able to really look at the details of our being and the true nature of reality. We are able to study our habitual patters of though and reaction. We begin to see why we suffer, our ignorance caused by our ego, the attachment and aversion to that which is impermanent and seek out texts and teachings to help us understand our experiences. It is a reflection of the self.

When we start to recognized the interconnection of everything, insights into the truth, we realize that we are all part of a whole. Nothing we do is for our self so we dedicate it to something greater, to the whole, to the truth, to the teacher, to the beloved. Iśvara-pranidhānā turns people off because they see “Iśvara” as having to be a deity. It can be if that is your view of the ultimate reality. But “Iśvara is everything: one’s intentions; one’s actions; the functions of the senses; the flow of the breath; all fantasies, disappointments, emotions.” (Stone, Mirror of Yoga) It is the essential nature at the core of the heart of every being. It is the truth of this universe beyond our grasp, beyond our comprehension. When we say surrender or devotion to Iśvara, we are saying we are giving up to the not-knowing and devoting ourselves to the incomprehensible ultimate reality of our connectedness.

Through the two limbs of the yamas and the niyamas we ultimately focus in on our relationships to others and to ourselves. These two ethical limbs set up our interactions with the world so that they promote the harmony within and the well being of the universe. When we can see the interpenetration and impermanence of all things we can be among the flux of life and find center. Then during our physical practice and our meditation practice we are more focused and disciplined and our practice deepens and we connect with greater truths. From this our relationships become more refined and the cycle perpetuates. Thus the intertwined nature of the eight limbs of yoga.

 

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