An introduction to the 5 Niyamas

The Niyamas are the second limb of the 'Eight Limbs of Yoga' from the ancient Indian sage Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. The Niyamas refers to duties directed towards ourselves - inner observances.

MacKenzie Miller

The Niyamas refer to duties directed towards ourselves – inner observances. They are intended to help us build character. When we work with the Niyamas – from Saucha (cleanliness) to Isvarar Pranidhana (surrender to a higher power) – we’re guided from the grossest aspects of ourselves to the truth deep within. 

1. Saucha (cleanliness)

Saucha can be translated as ‘cleanliness’, but it doesn’t just mean physical cleanliness. For example, cultivating Saucha gives us the ability to recognise the habits we have picked up in our life that no longer serve us. If we take our ‘bad’ habits on to the mat with us, then our practice becomes a lot harder, we have to sift through the ‘impurities’ or negativity we’ve picked up before reaping the benefits of yoga. 

2. Santosha (contentment)

Santosha often translates as ‘contentment’, and is often easier said than done! A very common Vritti (fluctuation of the mind) that we all experience is “I’ll be happy when/if….” We can ease this Vritti by cultivating Santosha. Santosha encourages us to accept and appreciate what we have and what we are, right now. And from there we can move forward in our life and practise with more ease and… contentment! 

3. Tapas (discipline)

Tapas can be translated into ‘discipline’ or ‘burning enthusiasm’. This Niyama helps us cultivate a sense of self discipline, passion and courage. Tapas has many meanings and how it’s expressed in you can be different to someone else’s experience. But essentially it is our inner wisdom that we sometimes ignore and it’s the fiery passion that feeds our sense of purpose! 

4. Svadhyaya (self study)

Svadhyaya literally means ‘one’s own reading’ or ‘self study’. Like Patanjali says “Study thyself, discover the divine”. Practicing self reflection, observation and study of the self makes us more aware of the things we do that harm us, plus the things that serve us, bringing us in closer contact with our true self. Svadhyaya also encourages us to further educate ourselves in whatever inspires and fascinates us, deepening our own knowlege.

5. Isvara Pranidhana (surrendering to a higher power)

Isvara Pranidhana is often translated as ‘surrendering to God’. It may easier to interpret this as ‘surrendering to a higher power’ or simply letting go of our expectations. Do our best, be authentic and life live fully, but let go of the story and of our expectations. Cultivating Isvara Pranidhana in our life will ease the Vrittis that cause worry and stressful thoughts and offers us a chance to feel empowered in daily life. 

Explore the Niyamas and the 8 limbs of yoga in our online program

The Eight Limbs of Yoga‘. In this 8 week program our aim is to help you achieve a good grasp of each limb through informative talks, yoga, Pranayama and meditation. Go deeper and truly enrich your yoga practice and hopefully, your life. 

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Emma NewlynEmma is a 500hr registered yoga teacher, writer and holistic therapist based in Sussex, UK. With a passion for yoga philosophy and Ayurveda, she loves bringing these ancient methods to the modern world in an accessible and easy-to-implement way through her writing and courses. Emma leads the Yoga, Ayurveda & Holistic Health course in person the UK and also online Modern Ayurveda & Holistic Health courses, giving students tools and techniques to enhance their health and wellbeing.