A while ago, we spoke in detail about the origin and philosophy of yoga, and we discussed the 5 Yamas of Yoga and their significance in reference to Patanjali yoga sutras. Thus, we now know that:
- Yoga was introduced to the humankind around 5,000 years ago and it was first practiced and talked about in the Indian subcontinent during the Indus Sarasvati civilization.
- Yoga is considered as the sixth school of philosophy in the Indian society.
- Patanjali, irrespective of the vagueness of his whereabouts and existence, is attributed as the first person to have codified yoga and organize them into a book knowns as the “Yoga Sutras”.
- Yoga Sutra is a book with 196 sutras which define the nature of yoga and the path we must follow to attain the union of ourselves with the universe.
- As per Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, yoga is divided into eight limbs – yama (social codes), niyama (personal codes), asana (physical practice), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (ultimate freedom).
Let us now discuss about the second limb of yoga – Niyama also known as Personal Codes.
The 5 Yamas of Yoga, as we know now, are the ethical and social codes a practicing yogi must try and adhere to accomplish a life of awareness, righteousness, and integrity. These codes help them to live a life of respect and purity in a social atmosphere. The 5 Niyamas, however, are more personal which is why they are also known as the ‘personal codes’.
As an extension to yamas, niyamas are those codes which help a yoga practitioner to attain positivity, inner-strength, and self-discipline. Following are the 5 niyamas as described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra:
- Shaucha (purification): The first code of Niyamas is Shaucha or purification – both external and internal. This niyama is at the very core of several yogic teachings and practices and is of extreme prominence. Discoveries show that impurities in our external as well as internal environment have a huge impact on the way we think and our overall state of mind. This often results in clouded judgements, discomfort, and the inability to attain wisdom and spiritual liberation. Practices such as yoga asanas, meditation, and pranayama help in the detoxification of not only our mind but also the body and the soul. Such purification strengthens the capacity of our core to maintain a life of purity. Externally, we must also always be conscious of our environment – what we eat, where we go, what kind of people we socialize with, etc. Being cautious about our choices helps us eradicate any chances of impurities.
- Samtosha (contentment): The second code of Niyamas, Samtosha, is not only limited to yogis but applies to all human beings universally. All our lives, we chase after happiness, prosperity, success, however, this niyama preaches us to be content. More often than not, we compare our lives with others and this almost always leaves us discontent and unhappy. Samtosha tells us that when we learn how to be happy and satisfied with what we have is when we attain not only contentment but also true joy. Learning the art of contentment also frees us from unnecessary greed, jealousy, dissatisfaction, and suffering, and in turn, it fills our heart and mind with endless gratitude and delight towards ourselves and all human beings.
- Tapas (asceticism): With human beings, yogis or not, it is mostly a fight between the heart and the mind, or in other terms, a fight between what we must do and what we want to do. This code of Tapas teaches us the golden principles of self-discipline. As a practicing yogi, you would be faced with several decisions that you may not want to make but should to reach the ultimate goal of oneness with the universe and to rise above than normality. Overcoming your limitation and pushing yourself to do the right thing generates a heat in you, a strong passion, and determination, that can be the source of tremendous spiritual energy in you. Revered yogis also accredit this ‘heat’ as the deriving factor behind releasing kundalini and attaining enlightenment.
- Svadhyaya (self-study): ‘Svadhyaya’, the fourth code of Niyamas, literally means “to study or contemplate on the self”. It is the ability to envisage on our life journey and lessons through meditation and self-reflection. Nobody is perfect and life presents us with ample opportunities to learn and grow from our flaws and mistakes. Examining yourself in a way so as to point out the mistakes and imperfections and learn from it is the core purpose of this code. Of course, there are spiritual texts and books which help you walk on the right path of self-study but most importantly, you need to be willing to accept your weaknesses and overcome those instead of being ashamed or secretive about them.
- Ishvara Pranidhana (devotion): Last but not least, Ishvara Pranidhana or ‘devotion’, as the fifth Niyama of yoga preaches us the art of devotion and surrendering. For yogis, it implies two things – one, that they need to devote to something greater than themselves, and two, that they need to selflessly participate in karma yoga. Patanjali highlights that to achieve a state of enlightenment and true joy, one must give up all ego and expectations. They must do their part and have faith in something greater than them. “Do, don’t expect” is what this code is all about.
The 5 yamas and niyamas together the core foundation for a yogi to step into the world of yoga, the world of becoming one with the universe, and to gain extreme wisdom, courage, and inner-strength in the process. Every practitioner should follow these codes one by one and soon they will achieve absolution and awareness like they have never experienced before.