8 Limbs of Yoga: Niyamas on the Mat
According to Patanjali, there are 8 Limbs of Yoga. Asana, what many people think of when they hear the word “yoga,” is the third limb. So what are the first two? Yamas are external practices, while Niyamas are internal ones. Let’s take a look at the Niyamas, and what they mean for us.
At the end of this blog, you can find a link to my YouTube videos that cover the Yamas and Niyamas and how they can be applied in your yoga practice.
Saucha refers to both cleaning the environment around you, and purifying the mind from scattered thoughts and stress. A mind that is racing through thoughts, stressors and anxiety is not going to help you get through your day, and especially not get through the day peacefully.
Samtosha means we are satisfied and content with what we have and where we are. We are not craving for what we don’t have, and we’re not comparing ourselves to others. This can be so easy to do, but when we practice santosha, we know that we have what we need and anything else is not meant for us in this moment.
Tapas (self discipline)
When you apply tapas to your yoga practice and your life, you will see an increase in will power and discipline. Sometimes there are things we just don’t want to do – but we have to do them. Sometimes we don’t think we have the energy or the time to show up on our mat. But when we apply tapas, we do it anyway. Tapas can give us the strength to do anything for just a few more seconds.
Svadhyaya (self reflection)
When we bring our focus to svadhyaya and self reflection, we are better able to see the lessons that life is trying to teach us. We can learn something from ourselves every single day, if we give ourselves the opportunity to reflect on them.
When we are in easy pose, focusing on our breath and ourselves, there are no distractions. You can simply breathe here, or you can do a body scan to see where you are holding tension. You can reflect on your day or week.
We have the chance to reflect upon who we are and to find out who we are growing to be as we practice yoga and apply the yamas and niyamas to our lives.
Ishvara Pranidhana (devotion & surrender)
Ishvara Pranidhana is devotion to a higher power. However, you don’t need to follow a specific religion or believe in a certain god in order to benefit from this niyama. Whether or not you call yourself religious or spiritual or nothing at all, Ishvara Pranidhana can help us all to find grace, peace and love. When we surrender as Ishvara Pranidhana calls us to, we are admitting that we cannot hold control over everything in our life.
When we have expectations as to what a pose looks like for us, we may find ourselves disappointed. But when we surrender to a higher power, whatever that may be, we can find peace and love for what we were able to do with our tree pose today – even if that’s different than other days and different than our expectations for ourselves.
So whether you believe in god, allah, yahweh, mother earth, or simply the divine being within yourself, surrender yourself and your yoga practice to the unknown and allow the results to be exactly what they are.