by Angela Clark
Last week, we explored the yamas – the ethical code of conduct created by Patanjali to identify behaviors to create a path to positive living. This week, we’ll take a look at the niyamas, a supplementary set of personal observations to assist in creating a more thoughtful, aware, and “awake” life.
Just as Pantanjali set behaviors to avoid, he also outlined those to aspire to. The niyamas, the inner observances, are more about how you interact with yourself. They are pillars of aspiration to work towards, identified through practices and behaviors. They dictate how you take care of yourself – body, mind, and spirit.
It can be challenging to look so closely at your own thoughts and actions, as sometimes they are not always the healthiest ones. But over time, you start to see your patterns. You begin to spot your learned behaviors, your canned reactions, and your responses to situations. Once you have the knowledge of what they are and how they show up, you also then have the power to shift; to change your reactions and make healthier choices.
– Taking care of our personal hygiene and the space we inhabit
– Mental cleanliness – working with the six poisons or impurities of the mind: desire, anger, delusion, envy, greed and sloth
For example, practicing saucha and taking care of yourself might be eating a healthy meal or going to a yoga class.
Practicing santosha might be a bit more contemplative. You may ask yourself questions like, “am I happy I chose to do that?” Or, “would I feel better if I shared my frustrations with someone?”
We must keep in mind here that when the ancient scriptures are talking about happiness and contentment, they are not talking about what someone else does for you to make you happy or content. Rather it’s what you can do to make yourself content and happy, and, moreover, can we do this without causing harm to others (remember ahimsa).
– Controlling senses and desires
Practicing tapas might be doing breathing exercises or seated meditations where you focus your mind on one point. After witnessing when you trail off in a thought or a story line, you gently bring your attention back to your point of focus.
Svadhyaya: Self-Study; Study of Sacred Text; Contemplation
– Consistent reflection on our actions in daily life; life offers itself as a mirror of instruction
This one is pretty self-explanatory. By constantly looking at how we are living in this world, we can learn a lot about ourselves. Through consistent and thoughtful observation, we can make choices that are better for ourselves and those around us.
Ishvara-Pranidhana: Surrender to “god” or pure awareness/devotion
– Ishvara = pure awareness, god, consciousness
– Pranidhana = offering of everything
This niyama is referring to the idea that the things we do in our lifetime are for a greater good. That all the sweat, blood, and tears are not for our ego alone, but rather we do the work, the tapas, to dissolve the ego, setting us free and allowing us to connect with the surrounding world in an open and loving state.