The Niyamas – tools for personal development

Connecting with the highest

The perfection of nature.

For this blog I am returning to our series of articles introducing some yogic philosophy. We’ve been focusing on Patanjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga, starting with the Yamas, disciplines that help us to maintain control in our lives. Today we are going to move on the Niyamas, which simply translates to observances.

The Yamas more relate to how we interact with the world around us, whilst the Niyamas are more inwardly. Following these observances is said to help our personal development, guiding us towards health and harmony. You may well notice too, that as you deepen your physical yoga practice, that you are more inclined to take good care of yourself.

Let’s have a look at each of the Niyamas in turn.

First up, we have Saucha, usually translated as purity or cleanliness. Cleanliness of body is of course desirable, not just to help us socialise (!) but also to keep us healthy. This can also extend to our living environment. Take this a step further and think about a clear and uncluttered mind, from which we can gain much clarity. For me, this is all about loving yourself enough to take the best care of your mind, body and soul. I have a couple of observations on this in action. I cannot work in a cluttered space, if I make room, throw out the rubbish, I find that my mind follows suit and my thinking process is much clearer. When I’ve had extended periods in bed through illness, the first sign that I am getting better is that I want a proper shower, it’s as if I am washing away the poorly energy. The more I can keep my thoughts positive and focused on the here and now, the less I have to worry about.

With a calm mind, we might well feel Santosha or contentment, the second niyama. In my experience it  is our wanting mind that causes problems! Which leads us beautifully to the third observance.

Self discipline is a quality I think is much over looked today, and I am not surprised, there are so many temptations and we are encouraged to expect everything right now! In yoga we call it Tapas. Some things I find very easy to be disciplined about, I rarely miss my daily yoga or meditation. Other things I find a bit more challenging – once a packet of biscuits is open I will happily scoff the lot! My mind is attached to the lovliness of the sweet biscuits and wants more and more, despite my heart (and body!) telling me that they are not good for me. I avoid biscuits so that at least I can retain some modicum of restraint, but it would be more beneficial if I was able to just say no or stop at one!

The fourth niyama is Swadhyaya. This is self enquiry. Patanjali is encouraging us to look deep inside, to be honest with ourselves, to ask ourselves those tricky questions and learn from our mistakes. Self enquiry will undoubtedly help foster self discipline. Why do I want all those biscuits? Getting to the root of the challenge, will help us to move forwards. You might also choose to read books that are spiritually and emotionally uplifting, which I think help me to keep the first observance.

Finally we come to Isvara Pranidhana – put simply, dedication to the highest. I believe we all have our own thoughts on what is highest. Yoga is not a religion, it is a philosophy. It is not necessarily recommending you believe in God, it is asking you to focus on the highest whatever that may mean to you, which could be universal energy or nature, or something completely different. As long as it is lifts you, then it is perfect. The idea is that if we stayed focused on the highest then we will not be so focused on ourselves.

I hope this has been of interest, and I hope you get a sense of how they all interlink, so just focusing on one observance, will naturally lead in to another.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the niyamas, and perhaps you’d like to share your experiences of how them in action in your life. Ix

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