Niyamas... and Asana?

Published on 11 August 2020 at 10:13

Previously we had the following questions:

What is the meaning of Niyama?

What are the Niyamas? How many are there?

What do the Niyama's mean to you?

Do you integrate them into your yoga practice? Or maybe your life? If so, how? 


As a reference I use the following texts:

Yoga Yajnavalkya by Translated by AG Mohan

The Science of Yoga by IK Taimini

Clearing the Path by Stephen Parker 

Astanga Yoga Anusthana by R Sharath Jois. 


There are 5 Niyamas:

Sauca: The first niyama includes both external and internal purity. This implies physical purity as in keeping your body clean and healthy. Think of your cleansing practices (shower/neti/dhauti/shaving/cutting nails etc.) but also what you eat and your external environment such as your house, garden, workplace etc. Internally it refers to emotional and mental purification. There are obviously many practices for this. Reflect whether your Asthanga practice, as you are doing it, is an emotional/mental purification method, or purely physical. 

Santosa : Contentment, meaning being satisfied with whatever comes to you. It is related to the Yamas Asteya (non-stealing) and Aparigraha (non-possesiveness ) Practicing inner joy from spiritual wisdom will give you freedom from material and physical desires. Be content with your practice. Be gratefull for your health and everything you have and you will look forward to your daily practice as an expression of gratitude and not an obligation that you need to do before you can continue with your daily life. You can cultivate this contentment through self-discipline, going through experiences which sometimes involve pain and suffering, maintaining alertness and training your mind to break through your constant unconscious habits. 

Tapas: With no exact English translation, it combines the meanings of purification, self-discipline and austerity. It is also related to fire, in the sense of burning away impurities. 

Svadhyaya: Constant reflection over the deeper problems which has been studied in their intellectual aspect such as books, or with a teacher. Essentially this prepares the mind for reception of real knowlegde from within. 

Ishvara Pranidhana: A practice which is the means of dissolution of Asmita (ego/I-ness) by the systematic and progressive merging of the individual will with the will of Ishvara (God/Universe/Purusa). This niyama is also intrinsically related to Bhakti, which is the path of union with the divine through love. 


These are but limited descriptions of the Niyamas. If you would like to know and understand and reflect more, I really encourage you to read one or all of the above books.


As a group, the Niyamas are practices for our internal sense of self-relationship. By practicing and understanding them, we are able to make the behavioural changes implied in the Yamas. 


The Yoga Jagnavalkya also describes 10 Niyamas. 
Tapas & santosha: see above. 

astikya: Trust in dharma (ethical conduct)

dana: giving wealth, food, or other possessions that one has rightfully earned, to those in need, with sincerity. isvarapujana: worshipping deities to the extent of ones capability. A mind devoid of desire, kind speech and a body that does no harm is also considered isvarapujana. (similar to above Ishvara Pranidhana)

siddhantasravana: Listening to the wise and corresponding texts. (similar to above Svadhyaya)

hri: the shame that one feels at doing actions that are considered despicable.

mati: sincerity in all duties.

japa: repeating the mantra into which one hase been initiated by the guru, constantly reading and reflecting upon the texts (related to Tapas)

vrata: following the path of ethical conduct, towards prosperity and spiritual freedom, with prior approval and initiation from the guru.
In most lineages of Yoga (Raja Yoga) there is iniciation by a Guru. This is a very special and rare opportunity where your teacher/guru directly transfers Knowledge and some of his vital Energy to the student. It is also believed that the guru actually takes a portion of your karma on him. Therefore iniciation is not something to be taken lightly, as you are karmically connected, forever, to your guru. 


Something interesting to take into account, is that the combination of Tapas, Svadhyaya and Ishvara Pranidhana is considered as Kriya-Yoga. 'Kriya' being translated here as both 'practical' and 'preliminary'. In this context Kriya Yoga can be seen as the practices that progressively prepares the aspirant yogi for yogic life. A preparatory period of self-training in which he/she gradually assimilates yogic philosophy and its techniques and accustoms him/herself to self-discipline. Making the transition from 'ordinary' life to Yogic life easier and safer. But also to just find out whether he/she is sufficiently keen to adopt Yogic life and make a serious attempt to realize Yogic ideal. 
Ashtanga Yoga as we practice it, can be considered to fall under Kriya Yoga, as it is a discipline where we apply certain techniques to align our concentration with breath, opening an internal gate to study ourselves deeper within, realizing our divine Selves and aligning our will with a higher Will. 

This all sounds very 'mystic' but in fact it is very real and practical. The longer you practice, with a sincere search for truth about who you are, you will start to realize this yourself. You won't have to remember what the texts say, because you start to feel and understand it from within. 


Reflect on the fact that Tapas is related to will, Svadhyaya to intellect and Ishvara Pranidhana to emotions. 
Kriya Yoga, or Ashtanga Yoga tests and develops all three aspects of our nature and produce an all- round growth of the individuality which is essential for the attainment of any high ideal. 


We can use the Yamas and Niyamas as guides, to discover and recognize the painful aspects of ourselves that we avoid, and will essentially lead us to growth. They point to areas that we have maybe not yet integrated and shows us which opposites to cultivate. With the awareness of our shadow we can step into the light. 


There is ALOT to discuss about the Niyamas. But first lets continue to understand the overview of the ashta anga, the 8 limbs of yoga. 

Next one is Asana. 

Ask yourself,

What is asana?

Is asana merely physical?

How important is asana? 

How does asana influence me? 

How many asanas are there? 

Did you start you yoga journey with asana, or the yamas, or the niyamas, or something else? 


Comments are welcome. Also questions. Which books are you reading about this? 



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