Yoga Essentials: Introduction to Niyamas

Learn yogic philosophy will catapult your practice. We broke down all the Niyamas - second limb of Ashtanga yoga - so they're easy to grasp.

Let us take you one step further in yoga philosophy. Our stop today: the Niyamas. Earlier, we discussed the Yamas, these yogic moral guidelines teaching us to dial down natural tendencies. In sum, if Yamas are the don’ts – Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (moderation of the senses), and Aparigraha (non-possessiveness)Niyamas are the do’s. Let’s find out what they are. 


Niyamas or how to enhance self-discipline


There are 5 Yamas and 5 Niyamas. Niyamas are the second in eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga. They are self-observances to enhance self-discipline.


  1. Saucha (self-purification): When practicing yoga, we aim to purify our body and mind through ancient practices. The journey of yoga is a journey inward, from the most physical to the most subtle. That is why we start by purifying our bodies with Asana (poses). We need first to acknowledge and overcome physical blockings to, later on, move deeper inward, to investigate more subtle layers. 


  1. Santosha (contentment): Yoga isn’t about the destination but about the journey. In a way, when practicing Santosha, we learn to unlearn what we sometimes hold for granted like the laws of ambition and performance for instance. Santosha is about knowing yourself better and learning to appreciate the journey, every step of the way. It is about learning to find happiness in small things. Understanding that happiness isn’t life’s long-lost goal but a choice in how to live our life. 


  1. Tapas (self-discipline): Through Tapas, one learns to repurpose one’s energy towards improving one’s way of life. Tapas bring us energy, focus, and means we offer ourselves to a higher purpose. Tapas entail implementing new habits in order to purify the body and mind, and live a healthier lifestyle. Practicing Asana (poses) or Dhyana (meditation) on a regular basis is a Tapa for the mind and the body.


  1. Svadhyaya (introspection or self-study): As we said, yoga is going inward, the exact opposite of what we usually do. When feeling pain or suffering, we tend to lift our spirits by escaping, not facing. Without Svadhyaya or self-study, there is no yoga. Practicing Svadhyaya is about learning not to escape but to listen and face our feelings, sensations, without judging or analyzing. It is about facing what feels good as what feels bad but also understanding why this feels good or bad.


  1. Ishvara Pranidhana (self-surrender): The last Niyama refers to a trustful surrender to God. Despite the spiritual aspect, it is often a Niyama where students face resistance. This doesn’t mean you have to believe in god but it states the idea to give yourself to a higher purpose than only yourself. 


After this post, you may have started to understand teachers who say that practicing poses isn’t doing yoga. Indeed, Yamas and Niyamas are prior to practicing Asana (poses), our next stop, which only comes third in the system of Ashtanga Yoga. 

So when we don’t have time to unroll the mat, let’s keep in mind that we have all these guidelines at our disposal if we wish to practice yoga on a daily basis.

Knowing yoga philosophy will catapult your knowledge, and so will a regular practice.

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