by Sharon Gannon |
January, 2001
Niyamas / Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

The yogi’s behavior towards himself.

1. SAUCHA: Purity, cleanliness (sauch=to be radiant)
Saucha is the practice of cleaning the body. This includes bathing, brushing the teeth and the practice of kriyas. When we try to be perfectly clean, we start to learn about dirt. The resulting realization arises: nothing is always and forever in a state of absolute cleanliness. It is like trying to sweep up the sands on the shore of the ocean. It is a never-ending job. All we can do is to try. To the yogic way of thinking the only real dirt is avidya, ignorance of the True Self. Through the practice of saucha we learn about the physical body and thus ignorance is reduced. When you are developed in the practice and you come to know your body well, you come to know you are not the body. You come to know the body for what it is: a sack of blood, pus and bones.

2. SANTOSHA: Contentment (sam=same + tus=to be satisfied)
Contentment is independence from external conditions. Don’t look for happiness or comfort in external circumstances because those conditions are always subject to change. We will never be truly happy in an external situation. Instead control the mind, the internal thermostat. Elevate the mind so that you can perceive the world without conflicts. Swami Sivananda’s advice is helpful here, “Adapt, adjust, accommodate.” How do we do this?: Tapas, the next niyama.

3. TAPAS: To burn, self discipline, austerity (tap=to be hot)
By subjecting ourselves to extremes of pleasure and pain, we will develop an internal way to deal with it all. Santosha in the face of tapas facilitates endurance and the ability to concentrate the mind irregardless of external conditions. Steadiness and equanimity is developed. Tapas also translates as passion or fervor for the subject, sticking to it no matter what.

4. SWADYAYA: Study of the Self (swa=own + ad + a + I + to go, so one’s going into one’s own)
It is often translated as scriptural study, the actual reading of and reflecting on the sacred books, ie. Vedas, Upanishads, Yoga Sutras, Bible etc. these works remind one of their true nature or Atman. When you study something you hold it in your attention and come to know something of it. Likewise, to immerse yourself in scripture is to hold in your attention, Divine ideas, thoughts and words. Self-study does not mean psychoanalysis as we think of it in the west. That type of study can only bring more attention to the personality, the small self. Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati says that the best way to practice swadyaya is to chant the names of God.

5. ISHWARA PRANIDHANA: Devotion to God (ishwara=Lord + Pranidana=to give your efforts, devotion)
Before you do any action offer it to God. In this way you free yourself of selfish action. The perfection of action comes from the perfection of thought. What is a perfect thought? One that is devoid of all selfish motive. Through this practice you develop Bhav. The mood that will enable you to reach for something higher than the apparent limitations of body and mind. If you do actions without Ishwara Pranidana you will most likely stay the same, bound in the ignorance of the ego.

The yamas and niyamas are given to the yogi as practices. Perfection is impossible, but we must strive for constant and steady practice.