Niyama (Personal Observances)

Niyama means “rules” or “laws.”  These are the rules prescribed for personal observance. Like the yamas, the five niyamas are not exercises or actions to be simply studied. They represent far more than an attitude. Compared with the yamas, the niyamas are more intimate and personal. They refer to the attitude we adopt toward ourselves as we create a code for living soulfully.

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Sauca - Purity

शौचात् स्वाङ्गजुगुप्सा परैरसंसर्गः ॥४०॥
śaucāt svāṅga-jugupsā parairasaṁsargaḥ ||40||

Through cleanliness and purity of body and mind (shaucha), one develops an attitude of distancing, or disinterest towards one’s own body, and becomes disinclined towards contacting the bodies of others.

  • sauchat = by cleanliness, purification (of body and mind)
  • sva-anga = one’s own body (sva = one’s; anga = limbs, body)
  • jugupsa = disinclined, distanced from, drawn away from
  • paraih = and with that of others
  • asamsargah = cessation of contact, non-association

The first niyama is sauca, meaning purity and cleanliness. Sauca has both an inner and an outer aspect. Outer cleanliness simply means keeping ourselves clean. Inner cleanliness has as much to do with the healthy, free functioning of our bodily organs as with the clarity of our mind. Practicing asanas or pranayama are essential means for attending to this inner sauca. Asanas tones the entire body and removes toxins while pranayama cleanses our lungs, oxygenates our blood and purifies our nerves. “But more important than the physical cleansing of the body is the cleansing of the mind of its disturbing emotions like hatred, passion, anger, lust, greed, delusion and pride.

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Santosa - Contentment

संतोषातनुत्तमस्सुखलाभः ॥४२॥
saṁtoṣāt-anuttamas-sukhalābhaḥ ||42||

From an attitude of contentment (santosha), unexcelled happiness, mental comfort, joy, and satisfaction is obtained.

  • santosha = contentment
  • anuttamah = unexcelled, extreme, supreme
  • sukha = pleasure, happiness, comfort, joy, satisfaction
  • labhah = is acquired, attained, gained

Another niyama is santosa, modesty and the feeling of being content with what we have. To be at peace within and content with one’s lifestyle finding contentment even while experiencing life’s difficulties for life becomes a process of growth through all kinds of circumstances. We should accept that there is a purpose for everything – yoga calls it karma – and we cultivate contentment ‘to accept what happens’. It means being happy with what we have rather than being unhappy about what we don’t have.

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Tapas – Disciplined use of our energy

कायेन्द्रियसिद्धिरशुद्धिक्षयात् तपसः ॥४३॥
kāyendriya-siddhir-aśuddhi-kṣayāt tapasaḥ ||43||

Through ascesis or training of the senses (tapas), there comes a destruction of mental impurities, and an ensuing mastery or perfection over the body and the mental organs of senses and actions (indriyas)

  • kaya = of the physical body
  • indriya = active and cognitive senses
  • siddhih = attainment, mastery, perfection
  • ashuddhi = of impurities
  • kshayat = removal, destruction, elimination
  • tapasah = training the senses, austerities, ascesis

Tapas refers to the activity of keeping the body fit or to confront and handle the inner urges without outer show. Literally it means to heat the body and, by so doing, to cleanse it. Behind the notion of tapas lies the idea we can direct our energy to enthusiastically engage life and achieve our ultimate goal of creating union with the Divine. Tapas helps us burn up all the desires that stand in our way of this goal.  Another form of tapas is paying attention to what we eat. Attention to body posture, attention to eating habits, attention to breathing patterns – these are all tapas.

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Svadhyaya – Self study

स्वाध्यायादिष्टदेवता संप्रयोगः ॥४४॥
svādhyāyād-iṣṭa-devatā saṁprayogaḥ ||44||

From self-study and reflection on sacred words (svadhyaya), one attains contact, communion, or concert with that underlying natural reality or force.

  • svadhyayat = self-study, reflection on sacred words
  • ishta-devata = that underlying natural reality or force which is preferred, chosen, predisposed towards
  • samprayogah = connected with, in contact, communion

The fourth niyama is svadhyaya. Sva means “self’ adhyaya means “inquiry” or “examination”. Any activity that cultivates self-reflective consciousness can be considered svadhyaya. It means to intentionally find self-awareness in all our activities and efforts, even to the point of welcoming and accepting our limitations. It teaches us to be centered and non-reactive to the dualities, to burn out unwanted and self-destructive tendencies.

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Isvarapranidhana - Celebration of the Spiritual

समाधि सिद्धिःीश्वरप्रणिधानात् ॥४५॥
samādhi siddhiḥ-īśvarapraṇidhānāt ||45||

From an attitude of letting go into one’s source (ishvarapranidhana), the state of perfected concentration (samadhi) is attained.

  • samadhi = deep absorption of meditation, the state of perfected concentration
  • siddhih = attainment, mastery, accomplishment, perfection
  • ishvara = creative source, causal field, God, supreme Guru or teacher
  • pranidhana = practicing the presence, dedication, devotion, surrender of fruits of practice


Isvarapranidhana means “to lay all your actions at the feet of God.” It is the contemplation on God (Isvara) in order to become attuned to god and god’s will. It is the recognition that the spiritual suffuses everything and through our attention and care we can attune ourselves with our role as part of the Creator. The practice requires that we set aside some time each day to recognize that there is some omnipresent force larger than ourselves that is guiding and directing the course of our lives. vii

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