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how to practice the five niyamas of yoga

How to Practice the Five Niyamas

Join me as we explore the five niyamas – those secret ingredients that spark inner transformation and lead us toward a more fulfilling life. We’ll unpack each principle with real-life examples and practical tips on how to weave them into your daily routine.🧘‍♂️

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How to Practice the Five Niyamas Transcript

Last episode, I talked about the five yamas, and in this episode, I want to talk to you about the five niyamas. If you’ve gone through the episode on yamas, you may remember that those are the ethical and moral guidelines when we are dealing with our external particularly relating to other individuals.

In niyama, the n-i, roughly translates to soul, our self. Therefore, niyamas become the way in which we interact with ourselves. Just like the yamas, we have five niyamas.

What are the Five Niyamas?

The five niyamas in English are:

  • cleanliness
  • contentment
  • burning impurities
  • self-study
  • surrender to the Divine

In my Texas-accented Sanskrit that is:

  • saucha
  • santosha
  • tapas
  • svadyaya
  • isvara pranidhana

Just like I did with the yamas, I want to dive a little into each one. We’ll talk about the obvious definition, but I also want to peel back and talk about the other layers that we can practice within each of the niyamas.

Niyama #1 Cleanliness, Saucha

Let’s take a look at the first one, cleanliness or saucha. On a basic level, this refers to cleanliness, both our internal and external body. Keeping our bodies clean, showering regularly, wearing clean clothes and nourishing your body with clean, wholesome foods.

When we’re ready to practice yoga, particularly our asanas, we want to make sure that we have been fueled properly. Because the more nutrient dense that our food is, the better practice that we’re going to have, the better that we’re going to feel.

This could also apply to drinking plenty of water. Water helps not only keep us well-lubricated and keeps our joints moving, but it also help to flush out our body.

Niyama #2 Contentment, Santosha

The next niyama is santosha or contentment. This is the ability to accept life, be grateful, and understand there will always be good times and bad times. One thing to note here is that contentment looks different for everybody.

I enjoy being at home, spending time with my family, having time to read and to write, and to have a close circle of friends. That is what provides contentment to me.

However, that may cause somebody else to just feel like they’re going to come out of their skin. They have to be out, they have to be buzzing around that energy. That’s what creates contentment for another person. So relying on what somebody else describes or defines for contentment probably isn’t going to work for you.

First step to Contentment

The first step toward contentment is typically the same for all of us, and that is learning to be present. If you have been practicing yoga for any length of time, no matter what style or form, you know that it is about bringing awareness. The more that you are aware, the more that you can become present moment. When you are in the present, that is truly where life is happening.

It’s not in the past with bad decisions and poor actions and self-indulgent behavior. It’s not in the future with worries and how you’re going to pay your bills or how your relationship might end up. It’s truly right here, right now, in this moment. The better that you get at accepting the present moment, the more you will be able to find contentment.

I got my first taste of contentment in my late thirties. That was when I had that sensation that I could accept life. This is what my present moment was. It didn’t mean I didn’t have goals or things that I wanted to work toward in the future. It just meant that right now, everything was okay. Everything was as it was meant to be.

I have been able to maintain that contentment for a long time. I have that awareness of what brings me contentment, and when I start to get out of balance, I go back to those practices that help bring me back into contentment or help me to practice santosha.

Niyama #3 Burning Impurities, Tapas

The third niyama is tapas or burning impurities, and it’s helpful to return the niyama of cleanliness. Saucha talks about doing the practices that help to keep our bodies clean internally and externally.

Tapas comes in when we’re not always successful about doing that. Perhaps we went to a party and we drank a little too much. Or maybe it was the holidays and we overindulged in all of the yummy desserts.

Maybe you’re at a deadline for a project at work and your mind is spinning and going a million miles an hour. Burning impurities, or tapas, is the practice that we use when we need to burn out those impurities. The too much alcohol that we drank, the too much sugar that we took in, or the tight deadline that we can’t seem to let go of in our heads.

How to Burn Impurities

What are some examples of burning impurities? When you take a yoga-asana class and you’re moving and twisting and stretching your body, you are working out tension from your muscles. You are lubricating the joints and working through the tightness that you may have gotten from sitting for long periods of time.

Deep breathing is another example. Our pranayama allows us also to go in and to relieve tension in your body and your muscles. It helps focus your mind. The best way to arrive in the present moment is to pause and focus on deep, full inhalations and exhalations.

Another way of practicing physical tapas is to change up the way that we eat. If a way we were eating no longer serves our bodies, then we change it up. We look at different ways in which we can fuel our bodies and give it the energy that it needs.

We can also practice burning impurities through a meditation practice. A meditation practice teaches us how to let go of those swirling thoughts, those repetitive thoughts that distract us and create anxiety and additional stress.

Other forms of mental clearing or mental tapas might include simple contemplation or even prayer.

I love the metaphor with tapas or burning impurities [in relation to gold.] Gold is heated up until it is liquefied, and from that liquid, all of the impurities are scooped off of the gold so that you have the purest state of gold that you can get.

The practice of yoga provides the same kind of purification process for you as well. We heat our bodies up, maybe through postures, maybe through deep breathing, so that we can clear out those impurities.

Niyama #4 Self-Study, Svadyaya

That brings us to our fourth niyama, which is self-study, or svadhyaya. Self-study is both the observation of the world around us and the one within us. It’s about studying life in order to find its meaning.

It’s not about accumulating more information for the sake of having more information. You have to discern what really works for you. Because hopefully, as you go through Cozy Yoga Life with me, you’re figuring out that it’s different for everybody.

[Self-study] might mean trying on different hats. It could mean seeing something that sparks your interest and you’re like, “I want to give that a try.” Then you go and try it and you don’t really like it. So you decide that’s not really for you.

Conversely, it’s also looking at something that seems kind of interesting, but somebody asks, “Why would you want to do that? That doesn’t look interesting at all. Or maybe you should think again about that choice that you’re making.”

We can’t let other people decide what is the best for us.

Self-study and Discernment

A great example of that is if I let other people decide what was right for me, I would have never gotten involved in yoga in the first place. I wouldn’t have been able to continue it for 25 years. I had a nudge or a whisper that said, “There’s something about this that is drawing me nearer to it, and I need to investigate it.”

And honestly, I’m super grateful that I was able to do that, that I had the strength and bravery within to do that. When I looked deeper, studied more into this concept of yoga, I knew that that was the path for me even though it may not be the path for other people.

Another story that I like to tell about self-study is when it was time to start college. My father encouraged me to study computer science. He had a long list of great reasons: it was a growing field. Somebody who was knowledgeable in computers would always be able to go to any company and and have job security.

When I thought about doing computer science for the rest of my life, I had this heavy feeling like, no, I cannot see myself sitting behind a computer and coding for hours a day. So when it came time to start college, I enrolled in journalism because I wanted to be a writer. That was what I felt like I was called to do.

And I don’t think that it’s any coincidence, getting a degree in journalism and following my heart to write because it led me to yoga. So I think that it was all intertwined.

Niyama #5 Surrender to the Divine, isvara Pranidhana

The last niyama that we’re going to talk about is isvara pranidhana. The term isvara represents the infinite being of universal knowledge. You might call that God, you might think of it as the universe, whatever term or label that you give to that, that is what isvara is referring to.

Pranidhana means surrender, and together isvara pranidhana means that we’re surrendering to something that is bigger than us. Trusting in this higher power to provide to us exactly what is needed, when we need it.

This last niyama, isvara pranidhana, works in tandem with the previous niyama of self-study. Self-study ultimately leads us to realize that there is a supreme being, or whatever you want to call it, that is in control.

You can see where all of this is tied in together. I talked about the second niyama contentment. The only place that we can truly be content is in the present moment. What happened in the past? That’s beyond our control. What’s going to happen in the future? Again, that’s beyond our control.

So you can see where contentment is working hand in hand with surrender to the divine. Just like self-study works with surrendering to the divine.

Five Niyamas in Review

Let me do a quick recap of the five niyamas. We had the first, which is saucha, or cleanliness. That’s both of our internal and external body. So keeping clean, taking showers, also taking in nutrient-dense food and water that’s going to help to fuel us.

The second niyama is contentment, or santosha. Being present moment, learning to accept life as it comes at us, that there are good and bad times.

Tapas is burning impurities. Whatever we’re not able to do in saucha or cleanliness, we have burning impurities that can help us to get rid of those impurities that we may have taken in through drinks or waters or other people’s bad attitudes and drama.

The fourth is self-study or svadhyaya. This may begin with intellectual study, but eventually you have to take what you’re learning on an intellectual level and adapt it into your life. Make decisions and create a life that works for you.

And finally, the last niyama, surrender to the divine. Learning that we really have very little in our control, and when we can surrender to that higher power, it really helps us to walk more in faith than in fear.

Wrapping up the Five Yamas

All right, Cozy Crew, it is your turn. I would love to hear from you. Is there one that you really like more than another? Or is there one that you tend to struggle with?

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