THE EIGHT LIMBS OF YOGA—PART III
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali describe an eightfold path you can explore and dedicate your life to. Beginning with Yama, or moral codes, immediately allows you to understand how impactful your role of being a good person in society is. Treating all living things with the utmost respect is the springboard for leading a virtuous life.
The second limb on this Yogic Path is called Niyama. These personal observances extend the ethics of the first limb to the disciplined practice of the internal environment of your body, mind and spirit. The second limb is all about the relationship you have with yourself. It outlines personal ethics to make sure you take care of yourself so that you are fully equipped to dive deeper into who you are and the power that resides in you. By applying these 5 Niyamas into your daily life, you will be able to create a healthy and positive space for personal growth, strength and wisdom as you progress along the Eightfold Path.
The 5 Niyamas are as follows:
- Sauca~purity; cleanliness
- Ishvara Pranidhana~devotion
Let’s take a moment to become more familiar with the first 3 Niyamas.
In order to attain wisdom and spiritual connectedness, you must be free from impurities that can invade the body and adversely affect your state of mind. Practicing asana, pranayam and meditation help cleanse you as well as strengthen your mind and body so that you can remain in a pure state of being. We are who and what we surround ourselves with, so we must be extra conscientious of things like the foods we eat, the friends we hang out with, the hobbies we engage in, the environments we hang out in, and the information we feed our minds. The cleaner your thoughts, actions and words, the more receptive and available you are to understanding the Divine.
What kind of impurities do you struggle with? What practices do you do to help yourself stay pure? How do you feel when you engage in a toxic activity or have negative thoughts? How do you feel when you initiate and participate in healthy activities and choose positive thoughts?
Santosa is about being content with all that you have. If you haven’t learned it already, you will one day understand that the only way to true happiness is by being grateful for all that you have right here, right now. The mind is good at tricking you into thinking that you will not be satisfied until you gain this possession or own that one, but the truth is that happiness from material objects is merely temporary and not self-fulfilling in the end. Practicing Santosa prevents you from chasing the next best thing, and thus frees you from suffering so that you can recognize and embrace all of life’s blessings that already lay before you.
It is important you understand that you can remain in a state of contentment despite the fact that you still have goals and dreams you may not have achieved yet. Santosa comes from understanding that those kinds of desires are inspiring and motivating, and that each step toward the goal is enough. With aspirations, you better yourself through relentless commitment and progress. Take time everyday to reflect on where you are on your journey and be grateful for it. This keeps you in a perpetual state of Santosa.
What are you grateful for today? Do you wish that you had something that your friend or co-worker has? Do you take the time to reflect on where you are in your life everyday? What kind of goals do you have and are you content with your advancement toward them? If not, why do you think that is?
Tapas is the practice of self-discipline and attainment of will power. By doing something you do not want to do, but which will have a positive impact on your life, you empower yourself. When you do not give in to the desires of the mind, you begin to dissipate mental impurities. Those impulses and bad choices you encounter in your daily life become your tools to build your inner strength and self-control. You use your will power to ensure that everything you do, say and think is in alignment with connecting with your true self.
Tapas is about challenging yourself and facing difficulties. It is about doing that thing you do not feel like doing. Through Tapas we gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and increase self-love. From this place we can then face any obstacle head on and relish in the transformation that will come from it.
Therefore, the nature of Tapas directs us to be present in each moment. Whether it is during our daily 10 minute meditation, our hour asana practice, our 2 hour training at the gym, our decision to eat a salad instead of a burger, or practicing our instrument for hours, all activities that demonstrate self-discipline and increase our will-power demand we be present to reap the full benefits of Tapas.
Do you go to yoga class or to the gym even when you do not want to? How do you feel afterward? How do you feel when you refuse to do something that isn’t good for you? Have you committed yourself to something for at least a month and seen the benefits of it in your life?
Take some time to implement these 3 Niyamas in your life. This way you can begin to build upon your ethics, both inward and outward. These observances ask you to focus on yourself, for your greatest strength and knowledge comes from within. Let us start the journey inward so that you can empower yourself to become happier, healthier and wiser.