"shaucha santosha tapah svadhyaya ishvarapranidhana niyamah".
In verse 2.32 of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali introduces us to the niyamas, the second branch in the eight limbs of yoga. Where the yamas deal with our ethical thoughts and actions towards others, the niyamas turn us to look more deeply at ourselves. The yamas are what we should not do; the niyamas are what we should do. There are five niyamas to lead us on this path of self-correctness.
Saucha means cleanliness and purity. Showering, brushing your teeth, cleaning your house, and cleaning your space are the easy examples. In your yoga practice, saucha reminds us to put our props back neatly and to clean off our mats. It is respecting your fellow yogi's by not being heavily scented (perfumes or body order!) and it is not stepping on someone else's mat, thereby impurely mingling your spacial energies. It does not simply refer to your care for your body and home, though, but also includes mind and spirit. Words and actions must also remain pure; there isn't room in saucha for jealousy or hatred or anger, which result in a disheveled cluttering of the mind. It refers to the purity of what you eat; it is the difference between eating homemade cookies made from organic products and love versus eating artificially preserved oreos! At its root, saucha refers to the purity of your intentions as intention comes before action.
Iyengar: "The body is your temple. Keep it clean and pure for the soul to reside in."
Sutra 2.41 offers the result to practicing saucha: "Purification of the pure subtle essence, cheerfulness and joy, one-pointedness, mastery of senses and readiness for knowledge (of self)."
Santosha is the second niyama and it means contentment. Can you be content with what life is offering you right now? Think about that carefully. It doesn't mean can you be content when life is rolling along and everything is fine; can you also be content when life is hard? My students know I love to use the verb 'to choose' often. Santosha asks that you choose to remain content in all aspects of life and to trust in the bigger picture. What about being content for others? If you are constantly wishing you had what someone else does, material or characteristic, you are jealous and, therefore, not content.
The third niyama, tapas, refers to the discipline we exhibit over our energy. Literally, it means to heat the body. It also can mean deep meditation. Think about a very active yoga practice where you find yourself dripping in sweat. You have heated the body and, in turn, it is cleansing you through the release of sweat. Heat provides cleansing. But without the discipline of the mind to stay present and focused, this type of heat cannot be physically or mentally created. We rely on tapas for the discipline to meditate. We rely on this same discipline to stay focused on pranayama, regulation of the breath. The strength of our presence and focus results in our being able to bring heated attention to the body and mind.
Svadhyaya refers to self study. It is the practice of learning and seeing the True Self versus our "fake" self. Who are you truly? Forget the labels that define you; who are you without the labels? The asanas, poses, help us to clear our minds of ego-driven thoughts so we are better able to narrow in on the space behind all those busy thoughts...the space, where we learn to access our inner Self.
The final niyama is ishvara pranindhana. Translated this means complete surrender to God. Since yoga is not a religious practice, Patanjali's use of the "word" va (meaning 'or')signifies that "God" is open to your personal interpretation. It is the practice of complete surrender to divinity of whatever sort. Are you able to completely let go in the name of grace?
“Complete surrender is like falling from a tall tree without flinching a muscle,” Sri Ramakrishna.
"Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens." Carl Jung