Sage Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras gives the path of the eightfold Ashtanga Yoga which begins with Yamas or moral codes on how to conduct oneself righteously in a society. The next stage are the Niyams, which are positive duties which apply to an individual at a personal level. Following these principles purifies one’s life and enables one to progress further on the spiritual ladder. Let us look at them one by one.
1. Saucha (Cleanliness)
This is the first Niyam which means to observe cleanliness and purity of thoughts and the body. Keeping the body clean, internally and externally is the most basic practice one must follow, not just in spiritual context but in day-to-day life. Many types of “Shuddhi Kriyas” have been prescribed such as – Dhouti, Basti, Neti, Tratak, Nouli and Kapalbhati for internal purity of the body. Cleanliness also refers to our mind and diet along with our homes and surroundings.
2. Santosha (Contentment)
Santosh means contentment which arises from within instead of external circumstances or “possessions”. Accepting, appreciating and being grateful for what one has is an important aspect of Santosh. Practicing contentment leads to a higher level of “Sattva” (balance, harmony, goodness) however it doesn’t mean being lazy or inactive, or giving up our duties in the world. Contentment is closely related to the concept of Vairagya (dispassion/detachment).
3. Tapas (Discipline, Austerity)
Tapas translates as Discipline or Austerity. The literal meaning of Tapas is ‘To burn’ – burning our lust, cravings, attachments and other impurities by igniting our inner fire. Being disciplined with our daily practices and giving up lethargy and distractions calls for mental and physical austerity. Living simply and giving up all ‘excesses’ is also part of our ‘Tapasya‘. Getting up early, being on time, enduring certain difficulties or inconveniences for the “higher gain” are all part of Tapas.
4. Svadhyaya (Self-Study)
This means doing our own self readings and studies of spiritual teachings. It also means studying the self through introspection and reflection. This leads to self-discovery. Scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita and other texts such as The Yoga Sutras provide a good starting point for the study of the spiritual science of Yoga. Our study should be deep and contemplative which leads to realising the universal consciousness. Recitation and repetition is also part of Svadhyaya and practices such as chanting sacred mantras and God’s names are purifying.
5. Isvara Pranidhana (Surrender to the Supreme)
Isvara Pranidhana means surrendering to the Supreme Being, God or the Ultimate Reality. It also means cultivating a deep relationship with the higher consciousness and having complete faith in the protection of the absolute reality and continuing to work without any passivity. Being an instrument at the hands of the omniscient and almighty is the basic premise of Isvara Pranidhana.