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The second set of ethical guidelines of yoga are the Niyamas. The Niyamas guide us in creating a mind-body spirit connection that fosters mindful contentment and personal growth.
Shaucha represents cleanliness of the mind and body, traditionally focused on maintaining pure energies.
Purification of the body can simply be clean eating. Ancient yogis followed the yogic diet, also called a satvic diet, based on Ayurvedic principles. They believed the diet had supreme benefits to both physical and emotional well-being as the foods were pure (satvic), easy to digest, and nutrient-rich.
Purification of the mind serves to eliminate the thoughts that serve as distractions to becoming our true selves. Meditation is the traditional way to purify the mind. To purify the mind throughout the day you can eliminate negative self-talk and doubt, as well as refrain from judging others.
This Niyama is explained well by the popular quote: "the secret to having it all is knowing you already do."
Contentment means being at peace with yourself, representing a balance between striving for personal growth and being patient with the time it takes to attain your goals.
In daily life, Santosha can be practised through simple observations. Being mindful of what you buy or taking time to acknowledge what you are grateful for are some examples.
This Niyama represents inner fire and passion. It compliments Santosha because it is the physical discipline needed to fulfill the dreams that make us content with our achievements.
Experiencing Tapas is not always easy or comfortable and can be both physically and emotionally exhausting. However, the benefits to personal well-being that Tapas brings outweigh the discomfort.
Examples of this Niyama Tapas are working through deeply rooted emotional issues or trauma, training for a marathon, or attaining higher education. It could also be giving up something you deeply desire but know will not ultimately serve you.
Svadhyaya is the mindful self-observation that leads to heightened awareness of the body and mind.
This awareness is beneficial in knowing when to take a break and focus on self-care and when to focus on the passion of tapas. Self-study also guides us to understanding what emotions are driving our actions.
A typical yoga class is great analogy to understand the basics of self-study. First, the teacher will cue a scan of the body, asking practitioners to focus on releasing tension and noting areas of discomfort.
After the scan of the body, the yogis will be asked to notice the breath: if it is full and relaxed or shallow and jagged. This teaches practitioner to understand the physical manifestations of mental stress or disharmony.
After observing the natural flow of the breath practitioners can start to regulate it. This allows them to have control over releasing the stress in their bodies.
Throughout the practice, the yogis will be reminded to respect where their body is, challenging it while not pushing it over the edge. Understanding the ego is also important here: is your practice guided by what is most beneficial for your body or is it influenced by trying to match others abilities?
The final Niyama is devotion and surrender. This can be practised through recognizing a higher power, whatever that means for you. If you are still discovering your spirituality, you can devote yourself to surrendering to that journey.
If you do not recognize a higher power, Ishvara Pranidhana can be practised by surrendering to your true self. Releasing expectations, doubts, and judgements will foster contentment and diminish the control the ego holds.
Mindfulness is key to cultivating the Yamas and Niyamas into your life. Simply noticing where you excel and where you need to focus more attention will guide you in treating both yourself and others with increased kindness and understanding.