Yoga Do’s: Just Say Yes (Niyamas)
And now for the fun part! Niyamas are Patanjali’s observances—what to do, as opposedto what not to do. The first niyama cleanses the way for all the others.
Be Pure (Shauca)
Purity is achieved through the practice of the five previous yamas, so the yamas and niyamas work hand in hand. The abstentions clear away negative physical and mental states of being, leading you straight to purity. Purity can apply to various aspects of your life. Cleanliness is very important to yoga. Keeping yourself clean by bathing; dressing in fresh, clean clothes; and keeping your surroundings clean are all part of pure actions. What you eat is also important. Fresh, natural, and healthy foods are best. Foods obtained through nonviolent means are ideal because they can be eaten with full, unadulterated joy; this is why yogis traditionally practice a vegetarian diet. Of course, if you want to get “yoga-technical,” vegetables are alive, too (all life is to be respected, revered, and appreciated, and all life is interconnected), so respect each meal for the life given to sustain another.
Be Content (Santosha)
Just saying the word santosha invokes a feeling of calm. Practicing contentment means finding happiness with what you have and with who you are. Of course, you can always work toward improvement, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be content while you’re improving yourself! Contentment helps you see that you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be right now. It doesn’t mean you’ll be happy when you can finally stand on your head, get that promotion, or find a soulmate. It means happiness in this moment, as you are. Contentment means learning to reevaluate obstacles as opportunities. Limitations are learning experiences. Easier said than done, we know! If you feel unhappy with your life, you may find it especially difficult to cultivate contented thoughts. Practicing contentment involves taking full responsibility for your life and the situations you’re
in. Find the positives in life’s lessons and choose to grow from them. You’re in charge of your own destiny, but that also means not beating yourself up for the “mess” you’re in. Thank yourself for it. Laugh! Know that every situation or challenge presented is a doorway to greater growth.
Be Disciplined (Tapas)
For all the yamas and niyamas to be truly effective, you’ll need a little self-discipline. Not your strong point? If self-discipline were easy, what would be the point? It would hardly be discipline. Anyone who exercises daily is showing self-discipline. Dedicating a specific time each day to your yoga practice is self-discipline. But how many times have you started an exercise program, only to abandon it as soon as it got boring or tedious? Learning how to stick to something even when you don’t feel like it will build your strength and wisdom. You probably manage the self-discipline to brush your teeth twice every day. Just extend that discipline, bit by bit, to other aspects of your life, one step at a time. Maybe tomorrow you’ll brush your teeth and have a healthy salad for lunch. Maybe next week you’ll be brushing your teeth, eating salads, and doing 10 minutes of yoga. By next year, there’s no telling what you can accomplish. Disciplined words mean speaking gently and sincerely, not angrily or hurtfully. Actrather than react, because you cannot control the actions of others. Self-disciplined Thoughts replace the negative with the positive, resentment with forgiveness, violencewith peace, and unhappiness with joy. The yamas and niyamas themselves provide an excellent opportunity to practice selfdiscipline.
Be Studious (Svadhyaya)
Svadhyaya doesn’t just mean you should read a lot of books. It means studying yourself through introspection. Do you act according to your beliefs? Do you say what you mean? Are you walking your talk? Studious action means paying attention to your physical self. How are you sitting, standing, or walking? Do you feel graceful or stilted? Do you look the way you feel? If not, why not? Studious words and thoughts involve the study of various sacred texts—whichever are relevant to you— to inspire and teach you. Through self-study, you can see which thoughts, actions, words, and experiences actually make you happy, and which block your happiness. Dedicated, nonviolent introspection will fill your life with clarity.
Be Devoted (Ishvara-Pranidhana)
The last niyama involves devotion. Focus on the divine, whatever that means to you—how it is in you and part of you and all around you. Ishvara-pranidhana is an observance that works beautifully with any religion.Whether you’re devoted to God, Buddha, or the Force, this niyama reminds you to relinquish ego and center on your highest ideal. Positive energy will flow from the divine into all areas of your life.