Most spiritual traditions and religions have ethical guidelines. Such as the ten commandments in Christianity or the ten virtues in Buddhism. In the philosophy of Yoga, and specifically in the classic Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, we have the Yamas and Niyamas. These are the first two steps from the eight limbs of Yoga or Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali.
We have already introduced Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra here and discussed the four principles of the Yamas here. The Niyamas are a little more challenging to apply to our modern life. They are really observances guiding the sincere spiritual seeker but we can still appreciate the principles.
The observances of the spiritual yogi
Let’s have a look at the Yogic observances or niyamas; purity, contentment, accepting but not causing pain, the study of spiritual book and self-surrender (or worship of the Divine/God).
Saucha or purity can be interpreted in many ways. Cleanliness of our body, environment, food and thoughts. However, the actually Sutra talks about feeling so pure that we are not attached or attracted to bodily needs and desires. This may work if you are Yogi or Yogini living in an ashram or cave, or a monk or nun in a convent, as a renunciate. Simply sitting in meditation to connect with the Divine.
We can still work with the concept of Saucha and purity of mind and body as householder and modern beings in a modern society though! Perhaps the cleanliness of your environment, body and the products you use. This is something we've looked at in other articles already. And we practise what we preach: our oils are as pure as they can be. No nasties but pure oils and essential oils for example.
Santosha or contentment can arise from the realisation of Saucha. That we are not just our body and perhaps the body is our temple. Once we realise this we start to find contentment. Being content with what is.
Tapas can be interpreted as austerity. This practice can destroy impurities from the body and senses according to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. Tapas actually means to burn. In our previous paragraph, we translated this as "accepting, but not causing pain". So how do we practice Tapas? In India you see holy men standing on one leg for decades, or holding up one arm for years. What do we learn from this kind of practice? For the spiritual seeker, this is a way to remind us that we are more than our body. And that hard and challenging times are lessons to learn and develop ourselves on a spiritual level.
Svadhyaya is the studying of spiritual texts. By reading and studying we become inspired to live more ethically and spiritually. And perhaps reminded of the ethics and morals of texts such as Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra or whichever spiritual text or tradition inspires you.
The final Niyama is Ishavarapranidhana or surrendering to God. Ishavara is usually translated as God or Deity. But you may have a completely different name. Perhaps it is the Goddess, the greater good, Truth, Peace or humanity.
The interesting thing about Yoga is that although it is spiritual the philosophy can be applied to all different faiths and traditions. And even if we do not belong to anything specific Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras can perhaps inspire us to live more fully and inspired.
Yoga is not just about handstands or sun salutations. It goes so much deeper. We invite you to apply your ground roll-on, close your eyes and feel into that side of it