In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes certain principles that provide us with a framework for spiritual growth. Yoga Sutra 2.32 describes these principles as niyama:
Niyama consists of purity, contentment, accepting but not causing pain, study, and worship of God (self-surrender).*
Saucha refers to both physical and mental purity. To achieve purity, we need to be conscious of what we ingest, such as eating non-processed, nutrient dense food verses junk food and working towards positive development versus engaging in vices. At the same time, we use yoga practices, such as performance of the yoga postures (asana) and mediation to cleanse ourselves of unhealthy material that was previously consumed.
Santosha or contentment is rooted in the present. When we focus on wants and desires, we are looking to the future. Similarly, when we relive past events, both pleasant and painful, we are looking to the past. Focusing on either the future or the past takes us away from the present, and it is only in the present that we find contentment.
Accepting But Not Causing Pain (Tapas)
Tapas is the ability to recognize that pain is a teacher. It is in times of adversity that growth most rapidly occurs. When we recognize that difficulties are inevitable and do not retaliate with fear or hate in the face of pain, we learn vital lessons that lead us further on our spiritual path.
Svadhyaya or study refers to many different forms of study, such as study of scriptures, nature, history, even the repetition of mantra. It is through study and subsequent understanding that we ground ourselves, not relying on blind faith or vague feelings. Understanding provides the footing for balanced growth and a foundation against which we can check our behavior and beliefs.
Worship of God or Self-Surrender (Ishwara Pranidhana)
Ishwara Pranidhana involves the surrender of ourselves, the sacrifice of our selfishness. It is the giving of our time, energy, and abilities. It is in self-surrender that worship flourishes and enlightenment is achieved.
*You can read more about niyama in the book “Inside the Yoga Sutras,” written by Reverend Jaganath Carrera. The insights into niyama provided in this post are based upon this book.