Ashtanga Yoga, The Eight-Limbs of Yoga
Niyama, a Sanskrit, word mean rules or laws. These are the rules prescribed for personal observance. Like the five yamas, the niyamas are not exercises or actions to be simply studied. They represent far more than an attitude. Compared with the yamas, the niyamas are more intimate and personal. They refer to the attitude we adopt toward ourselves.
The first niyama is sauca, cleanliness. Sauca has both an inner and an outer aspect. Outer cleanliness simply means keeping ourselves clean. Inner cleanliness has as much to do with the healthy, free functioning of our bodily organs as with the clarity of our mind. Practicing asanas or pranayama are essential means for attending to this inner sauca.
Another niyama is samtosa, modesty and the feeling of being content with what we have. To be at peace within and content with one's lifestyle. Literally the word means happiness. There are occasions we work hard to get something. We get very disappointed when we don't get it. Some people will get into extreme depression as a result. Some people may even contemplate suicide in extreme cases. We do these things because we do not have the discipline of being content with what we have. We should accept that there is a purpose for everything - yoga calls it karma. In 'Celestine Prophecy', James Redfield calls this synchronicity. The real meaning of samtosa is 'to accept what happens'. God has a plan. Christians prays, 'Thy will be done.' Accept what God has given us with humility and happiness. Be happy with what we have rather than being unhappy about what we don't have.
A commentary on the Yoga Sutra says: "Contentment counts for more than all sixteen heavens together." Instead of complaining about things that go wrong, we can accept what has happened and learn from them. Samtosa encompasses our mental activities such as study, our physical efforts, and even how we earn our living. It is about ourselves-what we have and how we feel about what God has given us. It is about our whole outlook on life. Do we look at a cup as half empty or as half full?
Tapas refers to the activity of keeping the body fit or to confront and handle the inner urges without outer show. Literally it means to heat the body and, by so doing, to cleanse it. Behind the notion of tapas lies the idea that we can get rid of the rubbish in our body. Asanas and pranayama are tools we can use to keep ourselves healthy. Another form of tapas is paying attention to what we eat. Eating when we are not hungry is the opposite of tapas. Attention to body posture, attention to eating habits, attention to breathing patterns-these are all tapas that help to prevent the buildup of rubbish in the body, including excess weight and shortness of breath. Tapas makes the whole body fit and well functioning. It gives us the discipline of developing healthy eating habits and prevent us from getting high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart diseases.
The fourth niyama is svadhyaya. Sva means "self' or "belonging to me." Adhyaya means "inquiry" or "examination". The word svadhyaya literally means, "to get close to something." It means to get close to yourself, that is, to study yourself. It could also mean meditation or contemplation. It teaches us to be centered and non-reactive to the dualities, to burn out unwanted and destructive tendencies.
All learning, all reflection, all contact that helps you to learn more about yourself is svadhyaya. In the context of the niyama the term is often translated as "the study of ancient texts." Yes, yoga does instruct us to read the ancient texts because we cannot always just sit down and contemplate things. We need reference points. The world is changing fast around us. We can read the Bible or a book on spiritual healing or one that is of personal significance or the Yoga Sutra. According to the Yoga Sutra, as we progress in our self-examination, we will gradually find a link with the divine laws and with the prophets who revealed them. And since mantras are often recited for this purpose, we sometimes find svadhyaya translated as "the repetition of mantras."
Isvarapranidhana means "to lay all your actions at the feet of God." It is the contemplation on God (Isvara) in order to become attuned to god and god's will. We should accept the fact that we will not always get everything we want. Sometimes we get disappointed. Things do go wrong. This is the reason why samtosa (modesty) is so important. We have done our share. We have done the best we could under the circumstances. We can leave the rest to a higher power. In the context of the niyamas we can define Isvarapranidhana as the attitude of a person who usually offers the fruits of his or her action to God in daily prayer.
Next Topic: Asanas (Yogic postures)
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