What are the Niyamas?

Los niyamas son prácticas de autodisciplina que suponen uno de los pilares del yoga.

The “niyamas” are one of the eight pillars of yoga according to the “Yoga Sutra” of the sage Patanjali, an ancient text that codifies the practices and principles of yoga. Specifically, the niyamas are the internal codes of conduct or personal disciplines that yoga practitioners seek to adopt in their daily lives.

Together with the “yamas” (external ethical principles), the niyamas form the ethical and moral basis of the yoga path and offer guidance on how to live in a way that is consistent with yoga philosophy and allows one to achieve inner peace.

The True Meaning of the Yamas in Yoga

The niyamas invite us to deep introspection, to connect with our essence and to cultivate a state of inner well-being. They are a compass that guides us to a deeper understanding of ourselves, allowing us to face the outside world with balance, harmony and authenticity.

Before interacting with the world, it is important to establish a healthy and loving relationship with ourselves. Only when we are at peace and in balance with our own essence can we hope to relate to the outside world in a genuine and balanced way. The niyamas offer us precisely that map to self-knowledge and self-transformation.

The primary purpose of the niyamas is to foster inner growth and transformation. If they are seen as strict rules, there is a risk that they become just another set of rules to be followed externally, without corresponding internal change. True change comes from inner understanding and genuine adaptation, not from superficial compliance.

What are the Five Niyamas?

Within yoga, the niyamas are one of the most profound and transformative teachings that exist. However, they are often overlooked or misunderstood. We will detail each of the five niyamas, trying to explain them in the simplest and most accessible way:

Saucha (Purity)

Saucha translates as “purity.” But this translation may not fully capture the depth of the concept. Beyond mere physical cleansing, Saucha is an invitation to purify all aspects of our lives: body, mind and spirit.

At the most basic level, keeping our bodies clean. Physical hygiene is not only a matter of aesthetics or health, but also has a direct impact on how we feel and how we interact with the world. A clean body can be more receptive, energetic and balanced. Purification practices such as fasting, pranayama or certain yoga postures seek to cleanse the body of impurities, which in turn can lead to greater mental and emotional clarity.

This niyama also extends to cleansing our mind. We live on information overload, constantly bombarded by stimuli, distractions and often negativity. This accumulation can pollute our mind, leading to confusion, mental fatigue and lack of concentration. The practice of Saucha on a mental level involves being mindful of what we consume, both literally and figuratively. What books do we read? What programs do we watch? What conversations and relationships do we cultivate? Like a physical diet, our mental diet must be carefully selected to nourish and purify our mind.

Another important aspect at the level of mental cleansing is our emotions. We all carry with us repressed emotions, resentments, traumas and wounds from the past. These emotional impurities, if left untreated, can manifest as physical illnesses, mental disorders or simply a general feeling of discomfort or dissatisfaction in life. Addressing and clearing these emotions takes courage, but the result is a feeling of lightness and freedom.

On the spiritual plane we need to review the quality of our intentions and actions. Are we acting from ego or from the desire for the good of others? Are our actions aligned with our deepest values? By being conscious and purifying our intentions, we move closer to a more authentic and meaningful life where our actions reflect our deepest self.

As with all spiritual teachings, it is vital not to fall into the trap of perfectionism or excessive self-criticism. The pursuit of Saucha is not a path to perfection, but to greater awareness and alignment. It is not about punishing ourselves for our“impurities“, but becoming aware of them, daring to recognize them, addressing them and ultimately freeing ourselves from them.

Santosha (Inner Contentment)

We can translate Santosha as “contentment” or “satisfaction“. But what does it really mean to be content? At first glance, Santosha could be misinterpreted as complacency or lack of ambition, but this is not the case. Rather, it is about finding a balance, a middle ground between acceptance of what is and the desire for growth. It is the ability to feel gratitude for what we have right now, without it inhibiting our drive to evolve.

In our daily lives, we are constantly faced with challenges and changes. Circumstances fluctuate, and with them, our emotional states. The danger lies in tying our happiness to external conditions:“I will be happy when I have that job“,“when I lose weight”,“when I find a partner“. This is a never-ending race, because once we reach one goal, a new one appears. Santosha offers us a different approach: to find happiness within ourselves, regardless of external circumstances.

This perspective does not mean that we should resign ourselves to adverse or unfair situations. Instead, it is a conscious choice to focus on what is within our control. While we cannot change all external circumstances, we do have power over how we react to them. Fulfillment comes from realizing this reality, from understanding that our inner peace is not in the hands of the external world, but in our own.

The practice of gratitude is closely linked to Santosha. Instead of focusing on what we lack, it invites us to turn our attention to the blessings and riches we already possess. Each day brings us small moments and joys that, if observed carefully, can be immense sources of satisfaction.

But how do we cultivate Santosha in a world that constantly pushes us toward discontentment, toward having or doing more and more? It requires practice and awareness. It involves moments of introspection, of reconnecting with our inner self and recognizing its intrinsic value. It involves developing the resilience to face life’s ups and downs with equanimity and grace. And, above all, it involves remembering that our true essence is complete and that, despite the apparent shortcomings of the material world, we carry within us an inexhaustible source of fulfillment and bliss.

Tapas (Self-discipline)

Tapas is a Sanskrit term that, although often translated as “austerity” or “self-discipline,” is actually much deeper and more complex.“Tapas” comes from the root “tap“, which means “to heat” or “to burn“. Therefore, we can interpret it as the inner fire that drives personal transformation through self-discipline and sustained effort.

Contrary to what we might initially think, Tapas is not a form of punishment or self-sacrifice. Rather, it is a passionate dedication to personal or spiritual growth. It is that inner fire that drives us to rise early to meditate, to persist in our yoga practice even when it is challenging, or to stay true to our principles even in the face of temptation.

Just as gold is refined by heat, our essence is purified and strengthened when we face and overcome challenges. Every time we choose the right thing over the easy thing, when we stand firm in our convictions and face our fears, we are applying Tapas. This self-discipline is what allows us to grow, learn and transform into the best version of ourselves.

While Tapas pushes us to challenge ourselves and grow, Santosha reminds us to be content with the present. Together, these principles teach us to strive toward improvement while appreciating and accepting where we are now.

It is not just about acting with self-discipline, but also with clear intention. It is not about blindly striving, but knowing where to direct our effort and why. With a strong and clear intention, the fire of Tapas burns even stronger, giving us the energy and determination to overcome any obstacle.

Often, Tapas involves sacrificing temporary comforts for long-term benefits. It could be giving up an immediate pleasure to achieve a greater goal or facing an uncomfortable situation in order to grow personally. However, this “sacrifice” ultimately leads to greater freedom. By overcoming self-imposed dependencies or limitations, we free ourselves and expand our potential.

Svadhyaya

Svadhyaya can be broken down into “sva,” meaning “one’s own,” and “adhyaya,” meaning “study” or “education.” Thus, it can be understood as the study of oneself. But, more than a mere intellectual analysis, Svadhyaya is a deep immersion in our essence, a sincere search for understanding and self-knowledge.

This niyama is an invitation to stop, look inward and find ourselves again. It is a reminder that, before looking for answers in the outside world, we must look within ourselves.

In the Yoga tradition, Svadhyaya also refers to the study of sacred texts. Whether through the yoga scriptures, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita or any other source of spiritual wisdom, these texts serve as mirrors, reflecting aspects of ourselves and offering insights for our introspection. By delving into these teachings, we not only gain theoretical knowledge, but also reflect, prompting an inner transformation.

But beyond mere reflection, it involves a detailed and conscious observation of our actions, thoughts and emotions. In doing so, we begin to notice patterns, some of which might have gone unnoticed. Recognizing these patterns is the first step in transforming them. This self-observation, carried out without judgment or self-criticism, allows us to grow and evolve.

A key part of Svadhyaya practice is self-talk. Rather than letting our mind wander aimlessly, which can often lead to negative thought spirals, Svadhyaya encourages us to conduct this dialogue constructively. It becomes a meaningful conversation with our deepest self, a space to ask questions, seek clarity and find answers.

As we go deeper into the study of ourselves, we begin to shed the layers of identity that society, culture and our own beliefs have imposed on us. We discover, deep within, an essence that is unchanging and authentic. Svadhyaya guides us towards this realization, allowing us to connect with our trueself and live with authenticity and purpose.

Ishvara Pranidhana

Of all the niyamas, Ishvara Pranidhana is perhaps the most profound and therefore misunderstood. It is usually understood as “surrender or surrender to a higher power” or “devotion to the divine.” But as with many concepts in yoga, its meaning goes beyond the literal translation and invites us to explore deeper dimensions of our relationship with the universe and the divine.

The essence of Ishvara Pranidhana is the humble recognition that there is a force or energy in the universe that is greater than the individual. It is not necessarily about adhering to a specific deity or religious concept. Instead, it is an openness to the idea that existence is governed by cosmic principles and laws that transcend our human understanding.

Often, the word “surrender” is associated with defeat or submission. However, surrender means freedom from the illusion of control. It is recognizing that, despite our best efforts, we cannot control every aspect of our lives. By letting go of the desire to control and manipulate every situation, we experience a profound sense of freedom and peace.

Practicing Ishvara Pranidhana involves moving beyond the ego and its desires. It is a shift in perspective: instead of seeing life as a series of events that happen to us, we begin to see ourselves as part of a larger whole. This devotion invites us to act with compassion, love and a sense of purpose that goes beyond personal ambitions.

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