How to apply the Niyamas to Your Personal Practice

June 01, 2019

A guest blog by 2019 YogaMotion RYS200 Graduate Jylissa Salveson

One of eight branches from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the five niyamas are a list of “do’s” that will enhance anyone’s yoga practice from someone just beginning to seasoned yogis alike. Here’s how you can put these self-disciplines into practical application on and off your yoga mat.

Jylissa-1Like many of you, I have attended group yoga classes for years with the desire to be healthier and push my flexibility and strength. Countless classes and vinyasa flows later, I found myself desiring a deeper relationship with my yoga practice, to unsheathe the layers beyond just the physical movement and poses. Group classes I attended were lacking in this depth of connection beyond tough poses and heated rooms, so I decided to pursue a 200-hour teaching certification at a YogaMotion Wellness Academy.

Throughout this journey, my personal yoga practice was birthed and matured throughout the months of my training. One the most important and influential teachings I encountered during this time was the eight branches of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras which includes the branch dedicated to self-observances, or niyamas. This branch of yoga philosophy focuses on the 'do’s' while the branch of yamas, or social conduct are often thought of as the 'don’ts', or how not to treat others. However, both go much deeper than just a list to check off. The addition of the niyamas radically changed my personal yoga practice and can do the same for any yogi desiring a deeper personal yoga practice.

Here’s what you need to know about each of the five niyamas and how you can put them into your life and personal practice.

Śaucha: cleanliness or purification

This niyama can be applied to both the external physical environment of your practice and the inner thoughts moving through your mind. Think about maintaining a tidy spot dedicated to your yoga practice that beckons you in warmly rather than adding to the chaos of life. Cleaning your mat after each use and putting any props back into their proper spots will help keep your space as well as you mind clean and clear of distractions. In the same way, be diligent about the purity of the thoughts or words you allow to dwell in your mind. We all have negative feelings arise in our lives, but making it a practice to purify these thoughts, releasing any that do not serve you and replacing with positive affirmations will keep the mind space clean as well.

Santosa: contentment

This was a big one for me to learn both on and off the mat. Realizing the difference between that which you can control such as your breath or where you direct your energy, and that which is out of your hands and being okay with this. A great way to practice this contentment during your yoga personal time is to practice balancing poses. No other poses in yoga will show you more about the state of your mind or emotions than balancing poses which require concentration, patience, and acceptance of where you are that day. Likewise, in life, we can apply contentment to all situations, even those that may not make sense or be ideal, knowing that each day is anew, bringing fresh insight and growth into whatever you are going through.

Tapas: persistence, discipline

This niyama is perhaps the easiest to grasp and apply directly to a personal practice. It is called a yoga practice, meaning that practice is required, and on a consistent and persistent basis. The literal meaning of tapas is “heat”, and in order to create heat, energy must be applied. Likewise, a conscientious effort must be made in order to create consistency or for change to occur in any area of life. Perhaps you start by committing only 15 minutes a day to your yoga practice, working your way up from there as the benefits become obvious and far outweigh the challenge of making it to your mat.

Svādhyāya: self-study, studying of sacred scripture

More than just a fun word to say, (try it!), this niyama captures the very essence of applying the teachings of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, as it means study and application of sacred scripture. It ensures that all yogis will be forever-students, always with a desire to learn passed what is known today. Beyond that, it means studying oneself by spending time in quiet meditation and learning to listen to the whispers of your soul.

Perhaps the idea of studying scripture scares you or makes yoga seem like too much of a religion to you, so instead, focus on a positive passage or quote that inspires you. Sages exist is many walks of life, perhaps in the teachings of Jesus Christ, the inspiration of a figure like Mother Teresa, or in the words of your favorite song. Take time daily to reflect on the words of wisdom from those that have come before you and apply these teachings to your life.

Īśvarapranidhāna: surrender to God, devotion

This was for me by far the most influential niyama that radically changed my personal practice. I have always been a spiritual being, with a desire to be closer to God, but by creating a special time and place each morning in which to meet Him on the mat, I was able to obtain an even deeper connection with the Creator of the Universe. Just the opportunity to sit in silence and be open to hearing what He had in store for me that day, or to offer words of comfort during hard times drastically changed how my days would start in such a positive manner.

Perhaps for you the idea of God or some greater being makes you uncomfortable to think about. But most of humanity, despite what religion or belief system, will agree that a force greater than themselves exists, and what better way to learn more about your personal beliefs than setting some time aside during your practice to wrestle with this question. Maybe in the quiet stillness, you will feel a connection with that which is outside of yourself. This is the crux of a yoga practice, obtaining a sense of peace that there is more than just yourself, both a humanitarian and Divine connection.

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