I've blogged quite a bit about the Yamas - part of the 8-limb path of Raja Yoga laid out in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. The Yamas are considered "restraints" or behaviors one should follow on the yogic path. Today, we explore the "Niyamas" which are observances or practices to be cultivated on the journey of yoga. There are 5 Niyamas: Saucha, Santosha, Tapas, Svadhyaya, and Ishvara Pranidhana. Saucha is translated as "purity". This refers to both inner and outer purification of one's mind, body and physical environment. Cultivating purity means being aware of what you put into your body and how it affects body and mind, as well as who you surround yourself with and how cluttered your mind may be by negative thoughts. Yoga offers cleansing practices including pranayamas, kriyas and other practices such as neti pot to help us cleanse the body and clear the mind. These practices are traditionally done every morning. Santosha is translated as "contentment". It is the practice of cultivating contentment with what you have and where you are in life - it goes hand in hand with not coveting what others have (aparigraha). This doesn't mean not to strive to be better or do better - it's not meant to keep people from moving forward on their journey. It's simply a practice of being present in the moment and being at peace with yourself. Tapas is translated as "heat" or "purification through self-discipline". It includes practices of asceticism and goes hand in hand with pratyahara - training the senses through cultivating self-discipline so as to "burn up" mental and physical impurities and brahmacarya or conservation of energy through discipline. This could be through practices such as fasting or through physical exercise/asana, etc. Svadhyaya translates as "Self-Study". Perhaps one of the most important - Svadhyaya is the willful examination of our behaviors - our willingness to observe our flaws and weaknesses and examine our actions, thoughts, emotions, and desires more closely so we can better understand ourselves, what motivates us, what are our personal obstacles and what we need to work on. Svadhyaya is cultivating mindfulness of ourselves so we can see behyond who we are in any given moment and see our connection to True Self or the Divine. Svadhyaya can also include study of the ancient sacred texts such as the Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita, which can help guide us through these practices. Without this practice of self-reflection, it is nearly impossible to grow on your yoga journey. Ishvara Pranidhana is translated as "Devotion" or "Surrender to the Divine". It is the practice of letting go and surrendering to a Higher Power. Ishvara can be translated as "Supreme Being", "God", or "True Self". Pranidhana can mean "devote" or "surrender" and implies a "letting go". According to Patanjali's Sutras (1.23), one can attain the ultimate goal of yoga simply through complete devotion to God or the Supreme Being. Many people are not comfortable with the word "God" but this can also simply mean acknowledging that there is something higher than yourself. One can practice Ishvara Pranidhana through prayer, devotion, mantra, chanting, meditation. Through this process of letting go and connecting to the Source, one learns to surrender ego, to rest, to engage in self-care and to trust, remaining open to experience life as it is, and let go of any pre-judgement of how it should be (which sort of goes back to Santosha and being content). There are many ways to incorporate the Niyamas into your yoga practice. You can try focusing on one at a time beginning with the simplest, saucha and slowly work up to Ishvara Pranidhana. Or, work on them simultaneously in little bits each day. For example, Saucha can be part of your morning practice. Tapas could be part of your asana practice or it could be a simple fasting from food or television or sex or social media that you engage in periodically. Santosha and Svadhyaya can be constant practices one engages in throughout the day or in meditation. Ishvara Pranidhana may be something you practice at the end of the day in prayer, meditation or through mantra early in the morning. Namaste!