This weekend is the Spring Equinox, which marks the mid point between the Winter Solstice and the Summer Solstice. For a fleeting few days, our hours of daylight and darkness are more or less even.
This symbolic period of balance and steadiness feels like a fitting time to look at Niyama, the second of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga, because it provides guidance to keep us on an even keel.
The first of the eight limbs is Yama – five things we should restrain in order to have positive relationships. Building on that, the Niyama are five habits we should NOT restrain in order to take care of ourselves.
Since ‘self-care’ has become a rather glib term harnessed by wellness brands to sell their ‘stuff’, let me just be clear that practicing niyama certainly doesn’t involve buying anything and needn’t cost you a penny!
I have provided below the literal translations of the five niyama, along with some modern day affirmations of my own that may help us to integrate them on our mats and in our lives.
“śauca-saṃtoṣa-tapaḥ svādhyāya-īśvara-praṇidhānāni niyamāḥ”
Yoga Sutra 2:32
śauca – literally, cleanliness – can of course refer to good personal hygiene but, also to good diet and practising ‘mental hygiene’ – minding what we watch, read or scroll through, and moving towards ‘sattva’ – lightness, space and clarity.
“My practice brings me clarity.”
saṃtoṣa – literally, contentment, notable in this context as something which takes practice.
“I know I am already enough.”
tapas – literally, to create or apply heat, often interpreted as ‘discipline’ or to work at something with consistency.
“I am willing to work towards change.”
svādhyāya – literally, self-study and study of sacred texts.
“I am curious about myself and make time for inner work.”
īśvara-praṇidhānā – literally, devotion to a higher power or something bigger than myself.
“My life is a part of a bigger picture.”
Integrating Niyama into your practice simply means cultivating good habits, balancing effort with ease and doing your inner work – while remembering the world does not revolve entirely around you.
Being in the Cycles
I wrote this post as part of a journey through the eight festivals of the Celtic calendar during which we will encounter each of the eight limbs of yoga – like a series of gates to pass through on our path.