Definition - What does Niyama mean?

Niyama is the Sanskrit term for a duty or observance recommended by yogic philosophy and teaching as part of the path of yoga. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, he outlines five niyamas as part of the second limb of yoga.

These niyamas are all practices which can be considered inner observances. They are a way of applying the ethical codes of yoga to the student’s own mind, body and spirit, helping to create a positive environment internally.

Practicing the niyamas is said to give the yoga student the inner strength, clarity and discipline that they need in order to progress on their spiritual journey.

Yogapedia explains Niyama

In the eight-limbed path of yoga as outlined by Patanjali, the five niyamas are listed as follows:

  1. Saucha - Purification, cleanliness and clarity of mind, communication and physical body. This recognizes that our external environment affects our inner purity. Practices such as meditation can help to cultivate the cleanliness of mind specified by saucha.
  2. Santosha - Contentment and acceptance of the world, yourself and your circumstances exactly as they are. This means letting go of cravings for what we don’t have. Doing this is said to end one's suffering.
  3. Tapas - Asceticism or intense self-discipline and willpower, even through discomfort. This recognizes the need to sometimes do what is difficult or unpleasant in order to have a positive effect on one's life and existence.
  4. Svadhyaha - Study of the self, and the practice of self-reflection. This may include using the scriptures or sacred texts as a tool for introspection. It means seeing who one is in the moment as well as exploring one's connection with the Divine.
  5. Ishvara Pranidhana - Surrender to and contemplation of the Divine or Supreme Being. This includes dedicating and devoting one's work to a higher power and dissolving our ego-focused desires.

In certain other texts, including the "Varuha Upanishads" and the "Hatha Yoga Pradipika," an expanded list of 10 niyamas is given. These include additional observances such as dana, which means "charity" or "sharing with others," and astika, which means "having faith in the true Self or in God."

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