Yoga beyond the mat: The Niyamas

Hatha Yoga / Modern Yoga / Yoga philosophy

Yoga beyond the mat: The Niyamas

Yoga beyond the mat: The Niyamas by Patanjali

In this series I will guide you through one of the eight steps along the yogic path that is written down in the Yoga Sutras by the wise Patanjali about 2000 years ago.

There is not really a hierarchy between the eight steps, even though they are numbered. The description of the yogic path starts with an ethical guideline, the Yamas – how to treat our surroundings and Niyamas – how we treat our self.

I’ve previously spoken about the Yamas according to Patanjali – an ethical guideline on how to treat our surroundings – now let’s talk about the Niyamas – an ethical code for the treatment of our self.

The five Niyamas are:

  1. Shaucha (self-purificiation)
  2. Santosha (contentment)
  3. Tapas (self-discipline)
  4. Svadhyana (self-study)
  5. Ishvara Pranidhana (self-surrender) 


Here is what Patanjali wrote about self-purification:

“With bodily purification, one’s body ceases to be compelling, likewise contact with others”

While Shaucha, self-purification, can be achieved through techniques like pranayama or a nedi pot for examples, that allow you to clean body and mind, it can also include the choices of food that you put into your body or our asana practice. Focusing on this Niyama might also help you the enter a more calm state of mind for your meditation.

But it also refers to trying to not have negative, or “toxic“ thoughts about ourselves. As Patanjali puts it at the end, changing our mindset can then have greater effects on how we practice, or treat other people or just attract other, like-minded people, too.


“Contentment brings unsurpassed joy”

Santosha is all about being happy without attaching to something on the exterior – because true and independent happiness comes from within. It is about letting go of the past and stop comparing ourselves to others and free our mind from our own expectations and judgment – that is when we come closer to Santosha.

In our modern world, I find we often attach happiness to something, like “once I find a partner, I can be happy” or “once I lose weight I will be so much more content”. And while this can add to feeling happy on the outside, we are truly content when we do not attach it to something else. Being happy – just as we are in this very moment – a tough one, I know.


“As intense discipline burns up impurities, the body and its senses become supremely refined”

Tapas actually means “heat”. It can be seen while practicing any task with determination and full-heartedly. It does not refer to the Spanish Tapas (a meal/food type). It can be lived as you introduce a new habit into your life that serves your soul’s purpose. It is about where we focus our energy – and how we choose to spend it. Asana practice can be Tapas for the body, while meditation is Tapas for the mind.

When we start to be aware with our energy, the principle of self-discipline is also about leaving our ego behind and not completely overworking our body. I would also argue that Tapas is also about knowing when you can give less to be mindful with your energy.


“Self-study deepens communion with one’s personal deity”

Svadhyaya is about studying ourselves – our true mind. This is not (only) about reading ancient texts, but also about understanding our thought pattern or way of thinking. It’s about integrating elements of the yogic path into our lives, too. As Patanjali put it, it can then also lead you to the divine within you: whatever that is to you. 

It also means that we should stay curious, playful and never stop to explore our mind or even question it. The older we get, it can sometimes be the case that we accept things the way they are – also in terms of our personality or mind. But that doesn’t have to be the case!

Ishvara Pranidhana

“Through orientation toward the ideal of pure awareness, one can achieve integration”

And finally, Ishvara Pranidhana refers to letting go a little bit and trying to focus on one thing and allowing yourself to simply be. This might seem a little abstract, so allow me to put it this way: Ishvara Pranidhana to you can me that you give yourself fully to the path that you are on, to your dharma (your soul’s purpose) and knowing that you are on the right path for you.


All the Niyamas go hand in hand and effect each other – so even though you might focus on one of the principles, it will automatically influence the others. Simply know that there is no norm and that these ethical guidelines can look completely different to you than they do to someone else. Trust your own understanding here!

Which one did you resonate with the most?

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