Tag Archives: Niyama

Hatha or Ashtanga Yoga? A Beginning Student’s Dilemma

It is often quite confusing for those interested in beginning a regular yoga practice to choose from all the yoga studios online. Which style of yoga would be best suited for them, can be a major concern. Before they figure out which class they’d be most interested in taking, they need to know what the differences are. Discounting Bikrams, which is controversial (besides, all Bikrams is hot yoga, but all hot yoga is not Bikrams), the differences between the other styles aren’t so clear. Hatha and Ashtanga yoga may appear to the novice as the same style, but yet they are often found to be very different when put into actual practice.

Let’s start with Intensity

Hatha yoga is often used as an umbrella term that encompasses all styles of physical yoga practice, including Ashtanga, but yoga studios that typically promote the slower, gentler yoga classes are known as Hatha yoga. These less challenging classes are generally considered more appropriate for beginners. Even though Hatha classes are commonly taught at a relatively low intensity level, it is still best to speak with each individual instructor beforehand to decide if the class is right for you. Some yoga instructors teach Hatha yoga classes at a more strenuous level than others. Some studios assign a numerical value to the difficulty level, such as 1, 2 or 3, with level 3 being the most demanding class.

Flow (or pace)

In Sanskrit the word for flow is “Vinyasa” and this determines the difference between Hatha yoga and Ashtanga yoga in terms of the class’s structure. Whenever you see the word Vinyasa or flow added onto the end of the class or studio name, this probably means that you will be  moving from Asana (posture) to asana without stopping (or in a flow). This is usually the way Ashtanga yoga is taught. Hatha yoga, on the other hand typically goes into one asana, holds the pose, and then comes out of it after a determined amount of time. With Hatha yoga there isn’t any transition between each asana as there is in Ashtanaga yoga classes.

Primary Objectives of Hatha Yoga

Hatha yoga practice focuses on perfecting the asanas and doing pranayama (breath control), to increase the flow of prana (life force) through the nadis (channels throughout the body through which the prana flows). Prana is similar to the concept of chi (or Qi). Pranayama is the scientific practice of first controlling and then directing the prana through breathing exercises. Hatha works to balance increase this flow of energy. Asana and pranayama practice are part of Ashtanga yoga as well, but they are only two of the “Eight Limbs” (aka branches or objectives) of Ashtanga.

So basically, when you join a Hatha class it means that you will get an easy, gradual introduction to the most basic yoga asanas and then strive to perfect them. It’s unlikely you’ll work up a sweat in a Hatha yoga class, but you probably will end up leaving the class feeling taller, looser, and more relaxed. Posture is also usually improved.

Primary Objective of Ashtanga Yoga

A student or practitioner of Ashtanga yoga not only works on asanas and pranayama but also all the other six limbs which are; yama (the do not’s), niyama (the do’s), pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (bliss or effortless meditatio). The Yamas & Niyamas are yoga’s ten ethical guidelines and are the foundation of skillful living. Pratyahara is a means of withdrawing all sensory perceptions. Dharana, dhyana and samadhi are connected, being successive stages which lead to enlightenment.

Today, Ashtanga yoga is based on ancient yoga teachings that were popularized and brought to the West by K. Pattabhi Jois in the 1970s. It’s a more rigorous style of yoga that follows a specific sequence of postures similar to Vinyasa yoga (both styles links every movement to a breath). Ashtanga performs the exact same asanas in the exact same ordered sequence. This can a hot, physically demanding practice and you will break a sweat.


Hatha Yoga has become the most popular style of Yoga in the United States. It focuses on the physical well-being of a person and teaches that the body is the vehicle of the spirit. There are lot of different Yoga Styles that have their roots Hatha Yoga, but all these styles strive to balance the mind, the body, and the spirit through the asanas, although the emphasis sometimes varies. Some put the emphasis on the strict alignment of the body while others focus on the coordination of breath and asana.

Ashtanga yoga may be the perfect yoga for those who want a serious workout. Students and participants move through a series of flows, sequencing from one asana to another in order to increase strength, flexibility and stamina. This is not for beginners or anyone who taks a casual approach to fitness. Ashtanga Yoga Practice involves performing challenging sequence of poses with Ujjayi Breathing and vinyasas (a flow of postures). “Power Yoga” is based on Ashtanga.

*Rae Indigo is ERYT500

Positive Thinking, the Power of Thoughts and Patanjali

In Sutra II.33 Patanjali says: “vitarka-badhane pratipaksha-bhavanam” and this means principles that run contrary to yamas and niyamas are to be countered with the knowledge of discrimination. When one has thoughts of violence, untruthfulness, stealing, indulgences, accumulation, lack of cleanliness, discontent by greed, and anger or delusion, the result is dissatisfaction/sorrow. In general, negative thoughts are ones that negate yama and niyama, ethical norms and individual observances. Therefore, for the purpose of attaining a peaceful mind, yoga philosophy suggests two invaluable techniques, to be applied when one is in the midst of experiencing any of the thoughts listed above. The first is cultivating the opposite, positive type of thoughts. Iyengar1 describes negative thoughts, such as, violence, falsehood, stealing, non-chastity and greed as ‘pratipaksha bhavana.’ On the other hand, the opposite of these are cleanliness, contentment, fervor or dedicated practice, self-study and surrender to the Universal Spirit, God or faith, described as ‘paksha bhavana.’ The former, negative thoughts run contrary to ethical norms or yamas, and the latter, positive thoughts, are consistent with following individual disciplines, the niyamas. For cultivating peaceful states of mind it is important to follow yamas and niyamas and that is helped by nurturing thinking that is wholesome, based on right knowledge and awareness.

There is an ancient Indian adage that compares consciousness to a lamp at the door. It shines both in the house and out into the world. It makes one aware of the external (out there) and the internal (in here) worlds. Cultivated awareness is about creating a relationship between these two. In this context, in the sutra referred to above, Patanjali reiterates the importance of adhering to the ethical norms and individual disciplines while attending to the practice of the replacing habitual negative thoughts and tendencies with positive ones, attending to the weaknesses in the body/mind by nurturing strengthening options.

The Vibrations of Thoughts…

Everyone’s body is physiologically tied to their thoughts, beliefs and attitudes. To be healthy, one needs to recognize the intimate connection that exists between the mind, body and spirit. Cultivating positive thinking is a first step in raising your personal vibration.

Recent scientific studies, and state-of-the-art scientific instruments, are being used to measure the effects of both positive and negative thinking with respect to disease and optimal health. Never doubt that negative thoughts have just as much power as positive ones. Negative thinking can slowly wear you down, resulting in a host of mental, physical and emotional problems and conditions; including poor self-esteem, depression and even illness.

Do you ever wonder how one person can succumb to suffering during a particular circumstance, while another person will thrive in the same situation? Nine times out of ten it simply boils down to their mental attitude!

Whenever you choose a thought (and your thoughts are chosen by you), your brain cells are affected. These cells continuously vibrate, sending off electromagnetic waves. The more you concentrate, focusing on those thoughts, the greater the amplitude of vibration of those cells, and the electromagnetic waves, subsequently, become stronger.  

Positive thinking can raise your vibration up to 10 Hz (vibrations per second), whereas negative thinking can lower your vibration by as much as 15 Hz. These measurements come from extensive research done by Bruce Tainio of Tainio Technology in Cheney, Washington. His company developed new equipment that can measure the bio-frequency of both humans and the foods they eat. Mr. Tainio has conclusively shown that the number one way to start feeling better is to start thinking positively.

Begin by striving to establish and maintain the positive attitude that you will be triumphant in the end, no matter what the circumstances might be. To do this, first begin by observing your thoughts and recognize habitual thought patterns. Remain detached from them and pay close attention whenever a negative thought enters your stream of consciousness. As soon as you realize this is happening, immediately replace the negative thought with a positive one.

There is an old saying: “You get what you expect.” In other words, if you think you are going to fail at something, you will probably fail and the reverse is also true; if you think you’ll succeed your chances of being victorious will greatly improve. Why? Because your energy follows your thoughts and you begin to create or manifest what you desire and expect. By remaining positive you will prove to yourself and to others that you are a victor, not a victim.

Do the Yamas and Niyamas Support Veganism?

The Yamas & Niyamas are ethical guidelines and comprise the first two limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras’ “Eight-Fold Path”. They are the very foundation of skillful living according to Yogic philosophy.

The Yamas and Niyamas both consist of specific guidelines (presented as precepts) which give detailed explanations to guide you through all aspects of daily life. The Yamas offer universal directives which a community or society can follow to promote harmonious relationships; whereas the Niyamas deal more with what you as an individual can do to live in harmony with nature.

These Yamas and Niyamas reinforce the principles and purpose of a plant-based or Vegan dietary regime and lifestyle, and this article will explain this close association and how the Yamas and Niyamas apply to Veganism.

The Yamas encourage a collective way of living which discourages negative behaviors, and in so doing, embraces Veganism:

  1. 1. Ahimsa – Compassion and non-violence towards all sentient beings, including animals. As a Vegan, you practice ahimsa, believing that animals have right too, so you avoid all cruelty to animals by using only cruelty free, eco-friendly products.
  2. 2. Satya – Truthfulness, expressing your truth in thoughts, words and behavior. It often takes courage to be practicing Vegan, especially if friends and family, work colleagues and others eat meat you may find yourself socially excluded and/or considered a bit of an odd-ball. By sticking to your convictions you are practicing Satya.
  3. 3. Asteya – Non-stealing and by extension, being generous with your feelings, thoughts and actions. Economically, it costs considerably more to raise and feed animals than to cultivate plants. By practicing Asteya you are enabled to support and cooperate with nature and you’re using less of the Earth’s natural resources.
  4. 4. Brahmacharya – Self restraint, generally Brahmacharya refers to restraint of the sexual energy, however in its broadest sense, Brahmacharya means self-discipline and moderation in all areas of life. The yogic diet consists of eating “sattvic” foods, foods which are easy to digest, and eaten as close to their natural state (and source), which is in accord with a Vegan diet. In addition, a conscious Vegan strives to preserve our natural resources and by recycling whenever and wherever possible, and this indicates a willingness towards moderation and conserving energy.
  5. 5. Aparigraha – Non-possessiveness and non-greed. On a practical level, when adopting a compassionate, Vegan lifestyle, we take the first big step toward becoming established in Aparigraha, and with that, we step into a bright, enlightened future for ourselves, for the animals and for this planet.

The typical Western meat diet encourages you to bulk buy, to store frozen foods and meat, to fill your larder with long life provisions. As a vegan, you strive to eat freshly prepared foods, to support your local farmers market and where possible, eat locally sourced foods.

The Niyamas are more personal observations (recommendations) and relate to actions which you, as an individual are encouraged to do.

The Niyamas encourage a personal way of life which encourages positive behaviors which embrace Veganism:

  1. 1. Shauca – Cleanliness, keeping yourself and immediate environment clean and tidy. Veganism with its emphasis on a “green” lifestyle using eco-friendly practices is perfectly aligned with the yoga practice of Shauca.
  2. 2. Samtosha – Contentment, being satisfied, accepting of your immediate situation; the ideal behind Samtosha is to prompt yourself to be happy and appreciate all the blessings and tribulations in your life, yet at the same time to strive towards spiritual evolution. Sattvic foods promote happiness and contentment, while Rajasic and Tamasic foods tend to stimulate and disturb. There is a Native American tale of two wolves: “…a grandfather is talking to his grandson about how inside his mind are two wolves in a constant fight. One is anger, greed, self-pity, revenge; the other is love, kindness, empathy, hope. The child asks which one wins, and the grandfather replies, ‘Whichever one I feed.’” In the same way, we can choose to eat foods that promote contentment.
  3. 3. Tapas – Relates to self-discipline; the ability to stay focused and maybe go without certain possessions in order to grow, develop and care for yourself and others. Tapas can also relate to the way you prepare and/or cook your food, even starting a garden and growing your own takes time and effort compared the more popular and convenient fast food approach of buying ready-made, pre-prepared and processed meals and then using a microwave.
  4. 4. Svadhyaya – Self study and observation of your thoughts, feelings, words and actions. Life is a journey and Svadhyaya can also mean the study of your own mind. A decision to stop eating meat and follow a more ethical plant-based lifestyle which causes the least amount of harm to the environment and animals involves considerable personal study, reflection and observation.
  5. 5. Ishvarapranidhana – Refers to devotion to God. To constantly be aware of the sacredness of life and to hold reverence for all being. This is the highest goal of yoga and perfectly in accord with Veganism, which also holds all forms of life as sacred.

You can see from this overview how the observance of the Yamas and Niyamas offers Vegans a way to live a wholesome and eco-friendly life. By applying the principles of the Yamas and Niyamas to your daily life you it will become obvious how yoga philosophy encourages you to become a vegan or follow a plant-based diet.

Side note on the question of dairy and dairy products: Cows produce milk for the same reason that humans do, to nourish their young; but calves born on dairy farms are taken from their mothers when they are just one day old (and raised for veal – violates Ahimsa) so that humans can have the mother’s milk instead. Furthermore, in the case of bovine baby vs. human baby, cow’s milk is designed to nourish the calf’s relatively rapid bone growth (a calf will gain approximately 40% of its full-grown weight in its first six months [400-600 lbs.], while a human baby is meant to gain only about 10% in the same time [14-16 lbs.]). Additionally, there are now Vegan alternatives to cow’s milk (e.g.; soy, almond, coconut, rice and flax milks are some common examples). For more on the dairy issue, watch the film: “The Perils of Dairy”

The ancient Chandogya Upanishad (D II 26.2) says “When food is pure, the mind is pure, when the mind is pure, concentration is steady, and when concentration is achieved one can loosen all the knots of the heart that bind us.” Veganism is one of the main pillars of the purifying the mind.

*In summary – The American equivalent of a traditional Yogic (Sattvic) diet today consists of organic, whole, natural fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains. A modern Sattvic diet emphasizes foods grown in harmony with nature, preferably by organic farmers, planted in good soils, ripened naturally and then prepared with an attitude of love. Foods treated in such a manner carry the highest prana and consciousness. This modern sattvic diet does not include junk and processed foods, excessively spicy or salty foods, fried foods, white “enriched” flour, refined sugars, and other forms of food that unnaturally stimulate your blood sugar and/or your mind. This modern diet avoids meat, fish and alcohol and eggs as well. It does not include genetically engineered (GMO) foods, irradiated foods, microwave foods, foods that have been cooked more than 24 hours previously or stale foods.

The Five Niyamas (Part 5 – Ishvara Pranidhana)

This article is the fifth and final part of a five part series based on this post: The Eight Limbs of Yoga (Part 2 – Niyama)

The fifth of the five Niyamas is Ishvara Pranidhana. In its simplest form, the Sanskrit term is a combination of the words; Ishvara, meaning Lord, God, Supreme Being or Life Force, and Pranidhana, meaning attention to, love for, surrender to, faith in, or reunion with. “Attentiveness” and “Surrender” are both close English approximations.

Surrender (Ishvara Pranidhana) is considered the “final” step, stage, practice or observance (Niyama) for students and practitioners of Patanjali’s “classical” Yoga (Raja Yoga). Patanjali says of Ishvara Pranidhana: “From an attitude of letting go into one’s source (ishvarapranidhana), the state of perfected concentration (samadhi) is attained.” (Yoga sutra 2.45 – samadhi siddhih ishvarapranidhana).

For Patanjali, Ishvara Pranidhana is a powerful “observance” for dissolving the seemingly endless fluctuations (or agitations) of the mind, and is therefore a means to the realization of the ultimate unified state of yoga, “Samadhi.” By embodying the practice of Ishvara Pranidhana we can shift our perspective from our obsession with the “ego-I” that causes so much of the mind’s distraction and creates the sense of separation from our Source. Since Ishvara Pranidhana focuses on the sacred ground of being rather than the ego, it reunites us with our true Self. As B. K. S. Iyengar states in his Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, “Through surrender the aspirant’s ego is effaced, and…grace…pours down upon him like a torrential rain.”

A note on the meaning of Ishvara (from Swami Rama): “In the Upanishads, the word Īśvara is used to denote a state of collective consciousness. Thus, God is not a being that sits on a high pedestal beyond the sun, moon, and stars; God is actually the state of Ultimate Reality. But due to the lack of direct experience, God has been personified and given various names and forms by religions throughout the ages. When one expands one’s individual consciousness to the Universal Consciousness, it is called Self-realization, for the individual self has realized the unity of diversity, the very underlying principle, or Universal Self, beneath all forms and names. The great sages of the Upanishads avoid the confusions related to conceptions of God and encourage students to be honest and sincere in their quests for Self-realization. Upanishadic philosophy provides various methods for unfolding higher levels of truth and helps students to be able to unravel the mysteries of the individual and the universe.”

In the West we commonly view surrender as giving up; a last resort when all else has failed and we are exhausted or in a weakened state, but on the other hand, the type of surrender indicated by Isvara Pranidhana requires tremendous strength and courage. This is why the observance of the other four Niyamas precedes it.

In order to surrender the “fruits” of our actions to God we are required to give up all illusions that we know best, and instead accept and trust that the way our life unfolds is most likely part of a much larger pattern too complex and/or beautiful for us to understand. Isvara Pranidhana instructs us to make a conscious choice to love regardless of the harshness or comfort of our current circumstances.

This surrender is definitely not a passive inactivity. Isvara Pranidhana requires that we completely and whole heartedly surrender to all that “is”, while simultaneously acting with an abundance of goodness and love.

The practice of Isvara Pranidhana is relatively simple. Just let all the activities of body, mind and spirit be consciously rooted in unconditional love, the love of an open heart radiating kindness and compassion.  Actively surrender to reality of Life, the Divine and Existence Itself.  As we actively surrender to what “is” while we intentionally move towards the highest expression of our spiritual Self in each moment with no attachment or thought of any “attainment”, a great sense of freedom and peace arises within us and we become a healing light to all.

Isvara Pranidhana inherently requires a profound trust in the goodness of the Universal Divine which permeates all existence, both within and beyond our finite understanding.

The Five Niyamas (Part 4 – Svadhyaya)

This article is the fourth of a five part series based on this post:  The Eight Limbs of Yoga (Part 2 – Niyama)

The Five Niyamas (Part 4 – Svadhyaya)


The fourth of the five Niyamas is Svadhyaya – a compound Sanskrit word literally translated sva, meaning “one’s own”, and adhyaya, “study”; therefore Svadhyaya would mean study of one’s self. Svadhyaya also is interpreted as studying the Vedas, Yoga Sutras and other scriptures, basically the source materials of yoga practice.

Self-study is very important for students and practitioners of Patanjali’s “classical” Yoga (Raja Yoga) and it would include reflection on sacred texts. Patanjali says of Svadhyaya: “From self-study and reflection on sacred words (svadhyaya), one attains contact, communion, or concert with that underlying natural reality or force.” (Yoga sutra 2.44 – svadhyayat ishta samprayogah).

Through deep inquiry into the self, comes an acknowledgment of the oneness of that self with all that is arises naturally. In other words, when practicing Svadhyaya our boundaries begin to melt and the illusion of separateness we feel from ourselves, those around us, and our world begins to dissolve. To practice Svadhyaya is to find the Divine appearing in us (and as us) at this very moment.

Yogis throughout the ages have practiced Svadhyaya by asking the simple question, “Who am I.”  Sri Ramana Maharishi often spoke of self-enquiry as the “direct path” meaning it was the fastest path to moksha (liberation from Maya [illusion] and samskara [the cycle of death and rebirth] including all of the suffering and limitation of worldly existence).

Svadhyaya is purposefully preceded by Tapas (fiery discipline) because it takes an enormous amount of discipline to move beyond the material world that defines, binds and shrouds us in Maya (ignorance). In the practice of Svadhyaya, prayers, mantras, japa, meditation, purposeful intent and other devotional practices, including ancient yogic methods are used to strip away the ego and unveil truth, layer by layer. In the study of one’s self, the student becomes the witness of their thoughts, emotions, actions and life.  During this witnessing process the distance between the real and unreal is unveiled.  The incessantly chattering mind, unsettled emotions and physical limitations of the body are no longer seen as the “Self”, but instead are viewed as an experience of Self. In this recognition and realization of Truth, the practice of Svadhyaya brings a resounding peace.

In yoga practice, Svadhyaya has most traditionally been concerned with the study of various scriptures. But in truth, any practice that brings us to the point of recognizing our interconnection with all that is, is Svadhyaya. Svadhyaya could be studying Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, practicing asana, chanting, or even reading this blog.

In the study of Svadhyaya, as with all of our sadhanas, there is a natural, organic movement towards becoming more and more present.  Along with this movement, there is an automatic falling away of fear.  A sense of peace emerges along with the knowledge that love (presence) permeates all that is and ever was.  Through the recognition of our inherent goodness and divinity, we realize that everything occurs for both the good of the individual and the good whole. In this state there are no random events,  in fact, it would appear as if from your very first breath you were meant to find that you are loved far more than you could ever possibly imagine.

Final thoughts: Incorporating the practice of Svadhyaya into your everyday life is an effective way to experience life more fully. It’s about getting to know yourself better. And as we begin to truly understand who we are, we identify with the connectedness (union) that yoga is really all about.

The next article will continue this series with: The Five Niyamas (Part 5 – Ishvara Pranidhana)

The Five Niyamas (Part 3 – Tapas)

This article is the third of a five part series based on this post: The Eight Limbs of Yoga (Part 2 – Niyama)

The Five Niyamas (Part 3 – Tapas)

Tapas (heat)

The third of the five Niyamas is Tapas – a Sanskrit term meaning “heat”. In Vedic religion and Hinduism, Tapas is also used figuratively, denoting spiritual suffering, mortification or austerity, and also the spiritual ecstasy of a yogin or tāpasa (a Vriddhi derivative meaning “a practitioner of austerities, an ascetic”).

Self training is very important for students and practitioners of Patanjali’s “classical” Yoga (Raja Yoga). Training the senses is a subtler training, as these are the instrument of the mind, acting through the vehicle of the body. Patanjali says of Tapas: Through ascesis or training of the senses (tapas), there comes a destruction of mental impurities, and an ensuing mastery or perfection over the body and the mental organs of senses and actions (indriyas).” (Yoga sutra 2.43 – kaya indriya siddhih ashuddhi kshayat tapasah)

The Katha Upanishad (III.3-4) presents a metaphor of a chariot, in which the senses (indriyas) are like the horses, the reins are the mind (manas), the driver is the intelligence or intellect (buddhi), the chariot is the physical body, and the passenger is the true Self, the atman. If the senses and mind are not trained, then the horses run in random, uncontrolled directions. With self-training, the senses stay on course, under the proper control of the driver. The Katha Upanishad is also notable for first introducing the term yoga (lit. “yoking, harnessing”) for spiritual exercise: “When the five organs of perception become still, together with the mind, and the intellect ceases to be active: that is called the highest state. This firm holding back of the senses is what is known as Yoga.” (VI.10-11, trans. Paramananda).

Since it comes from the Sanskrit root “to burn,” the word tapas represents the transformational essence of fire. Just as fire transforms all that it touches, tapas is a method of personal transformation. When practicing tapas, the student or Yogi finds his own inner flame which becomes the motivation that keeps him focused on his goals and helps him to eliminate or “burn” the obstacles on his path. Temptations of the senses, laziness, negative thoughts, energy blockages in the body, etc. are gradually weakened and overcome. The power the senses have to distract us is limited by the student’s clear and disciplined focus and in this way Tapas perfects the body and senses and destroys impurities.

Tapas is often regarded as “austerity” but in today’s culture, we generally (and mistakenly) associate the term “austerity” with severe depravation. Although, according to the yoga philosophy, austerity is an opportunity to set ourselves free from distraction. When we discipline ourselves, establishing long-term goals, difficulty can definitely arise; because it is both frustrating and challenging to confront the limits of our own commitment to maintaining self-control. However, when we finally gain the strength and courage to make the commitment, the results are unbelievable. We discover that beyond the end goal of personal transformation, our self-esteem is improved and the realization of our inherent inner strength is our biggest reward. And fortunately, this is a “snowballing” effect; the more often we act in accordance with our convictions, the more we gain self-control and empower a sense of purposeful self-direction.

But beware, austerity and self-discipline can act as two-edged swords, especially if (and when) an individual can be tempted toward extremes of behavior in order to gain recognition and/or notoriety. The Bhagavad Gita specifically warns against practicing austerities “…with hypocrisy and egotism, impelled by lust, and attachment,” stating that this is tortuous for the body, and destroys any divine presence in the body. It also states that the results of such ego-driven pursuits are “unsteady and impermanent.” (Bhagavad Gita, Chapter XVII). For example, consider two individuals who have both decided to change their diets and eating habits. One of them has changed their diet because of an ego-driven desire to be skinnier, to look “better,” become more attractive, more desirable. The other has decided to change their diet in order to have a healthier and happier body, so that they can focus on their highest goals with less distraction from illness and fatigue, or they may do so by observing Ahimsa, eliminating the mental poisons of guilt and regret that comes from killing. These are truly Tapasic approaches.

A simple way to understand Tapas is to think of it in terms of consistency. All disciplines and practices are most effective when engaged with consistency; getting on the yoga mat every day, sitting in meditation every day or carefully observing the constant fluctuations of the mind on a regular basis. Giving up some negative attitude about someone and forgiving them is another effective way to practice Tapas. When Tapas is practiced in this manner, it then becomes subtle and more constant, resulting in a more positive practice that is more concerned with the quality of life and relationships; rather than just enduring some difficulty, like gritting your teeth while trying to remain for another few seconds in a difficult asana (posture). 

If Yoga was practiced without goals, there would be no need for Tapas or the other Niyamas. In fact, the very existence of the Niyamas implies the existence of goals; Niyamas are the observances, the disciplines, meant to be practiced consistently to achieve a specific result. Tapas may well be considered pure discipline itself.

Final notes: Without Tapas any journey, especially one that follows a spiritual path will be chaotic and without structure or direction. Tapas essentially adds richness and meaning to the path. With regular and consistent practice, Tapas will make you stronger and more resilient. Both the enlightened Yogi and the most successful entrepreneur have one thing in common – both are infused with the spirit of Tapas.

The Five Niyamas (Part 3 – Tapas)

Unleash the fiery enthusiasm of Tapas!

The next article will continue this series with: The Five Niyamas (Part 4 – Svadhyaya)

The Five Niyamas (Part 2 – Samtosha)

This article is the second of a five part series based on this post: The Eight Limbs of Yoga (Part 2 – Niyama)

The Five Niyamas (Part 2 – Samtosha)The second of the five Niyamas is Samtosha (also Santosha) – a Sanskrit term meaning contentment or satisfaction. The word Samtosha is derived from the Sanskrit root word ‘tush’ which means to be satisfied, pleased, or delighted, as well as quiet or calm.

Samtosha is an observance that is key to all the Niyamas for students and practitioners of Patanjali’s “classical” Yoga (Raja Yoga). Along with the other four Niyamas (observances or practices) it establishes the student or yogi’s self-training, dealing with their personal, inner world. Patanjali says of Samtosha: “From an attitude of contentment (samtosha), unexcelled happiness, mental comfort, joy, and satisfaction is obtained.” (Yoga sutra 2.42 – samtosha anuttamah sukha labhah)

Contentment is required for true peace of mind, yet we are challenged by a society and a culture that fosters its opposite – discontentment, especially in the western world. We are constantly bombarded by advertisements, commercials and other messages that make us feel inadequate and promote a steady grasping for material wealth, possessions and even sensual experiences. We are taught from early childhood to seek superficial gratification with little to no regard for future consequences for either ourselves or the world. All too easily we become attached to things or others to avoid facing our personal discomforts. We are mistakenly led to believe that by satisfying our cravings (as well as our egos), we will attain lasting happiness. But sadly, and to the contrary, ignorance, egotism, attachment, aversion and clinging to things that stimulate out senses pervade and actually become obstacles to contentment and any prospects for liberation.

The Five Niyamas (Part 2 – Samtosha)

So, this begs the question, what is contentment (Samtosha), and how can we incorporate it into our lives as an “observance”? Contentment is serenity, but not complacency; comfort, but not submission; reconciliation, not apathy; acknowledgment, but never aloofness. Contentment is a conscious decision, an ethical/moral choice, a step into the reality of the cosmos. Contentment/Samtosha is the inherent and natural state of our humanness and our Divinity and from this state our creativity and love flow. It recognizes our station and function in the universe at every moment. It is unity with the omniscient, omnipotent reality.

Observing Samtosha simply means that we remain contented in the midst of any situation we find ourselves in at any given time in our life, and if we slip into a state of discontentment then we need to practice returning to the state of Samtosha. There are certain pre-determined characteristic traits and tendencies that are hard or even impossible to change. A good example is our physical appearance; height, body makeup, facial features, skin color etc. are all things that cannot be easily changed. The problem however, is that many people are not contented with their appearance and will go to any length to look different or “better” than they really are. Efforts to change our natural appearance are actually cause for further discontentment, plus sometimes it can cause permanent or irreversible.

This isn’t just limited to physical appearance; many people are discontented with host of other personal faults and shortcomings, such as social status, financial situation, place of employment, etc. Examples of discontentment abound and with careful examination may be found in all spheres of our lives. But, it is also important to realize that being contented does not mean that we sit on our backsides and do nothing to improve our lot in life. In fact, when a person is genuinely contented, they would exhibit a natural zest and enthusiasm for life.

In the Bhagavad Gita (V.47-48) it is stated: “Your human right is for action only, never for the resulting fruit of actions. Do not consider yourself the creator of the fruits of your activities; neither allow yourself attachment to inactivity. Remaining immersed in union, perform all actions, forsaking attachment to their fruits, being indifferent to success and failure. This mental evenness is termed Yoga.”

In conclusion: By cultivating contentment (Samtosha) we promote the energies that alleviate suffering and turn ignorance into intelligence and wisdom. With practice, Samtosha will guide us toward fearless action, a deeper sense of community and a greater love for all sentient beings, thus putting all hearts at ease.

The Five Niyamas (Part 2 – Samtosha)









The next article will continue this series with: The Five Niyamas (Part 3 – Tapas)

The Five Niyamas (Part 1 – Shaucha)

This article begins a five part series based on this post: The Eight Limbs of Yoga (Part 2 – Niyama)

The Five Niyamas (Part 1 – Shaucha)

Shaucha (purity)

The first of the five Niyamas is Shaucha – a Sanskrit term meaning purity. The word Shaucha is derived from the Sanskrit root word ‘shuch’ which means to cleanse or purify.

Shaucha is an important observance for students and practitioners of Patanjali’s “classical” Yoga (Raja Yoga). Along with the other four Niyamas (observances or practices) it establishes the student or yogi’s self-training, dealing with their personal, inner world. Patanjali says of Shaucha: ”Through cleanliness and purity of body and mind (shaucha), one develops an attitude of distancing, or disinterest towards one’s own body, and becomes disinclined towards contacting the bodies of others.” (Yoga sutra 2.40 – sauchat sva-anga jugupsa paraih asamsargah). He goes on to say: ”Also through cleanliness and purity of body and mind (shaucha) comes a purification of the subtle mental essence (sattva), a pleasantness, goodness and gladness of feeling, a one-pointedness with intentness, the conquest or mastery over the senses, and a fitness, qualification, or capability for self-realization.” (Yoga sutra 2.41 – sattva shuddhi saumanasya ekagra indriya-jaya atma darshana yogyatvani cha)

In addition to the benefits cleanliness and purity of body and mind described in the Yoga Sutra (2.40), there are other benefits:

  • Purification of the subtle mental essence (sattva)
  • Goodness, pleasantness, gladness, high-mindedness, cheerfulness
  • One pointedness
  • Mastery over the senses
  • Fitness, qualification, and the capacity or capability for Self-realization

The student or Yogi would do well to realize that there is a big difference between something that is clean and something that is pure. Of course, cleanliness is a big part of Shaucha, but to think in terms of only of cleansing the body as part of Shaucha is to be considered ignorant; according to the Darshanopanishad; since the Self is pure, the knowledge “I am the Self” is said to be the true Shaucha, which is represented by purity itself.

There are many other sources that differentiate between an internal and external Shaucha. According to the Shandilyopanishad, cleansing the body with earth (soap) and water is external Shaucha, whereas purification of the mind is said to be internal Shaucha, which can only be achieved by training the mind. TheVashishtaSamhita also states something similar; that mental purity is to be attained through spiritual knowledge which results in right action.

Purifying the mind involves increasing discipline and control over our incessant mental activity and perhaps the most important goal of Sauca. During the normal course of a day, most of us experience a constant, random inner dialogue, a disturbance or chattering of the mind. Whenever we find our senses being pulled in one direction or another, we have opportunity to observe how the mind follows, as well as our attention and energy. Devotion, self-study, concentration and meditation are all recommended as methods to bring this constant “chattering” under control.

On the physical level, Asana (postures) and Pranayama (breath work) are effective means to cleanse our physical bodies. In “Light on Yoga” BKS Iyengar says: “The practice of asanas tones the entire body and removes the toxins and impurities caused by over-indulgence. Pranayama cleanses and aerates the lungs, oxygenates the blood and purifies the nerves.”

Since ancient times Shaucha has also been viewed as an opportunity to consider the importance of diet and nutrition, our eating habits, and the effect food has on our bodies. According to Yoga philosophy, food is meant primarily, to nourish and sustain the body, promoting continuous spiritual development.

In conclusion: Shaucha (purity) is not only important when it comes to our physical bodies, but to our environment, especially where we live and practice yoga. It is also of significant importance when it comes to the foods we eat, the words we choose when speaking, and the cultivation of mental discipline. At its very foundation however, Sauca emphasizes the removal of obstructions to the inherent purity of our hearts. When this is attained, the inner mental dialogue is naturally quieted; because one’s whole being is unified, along with confidence and conviction. When unhesitatingly entering into a pure act, simultaneously the student has access to the source of both energy and respite. Ordinarily, these moments may come and go with uncertain regularity; however, yogic texts propose that we can promote such experiences by cultivating devotion toward and sincere appreciation for others, including a regular practice of gratitude, and the unrestricted offering of loving affection.

The Five Niyamas (Part 1 – Shaucha)

The next article will continue this series with: The Five Niyamas (Part 2 – Samtosha)

The Eight Limbs of Yoga (Part 2 – Niyama)

Niyama – In Sanskrit, means “observance,” or religious observance (aka, the 5 dos of Yoga)

Niyama is the second step in the Eightfold Path (the 8 Limbs) of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and contains the five internal practices of Niyama. These observances outline the five principles which are control (or regulate) the organs of perception; the eyes, the ears, the nose, the tongue and the skin. As these sense organs are brought under our conscious control, it will reduce attachments and help to free the mind of its clutter.

Niyama extends the ethical codes of conduct described in Patanjali’s first limb (the Yamas) to the yoga student or practicing yogi’s internal environment, i.e.; the body, mind and spirit. The practice of Niyama helps to maintain a positive environment in which to grow, giving us the self-discipline and inner-strength required to insure continued progress along the path of yoga.

Patanjali considered all five of the Niyamas as interesting tools for self assessment and personal growth. Applying these concepts, can shift a situation; so often our thoughts and attitudes dictate out past experience, and these practical observances help us to see where we actually are and improve upon that. The Niyamas refer to a positive attitude that we may adopt regarding ourselves, as they empower us to create a code for living purposefully and meaningfully.

Cultivating Niyamas allows you to cultivate discipline and responsibility. They are ultimately designed to help purify your body, mind and emotions.

Niyama: The Five Dos of Yoga:

  1. Shaucha (purity, cleanliness)
  2. Samtosha (contentment)
  3. Tapas (austerity, asceticism)
  4. Svadhyaya (self-study, spiritual-study)
  5. Ishvara Pranidhana (devotion, worship)

As we progress towards living a more balanced life, the qualities presented in the Niyamas will tend to naturally arise in us. In reality they may be viewed as evolutionary qualities that are a reflection of our connection with universal spirit. As such the Niyamas can be considered milestones along the path of our spiritual growth.

Related article, click on: The Eight Limbs of Yoga (Part 1 – Yama)

Check back soon for “The Eight Limbs of Yoga (Part 3 – Asana)”