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WTF are the Niyamas?

The niyamas are traditional yogic ways to practice self-control and self-observance. It’s also a great word that because of it’s pronunciation ‘nee-YA-mas’ makes me think of a really clear cheer. Say it with me! Ni-ya-mas! Ni-ya-mas! There’s nothing more exciting than self-control and self observance.

Just like the yamas, there are also five niyamas. However, whereas the yamas are more universal in nature, the niyamas are personal and inward-focused. Let’s break them down.

1. Saucha

The first niyama is saucha (pronounced SOW-cha). This niyama focuses on cleanliness of both body and mind. If you have read my blog on tongue scraping you know that cleanliness can mean keeping even the most seemingly random body parts clean. But being clean can be as big or as small as you want. Saucha can mean clean eating and clean thoughts. Practicing saucha might mean saying a little less “bitch” and a little more “please.” You can define what it means to have clean thoughts. It can mean getting enough sleep so that you have a clear mental state. It can also mean making sure you are breathing clean, outdoor air.

In short: Saucha is about keeping yourself as pure as possible and connected to your best, most true self.

2. Santosha

The second niyama is santosha (pronounced san-TOE-sha). Santosa is the commitment to contentment. It means recognizing contentment when you experience it and committing to finding that feeling through your life. Sometimes santosa reminds me of the Serenity Prayer written by Reinhold Niebuhr, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.” Even though sometimes I think this “prayer” is really cheesy, it’s super applicable. How can we find ways to let things go and accept that some things are beyond our control? How can we use yoga to help us know the difference between what is in our control and what is not?

3. Tapas

The third niyama is tapas, no, not the fun dishes for sharing, but, instead, austerity or discipline. In your life that might mean tolerating physical things like hunger or thirst or pain and finding ways to move forward. Or perhaps it means having the self-control to stay true to your path despite factors that may be hindering you otherwise. What is the balance between your personal responsibility and the great empathy you feel? You won’t be able to fix everything, so what can you do to push forward with the things, causes, activities you care about with self-control? What do you do when things get hard? What drives you when it feels like everything is stacked against you? How can you seek out others to support you? How can yoga support you?

4. Svadhyaya

The fourth niyama is svadhyaya, (pronounced S-VAD-ee-YA-ya). Svadhyaya is self-study. This one gets deep. Svadhyaya can be studying the yogic scriptures, like the Bhagavad Gita or The Yoga Sutras. It can mean studying and practicing mantras. It can also mean studying yourself, but, my friends, there are two selfs! It can mean lower-case s self, to study your personal self, or it can mean upper-case S self, to study the ultimate true nature of Self. Can you practice meditation that helps you know yourself? Do you know what you want to do with your life? Does that matter at this point? What’s really important to you? Do you have a life philosophy? Has your philosophy changed over time? Study yourself. You are the center of your universe 🙂

5. Ishvara Pranidhana

The last niyama is Ishvara Pranidhana (pronounced eesh-VA-ra pra-nee-DA-na). This literally translates to ‘Devotion to God’ but, in yoga, god doesn’t have to mean God. Devotion to god can mean to humble yourself before the mystery of everyday life. Be open to the magic of the every day! One of my favorite lines from The Office is when Pam says there’s beauty in ordinary things. Did you stop and smell the roses today? Can you find beauty in the ordinary? What do you love about your living space that you haven’t recognized? What is beautiful in your body that is super ordinary (do you have a really nice big toe?!)? Live magically.


How can the niyamas help you learn more about yourself and feel more connected to the beautiful, strange, wonderful world we live in?

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  1. Chuck Vadun

    Chuck Vadun

    August 20, 2018 at 12:32 pm

    “Practicing saucha might mean saying a little less “bitch” and a little more ‘please.'”

    Bravo, Kaitlin!

  2. Kaitlin Moran

    Kaitlin Moran

    August 21, 2018 at 6:19 am

    Thanks, Chuck! I’m still working on this one 🙂

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