By Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ay) & Dr Manasa, B.A.M.S
Niyama is one of the branches of Ashtanga Yoga i.e. eight limbs of Yoga practice. It is the second limb among the ‘eight branches of yoga’ enlisted by master Patanjali.
Meaning and benefits of Niyam
Niyam means rules, duties, observances or principles. They are oriented towards advocating ‘personal and social well-being’. Niyamas are said to compliment Yamas. In fact Yamas and Niyams, the first two limbs mentioned in eight limbs of yoga complement each other. They both form activities habits recommended for promoting
- healthy living
- spiritual enlightenment and
Yama and Niyama together form the virtues of an individual.
Read – Ashtanga Yoga – Eight Branches Of Yoga
Yamas include set of virtual restraints, the activities, habits, behaviour, observances or deeds one should not do. Therefore yama is all about preventing a person from doing such activities and deeds which come into the pathway of healthy and spiritual living.
On the other side, its counterpart or complement i.e. Niyama is all about the good virtuous habits, behaviour, deeds, activities and observances which one need to do in order to live a healthy and spiritual living.
All the virtues explained in yama and niyam together would enable one to travel towards and obtain liberation i.e moksha. While Yama can be considered as external observances, Niyam constitutes internal observances.
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Yama may be considered as social restraints and niyamas as self discipline.
Niyam, when followed regularly, helps one to create a positive environment within self by applying the codes of niyama to his or her mind, body or spirit. Niyam is also said to bestow one with clarity and inner strength needed to travel in the pathway of spiritual journey, part from creating a unique positivity, self-confidence and happiness in the practitioner.
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So, Niyams can be thought of in the below mentioned meanings –
- principles and guidelines for social and personal wellbeing
- measures or codes of self discipline
- set of internal observances
- the dos of one’s life i.e. good virtuous habits, behaviour and observances which one need to do in order to live a healthy and spiritual living
- five dos (Patanjali)
- virtues enabling procreation of spiritual environment within self
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Niyamam is not a single entity. It is formed by a set of internal observances, codes and ethics which need to be collectively followed.
A. According to Master Patanjali
Niyamams comprise of the below mentioned observances –
- Shoucha – purity of body, speech and mind
- Santosha – happiness
- Tapa – perseverance / penance
- Swadhyaya – study of self / introspection self education / reading philosophical books
- Ishwara pranidhana – offering prayers to god
Read – Yama – Meaning, Classification, Benefits
B. According to Hatha Yoga Pradipika
Hatha Yoga Pradipika has enlisted 10 disciplines which constitute Niyama. They include –
- Tapa – penance / perseverance
- Santosha – happiness / being optimistic
- Astikatvam – belief in god / faith in self / conviction in Vedas and Upanishads
- Dana – charity
- Ishwara pujanam – offering prayers to god (same as ishwara pranidhana explained by master Pathanjali)
- Siddhanta vakya shravana – listening to the ancient scriptures
- Hri – shyness / being modest
- Mati – showing respect to elders, preceptors and Vedas / think and understand / reconcile conflicting ideas
- Japa – reciting prayers
- Vrata – faithfully fulfilling religious vows (it is also called as Huta)
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Shoucha means cleanliness. It also means purification. It is not limited to the cleanliness of the physical body but also includes clarity of mind. Thus, shoucha includes external cleanliness and internal cleanliness.
There is a secret message in this concept that if the body is kept clean, it also influences the inner environment, of mind and senses and also enables the inner environment to be clean and healthy. This explains the impact of external purity over the inner purity and the importance of such synchronised purity to travel in the pathway of yoga to attain spiritual well-being. Don’t we feel fresh and healthy from inside, a sense of happiness and a rear to go, when we have a good shower, wear good dress, trim and groom ourselves, perfume our body and look great?
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It is also mutual. On the other hand, if we keep our inner mind and senses clean, pure of thoughts, that increases our confidence, we also make ourselves presentable with a good attitude arising from deep inside, from a clean environment. Haven’t we seen people who are mentally disturbed to look dirty, unclean and not-so presentable?
While there are different modes to keep our exterior clean, practices like meditation etc can help to cultivate the inner cleanliness, of that of the mind and senses. Both together will contribute to comprehensive well-being.
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Our role in maintaining the external environment – It is our prime role to maintain the creation around us. The external environment around us, the world in which we live should also be kept clean, not only the exterior of the body.
The pure environment around us will have a good influence on our physical body, outside and inside. So we should be aware about the environment surrounding us and consciously keep it pure. It includes, the food we eat, the drinks we take, the surroundings of our living etc should be good enough. Having good friends, an ideal environment in the home and office, mode of transportation and surroundings devoid of pollution also contribute towards our well-being.
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When the external factors are impure, they add impurities to our body and mind. The impurities in our external environment and the interior of our body will adversely affect the state of our mind and provide hindrance in attaining wisdom and spiritual liberation.
The practices of asanas, pranayama and meditation will contribute towards cleansing the body and mind and enable them to maintain a pure state of being. The cleanliness in our surrounding and purity of exterior of our body will further add to the effects.
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Santosha means contentment, being happy with whatever we have and are blessed with. This quality comes naturally as a reflection of courage to accept. One should gradually, in the process of life and maturity should learn to accept the world, oneself, possessions one has, the circumstances and the environment given to make a living by creation and destiny, as they are.
This acceptance is by itself contentment and is the source of bliss and liberation. On the backdrop, contentment demands sacrifice and letting go off one’s cravings and desires for what one doesn’t have, more than what he has, greed of acquiring everything and not being content with anything.
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One has to give away these cravings, demands and greed which form hindrance to attain contentment and hence are obstacles for attaining bliss and liberation. They are also responsible for one to travel in an untoward path of life full of sins and crimes, which leads to misery and grief.
Contentment on the other side cultivates immense concentration and purity of mind in a person which further leads to bliss and spiritual liberation. Contentment also ends one’s sufferings.
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We may be foolish enough to think that happiness is all about possessing objects, people and possessions of our desire, whatever we want, but the experience of the great sages and yogis, and their teachings have proved time and again that the happiness gained through materialistic cravings and possessions is only temporary.
Letting go things and being content with whatever we have is the secret for happiness, to know oneself, to identify oneself as a part of this creation and to attain spiritual liberation. Contentment gives us a feel of gratitude, to acknowledge whatever the life and creation has given us, to know the meaning of our life and be happy.
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‘Tapas’ has been explained with several meanings. The most popular one is ‘penance’. ‘Tapas’ means penance. The word tapas is derived from the term ‘tapa’ which means heat.
Heat of the fire is said to purify many things. Even gold is purified when it goes through fire, so does the water we drink. When it comes to the human body and mind, the word tapa should not be taken in terms of actual burning. It should be spiritually described and understood as ‘activities leading to burning off and destruction of impurities of the body, mind and senses’.
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Penance produces a similar effect. It purifies the body, mind and senses of an individual.
Penance is nothing but a sort of punishment inflicted on oneself for repentance of having done some wrong deeds or actions. Since it comes in the form of atonement and self-punishment, it is compared to the fire. It is as good as collecting all the wrongs from the interior of self and setting them on fire, to become free from the effects of wrong doings. This will help one to travel in the spiritual way of attaining self liberation and eternal bliss. It can also be called as self-mortification, self-abasement, amends or self-penalty.
Penance is an act that shows that one is extremely sorry about something wrong that he or she has done. This also comes on the backdrop of self-realization. Whenever we repent, self-analyze, accept our mistakes and punish selves, we find that the heat inside us increases, as if purifying us. This is penance. This realization makes one strong and enables a grit to never commit mistakes or harm on to others in the upcoming part of life.
It is of 3 types –
Sharirika Tapas (penance at physical level) – celibacy, nonviolence, etc
Vachika Tapas (penance related to speech) – praying to god, speaking truth
Manasika Tapas (penance of mind) – self control, balance of mind etc
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Tapas in terms of asceticism
Another popular meaning of tapas is asceticism. It is a yogic practice which includes intense self-discipline and attainment of will power. It also includes avoiding all forms of indulgence, typically for spiritual and religious reasons. It is also called as austerity, self-denial, abstinence, simplicity, rigorousness and severity.
One needs to give up physical pleasures and live a simple life to attain asceticism. Tapas is where our will conflicts with the desire of our mind. This leads to creation of an internal fire which illuminates and burns up our mental and physical impurities.
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This inner fire can be used as a source of spiritual energy. It is said that practising only Tapas is enough to release the Kundalini energy and attain enlightenment.
Tapas helps in transforming us other than purifying us. It enables the conscious awareness and control over our unconscious impulses and poor behaviour. It builds the will power and personal strength to help us to become more and more dedicated to our practice of Yoga in an ideal way.
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Swadhyaya means self-study. It is not all about sitting and studying for self or getting self-educated in various subjects of importance, it is about one’s ability to know oneself.
Understanding oneself is more important than knowing anything else in the world. It enables one to understand the importance of one’s own worth, the intention of life and how much he is synchronised with the creation.
It also helps him to self-analyse and self-estimate himself, his actions and deeds; it is almost like writing one’s own dairy in his / her mind and consciousness. This will be re-evaluated on daily basis and the progress report would be recorded at the sub-conscious level.
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This will further help him to keep himself away from any sins and mistakes and keeping himself pure by mind, senses and thoughts. This happens on the backdrop or the alarming signals and notifications one gets from the deep sub-conscious levels alerting him to keep away from certain deeds and indulge himself in certain deeds which would collectively enable him to travel in the pathway of attaining spiritual liberation. This also would come in handy to practice Yoga religiously.
Swadhyaya is a form of realization and introspection. This needs mastering over one’s responses to various stimulus and temptations in life and to overcome them. This should gradually become a practice worth relishing.
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Swadhyaya is thus an ability to see our true divine nature through the contemplation of our life’s lessons and also through meditating on the truths revealed by the great yogis and sages.
Life gives many opportunities to learn about ourselves. We are a product of our goods and bads. We learn from our weaknesses and flaws when we better ourselves and grow, identifying and nurturing our strengths and letting go off our weaknesses and flaws.
Our mistakes also help us to better ourselves. We need to learn from our mistakes. If we keep bettering the mistakes we will land up at misery. If we better from the point of our mistakes, realise that they are harmful on long run and release ourselves from the obsession of committing mistakes, we evolve and gain self liberation. On the other hand a habit of doing good things and being good would certainly make us better individuals. Learning from opportunities of life is also swadhyaya.
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In terms of self-study, one should also be a self-examiner. One should keep examining and valuing his deeds every now and then. By doing so, he can avoid others from wrongly examining and evaluating him. Examining our actions and deeds becomes a mirror to see our conscious and unconscious motives, thoughts and desires more clearly.
Swadhyaya in terms of studying scriptures
Indian sciences including Ayurveda and Yoga are based on the knowledge obtained from the scriptures written by seers and sages of ancient days. Knowledge of scriptures is said to be the basis of immense and everlasting knowledge which is true to all times of evolution. Scriptures are revered and respected to highest levels so as the sages who have scripted them. The Yogic practice of Swadhyaya also involves the study of sacred and spiritual texts as a guide to one’s inner world wherein one’s true self resides.
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Chanting ‘Omkara’ and reading spiritual texts and understanding them are said to be means of salvation. A person can unite himself with God when he has read and understood scriptures. Scriptures also teaches one the right way of living and righteousness, which is the basis for spiritual liberation. Self study requires not only seeing who we are at a given moment, but also seeing beyond the doors of our current state, to realize our connection with the divine.
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Ishwara Pranidhana means devotion, dedication and surrendering to God. It is also dedicating the fruits of one’s practices to a higher, unknown and unseen power.
God is an unknown power and unseen belief which each of us trust to exist at some terrain gracing his or her blessings and grace on us, enabling us to live and conduct all life activities without hindrance. This God is unseen entity is different for different people, different countries, castes, communities and beliefs.
Some have given shapes to these entities and some worship them as shapeless entities, but the belief is common.
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The devotion has sometimes gone to a state of unbelievable ecstasy demonstrated by certain communities and groups of people wherein people believe some self-declared spiritual gurus of modern times who are cheating people of their belongings, emotions and beliefs, barring some genuine selfless monks who have rejected life and are in true journey of finding themselves, the unseen entity called God and in seek of spiritual liberation.
One should follow what one believes is good for him, for his family and community but at the same time should plug in his or her wisdom in identifying the wrong cause and motive embedded in what he believes. Or else he or she may be misguided in the name of God.
This principle includes two common aspects of Yoga embedded in it i.e. the devotion to something greater than oneself and the selfless action of karma yoga.
Master Patanjali opines that one should dissolve and let go one’s egoism and egocentric nature and let go of one’s constant identification with selves (giving more importance to oneself) to reach the goal of Yoga.
To do this and to achieve this, one should selflessly offer the practices of Yoga and all its benefits which one derives from it to something greater than ourselves. We become aware of our connection to some higher energy with this simple dedication of everything we own or gained. This in turn make our practice of Yoga selfless and more meaningful, it gets a sacred touch and would be filled with immense love, grace and inner peace.
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The other meanings of Ishwara Pranidhana –
It includes all deeds performed without any expectation of fruits and devoted to a supreme power called God. By dedicating everything to God, one can attain ultimate Samadhi i.e. salvation, this is ishwara pranidhana.
One should completely believe in God. Without the desire and will of God, not even a grass moves.
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God, as said, is a belief in some unknown force. It generates a faith, an element of courage to do something and accomplish tough assignments and works which seemed to be impossible.
Trust and belief concentrated on this supreme power will make one think that nothing is impossible and everything can be accomplished. It is not a matter of over-confidence. It is a sort of confidence which pushes even a timid person to jump into an adventure. To do anything we need a push, we need a drive, and we need a point of focus, in the form of an unseen, unfelt and supreme power, be it called by any name, the name of God.
Something which keeps us going is better than having nothing motivating us to live.
Prayers and dedication to God builds positivity and self confidence in us. They build up positive energy within us. They also constantly remind us that some unknown force is noticing us, our good and bad deeds and that we may be punished for all the sins we commit.
This avoids us from doing any sins in our life and motivates us to travel in the pathway of righteousness which is the root for obtaining spiritual liberation. It is not the fear of God but the awareness that we are a small part of the cosmic creation, being created from it, constantly monitored and operated by that unknown force and it is the same force with which we finally get united is what keeps us travelling in the spiritual way. Ishwara Pranidhana is also a necessary part of practising Yoga in an appropriate way and is also an inseparable part of the practice.
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Ishwara Pujanam means offering prayers to god. It is the same as ishwara pranidhana explained by master Pathanjali.
Astikatvam means belief in God / faith in self / conviction in Vedas and Upanishads. It is almost the same concept as the combination of Swadhyaya and Ishwara Pranidhana explained by Master Pathanjali.
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Siddhanta vakya shravana
Siddhanta vakya shravana means listening to the ancient scriptures. It is almost similar to Swadhyaya as explained by Master Patanjali.
Dana means charity. Life is not all about earning. Life is meaningful when we give, when we share and do charity unconditionally. It is a virtue which is inborn. Charity should be done without expecting anything or any returns. It should also not be done for publicity or to become famous.
It is also not that one should be rich to do the charity. No one is poor enough not to do charity. Charity and generosity is giving away simple things which can make the other person happy while giving solace to the one who gives. It is to find happiness in other person’s happiness, no matter it being giving away the simplest thing.
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Even a smile and happiness shared, a moment of happiness we create in someone else’s life is charity. Charity always has a tag of goodness with it. Generosity is not limited to one’s known circle, it can be done to unknown people who are in need of help, like a donation made to an orphanage or contribution done to a rehabilitation camp or help to the soldiers.
Many find solace in doing charity in disguise, secretly. Whatever the form of charity or generosity it is, it will definitely help one to travel in the righteous path. This forms the basis of finding spiritual liberation. Those who find happiness in other’s happiness will find ultimate happiness and what better than giving away something we have to the needy. It is not that one needs to be a pauper and give away everything. One needs to keep only that much which is enough for his living a decent life and can help others out of anything excess he has. The earning should have been done in an ethical way.
Hri means shyness / humility / remorse and acceptance of one’s past / being modest. Being modest and humble are good qualities. Few people are immensely and naturally studded with this virtue. Hri also means being shied, shameful, conscious, guilty and sorrowful for having done something wrong. This is a way of accepting one’s mistake and it needs courage on the backdrop of being remorse.
To err is human, but to accept it is a great virtue. This will relieve one of his guilt of doing wrong deeds. An apology will clear the burden of doing something wrong from the person, he starts feeling light and good. He will be free from guilt, especially if the other person is large hearten enough to forgive and forget, but an attempt should be made. One should not fancy the mistakes he commits and keep them in high regard. One should always accept his mistakes, be remorseful and repenting. This is a part of righteousness. Gradually the person will know not to repeat the wrong deeds again. Being remorseful will help one to be a better being, will enable regular auto-correction and travel in the pathway of spiritual liberation.
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Mati means showing respect to elders, preceptors and Vedas / think and understand / reconcile conflicting ideas. Respecting the elders and treatises is a part of ethical living according to Ayurveda. Everyone needs to do that.
We get to learn a lot from our elders, be it our parents or teachers. Likewise we learn a lot from our scriptures including Vedas which are foundation for all our wisdom and learning. From elders we not only get to learn their experiences of life which helps us to mould and re-mould our lives, learn what to do and what not, to lead an ethical and moral living, to shape our character and walk in their shade, the pathway in which they have traversed all life and became successful and respected, we also get their good wishes and blessings. Respecting the scriptures will help us to understand them to their true meaning and not their wrong interpretations.
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Mati also means to think and understand. It puts us into the right thought process and to think rightly before acting. It makes one to understand every aspect and dimension of all events, situations and persons and be judicious before responding and taking decisions. It will put one into an intellectual game of life wherein he can play safely, protecting his personality while respecting other’s space and life. It helps him to solve many problems and conflicting ideas, reconcile and restore friendly relationships. All these virtues will enable one to be on the path of righteousness and also to obtain spiritual liberation.
Japa means chanting the hymns / reciting prayers. Chanting is usually done during prayers and religious rituals. Prayers and hymns when recited would not only keep the mind and senses in a settled way, but also enables in spiritual healing of body and mind. It keeps the environment serene and divine. It brings about clarity in speech and vocabulary of an individual and brings in confidence and self-trust.
Many hymns are also said to balance the doshas in the body and correct many physiological errors. Certain hymns and prayers are said to correct the nerve and hormonal imbalance and cure many diseases. They also help one to obtain spiritual liberation. The Japa can be included under Ishwara Pranidhana explained by Master Patanjali.
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Vrata means faithfully fulfilling religious vows (rules and observances) / rituals, ceremonies (it is also called as Huta). The Hindu traditions have in them many rituals, observances and ceremonies which are together called as vratas. It may be in the form of certain festivals coming once in a year. There are some exclusive festivals wherein women and newlywed woman vow to conduct certain observances and worships to a particular deity every year for the welfare of her husband and family.
There are some rituals and ceremonies to be done every month. The children of the departed elders will conduct post-death ceremonies every year, as a mark of remembrance of the elders and to keep their souls in peace in the ethereal world. There are many ceremonial rituals which need to be done right from the birth of the child, at every age of the child until he grows up to be a teen, like ear piercing, naming and thread ceremony etc.
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All these rituals are said to enable proper physical, mental and spiritual development of the child and also keep the body mind health in balance. These ceremonies also are said to keep away the bad spirits away, which includes infections and infestations of the modern world. These ceremonies also will keep away many diseases. There are many such rituals and vows which are meant for every good and welfare of the human life, mentioned in Vedas, Upanishads and other ancient treatises.
Many people assemble in these rituals and ceremonies, all relatives and friends and those in closer circle. This will help in keeping connected with good will circles and also to develop inter-personal relationships. Ceremonies like marriages are also included in the list. The rituals like post-death ceremonies etc are also said to establish the relationship with divine powers and ethereal worlds and also not to forget the departed souls. The Vratas would help in spiritual development of an individual and in spiritual liberation.
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