niyama : the observances : getting-down to the reining-in
The 2nd limb of Aṣṭāṅga Yoga is Niyama.
यम नियमाअसन प्राणायाम प्रत्याहार धारणा ध्यान समाधयोऽष्टावङ्गानि
yama niyama-āsana prāṇāyāma pratyāhāra dhāraṇā dhyāna samādhayo-‘ṣṭāvaṅgāni
– pys II.29
restraints (yama), observances (niyama), postures (āsana), expansion of life energy (prāṇāyāma), sense withdrawal (pratyāhāra), concentration (dhāraṇā), contemplation (dhyāna), and meditation (samādha) are the eight limbs [of yoga] (aṣtav aṅgāni)
Restraints, observances, postures, expansion of life energy, sense withdrawal, concentration, contemplation, and meditation are the eight limbs of yoga.
Niyama is often defined succinctly as “observances”.
The prefix “ni” in Sanskrit refers to “going down/to get down into” and, as we saw in the previous lesson, “yama” is said to mean “restraint” or “to rein”. So, practicing “ni + yama” could be understood as getting down into the restraints or getting down to the reining-in. How do we do that? We implement regular observances in our daily lives.
According to the yoga sūtras, the observances of niyama can bring non-attachment towards the body (both of “self” and “other”), a cheerful mind oriented towards spiritual realization, purification of the senses of perception, communion with one’s beloved idea of the divine, and the perfection of meditation.
Together with the restraints of yama, the observances of niyama are considered a prerequisite to understanding and advancing to and through the other limbs, or stages, of Aṣṭāṅga Yoga.
Let’s get down to it!
– pys II.32
cleanliness (śauca), contentment (santoṣa), transformative heat of practice (tapaḥ), study of sacred knowledge (svādhyāy), and surrender to the supreme being/god/goddess (iśvarapraṇidhānāni) are the observances (niyamāḥ)
Cleanliness, contentment, transformative heat of practice, study of sacred knowledge, and surrender to the supreme being/god/goddess are the observances.
Niyama (like yama) has 5 branches:
1) śauca cleanliness
2) santoṣa contentment
3) tapaḥ * transformative heat of practice
4) svādhyāya * study of sacred knowledge
5) iśvara praṇidhānā * surrender to the supreme being/god/goddess
* see note at end of lesson
Let’s look at each branch of niyama as described in the yoga sūtras :
शौचात् स्वाङ्गजुगुप्सा परैरसंसर्गः
śaucāt svāṅga-jugupsā parair asansargaḥ
– pys II.40
cleanliness (śauca) causes distaste (jugupsā) for one’s body (svāṅga) and non-disassociation (asansargaḥ) with [the bodies of ] others (parair)
Cleanliness causes distaste for one’s own body and disassociation with the bodies of others.
– pys II.41
and (ca) sattvic purity (sattva-śuddhiḥ) creates a cheerful mind (sau-manasya) that can focus (yogyatvāni) the sense organs single-pointedly (eka-agrya-indriya) on the victorious (jaya) vision of the inner self (ātma-darśana)
And sattvic purity creates a cheerful mind that can focus the sense organs single-pointedly on the victorious vision of the inner-self.
– pys II.41
contentment (santoṣā) is the attainment (lābhaḥ) of unsurpassed (anuttamaḥ) happiness (sukha)
Contentment is the attainment of unsurpassed happiness.
kāyendriya-siddhir aśuddhi-kṣayāt tapasaḥ
– pys II.43
the body’s senses (kāyendriya) attain perfection (siddhir) as impurities (aśuddhi) are destroyed (kṣayāt) by the transformative heat of practice (tapas)
The body’s senses attain perfection as impurities are destroyed by the transformative heat of practice.
– pys II.44
communion (saṁprayogaḥ) with one’s desired ideal/god/goddess (iṣṭa-devatā) comes from the study of sacred knowledge (svādhyāyā)
Communion with one’s desired god/goddess comes from the study of sacred knowledge.
– pys II.45
meditation (samādhi) is perfected (siddhiḥ) through surrender to the supreme being/god/goddess (īśvara-praṇidhānāt)
Meditation is perfected through surrender to the supreme being/god/goddess.
* The last 3 branches of niyama: tapaḥ, svādhyāya, and iśvara praṇidhānā are also mentioned by Patañjali as the essential actions of yoga (kriyā-yogaḥ). Perhaps we can say they are the yoke of yogic action.
tapaḥ svādhyāy-iśvarapraṇidhānāni kriyā-yogaḥ
– pys II.1
the transformative heat of practice (tapaḥ), study of sacred knowledge (svādhyāya), and surrender to the supreme being/god/goddess (eśvarapraṇidhānāni) constitute the yoke (yogaḥ) of yogic action (kriyā)
The transformative heat of practice, the study of sacred knowledge, and surrender to the supreme being/god/goddess, constitute the yoke of yogic action.
To summarize the practice of niyama according to the yoga sūtras :
1) Cleanliness causes distaste for one’s own body and disassociation with the bodies of others (pys II.40) and sattvic purity creates a cheerful mind that can focus the sense organs single-pointedly on the victorious vision of the inner-self. (pys II.41)
2) Contentment is the attainment of unsurpassed happiness. (pys II.42)
3) The body’s senses attain perfection as impurities are destroyed by the transformative heat of practice. (pys II.43)
4) Communion with one’s desired ideal/god/goddess comes from the study of sacred knowledge. (pys II.44)
5) Meditation is perfected through surrender to the supreme being/god/goddess. (pys II.45)
Translations for the yoga sūtras of Patañjali by Sandi Higgins, synthesized with thanks from the following sources:
Books : The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali A New Edition, Translation, and Commentary by Edwin F. Bryant (2009)
Patanjali Yoga Sutras by Swami Prabhavananda (1991)
Light On The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali by B.K.S Iyengar (1993)
The Science of Yoga: The Yoga-sutra-s of Patañjali in Sanskrit with Transliteration in Roman, Translation and Commentary in English by I.K. Taimni (2007)
SHANTI WITH SANDI © 2021