The Five Layers of Niyama

In this article, we explore deeper into Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga by diving into the layers of the second limb, Niyama. Niyamas are considered the vows and ethical codes we use inwardly to cultivate the self-discipline and inner-strength we need on our yoga journey of happiness, harmony and health, for a meaningful and peaceful life.

The prefix 'Ni' in Sanskrit is a verb meaning 'inwards' or 'within', so we can consider the Niyama as the actions we take internally for the betterment of our selves, to help us reach internal-understanding and acceptance. They can, however, also be taken into the physical realm too. 

Like the first limb Yama, the Niyama is made up of five sublayers; sauchasantosha, tapas, svadhyaya, and isvarapranidaha. 

Sauchat - Purification/Cleanliness

Sauchat is arguably the most fundamental themes of yoga, we practice asanas, pranayama and meditation to cleanse our mind and body to reach a state of pureness which radiates from within. 

When we talk about Sauchat as a Niyama, we are talking about the way in which we can cleanse the practices of our daily living that interfere with our body and mind becoming pure. 

It is considered that as our mind and body become purified we will experience radiant health, feel increasingly clear, friendly, and cheerful.

Practice Tip: Consider the maxim, "You are what you eat", expand it to include "You are what you do, think, say and feel". To practise Sauchat, closely examined what food you consume, the environment you live and work in, the company you keep; looking inward see how these elements effect your emotions and thoughts. Are they positive or negative influencers?  

Santosha - Contentment

5 Niyamas

Contentment (n): a state of happiness and satisfaction. 

Consider the definition of Santosha as delight, happiness, joy, think not of contentment as a place to get to but as a current state of mind. The practice of Santosha is not an asana we must build towards, rather it is the daily experience of acceptance. 

Accepting the cards we have been dealt in life with joy, delight and happiness. Santosha is finding contentment, acceptance, in ourselves, just as we are. It is easy to think of happiness as something we must strive to attain, "If only I had..." "When I become...". 

But instead consider this; through the power of contentment, happiness becomes our choice.

Practice Tip: How do you practice contentment when inwardly you are disappointed or striving for change and improvement? Think not negatively on what you have, consider that who you are and what you have in the present moment is enough. When you accept your present, your future aspirations will only serve to bring you more joy.

Tapas - Self-Discipline 

The literal translation of Tapas is 'heat', as a Niyama, Tapas refers to the heat we create internally when we put determined effort in to doing something we do not want to do, even if it we know will have a positive effect on our life. When we perform any action with full determination and commitment we are practicing Tapas.

By practicing Tapas, we create fervour, a fiery passion within, that instils within us immense mental fortitude and confidence. The dedicated practice of asana and meditation are forms of Tapas, but Tapas can applied to all actions we do in our daily lives.


Practice Tip:  Through the ardor of tapas, choose to make healthy changes in your life—but focus on only one or two changes at a time. Take small steps that can be accomplished successfully, and find replacements for habits that are unproductive.

Svadhyaya - Self-study

The meaning of Svadhaya is literally "To recollect (to remember, to contemplate, to meditate on) the Self". Consider the practice of Svadhyaya as getting to know your true inner self.

Without judgment, guilt or emotion, we examine our past actions, think on how they affected our emotional, mental and physical state. When we can reflect on ourselves, our actions and reactions become a mirror to see our subconscious motives, thoughts, and desires clearly. 

Svadhyaya is present throughout all yoga practices, the asanas, breath awareness, and meditation.

Practice Tip: Start by learning to recognise when you are in harmony with yourself and your goals, and when you are unconsciously acting counter to them.

Isvarapranidaha - Self-Surrender

Ishvara refers to 'all-pervading consciousness' while Pranidhana means 'to surrender'. Together, we read them to mean a 'trustful surrender to God', while inherently spiritual, this Niyama a practice of submission to a God. Instead, think of it as freeing ourselves to a presence of inner stillness which will lead us to live an authentic life free of expectations and judgment. 

Practice Tip: In meditation, observe the thoughts that distract you and then try to recenter your attention on your inner Self. 

Salt Power Yoga is dedicated to helping all individuals on their yoga journey, from getting started to exploring the deeper history and philosophy of this life-changing practice. You can find out more about our specially designed beginners course here, and a description of our other classes here.