Niyama is often translated as “observance”. In Patanjali’s schema Niyama forms the second of the eight limbs of Yoga. The Niyamas are actions/attitudes which the sadhaka should cultivate over the course of one’s sadhana.
Niyamas in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika
In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika the ten Niyamas are given as:
- Ishvara Pranidhana
The Niyamas are all interrelated to each other, rather than distinct “things”. So, for example, Tapas as commitment to a particular practice, requires the self-reflection of Savdhyaya to balance it, otherwise we may find ourselves performing practice without awareness, or become lost in endless reflections that are never directed. The Niyamas collectively, concern the attitudes we adopt towards ourselves – to self, and how we express them through action & behaviour.
Tapas can be understood as “fervour” – in the sense of cultivating commitment to one’s spiritual endeavour. It’s not only about doing a particular practice, but striving to live according to one’s ideals & principles throughout one’s day-to-day life.
Santosa is often translated as “contentment”. Contentment here, should be thought of as an active practice – a willingness to enjoy what each day brings. It is easy to be content in joyous moments, less easy when we are uncomfortable or life becomes difficult.
This Niyama relates to accepting belief in spiritual teachings. It is often taken as referring to “faith” (in the scriptures, or one’s teacher), but “trust” might be a better word here.
Daanam (“donation”; “giving”; “offering”) relates to the act of selfless giving of gifts to others (it’s often rendered as “charity”). A wider interpretation might be that Danam is the willingness to share one’s “wealth” with others – without thought of return, or the cultivation of a generosity of spirit.
Daanam is actually an important value in Indian social life. For example, Daanam is thought to be a good way to approach wealth. Wealth should be either consumed by onself or given away – if one does neither, and merely hoards it, it will be destroyed.
(also Ishvara Puja)
Savdhyaya is sometimes understood as “self-study”, “self-enquiry” or “self-reflection”. This, like the other Niyamas can be understood as an all-encompassing practice, in which anything that inspires us can be taken as a mirror for knowing ourselves more fully – a useful way of thinking about Svadhyaya is “seeing ourself through the mirror of relationships”.
Hri is often translated as “modesty” and as “remorse” – in this context, it is the remorse of having committed wrongful actions, and the resolve not to fall into the pattern of repeating them, together with a willingness to sincerely apologise to those we have wronged. Boastfulness, pride and pretension – the qualities of immodesty, often prevent us from showing and feeling remorse to others.
Mati (often translated as “cognition”) relates to directing the mind towards imbibing spiritual teachings, and performing practices with a discerning mind.
Japa is usually associated with the repetition of mantras.
Hutam is often taken to mean “religious observances”. hutam can be translated as “(that which is) offered”
Niyamas in the Yoga Sutras
There are five Niyamas dealt with in the Yoga Sutras:
- Sauca (purity)
- Santosa (contentment)
- Tapas (fervour)
- Svadhyaya (self/scriptural study)
- Ishvara Pranidhana (devotion to the Lord)