Yoga Guidelines for Healthy Behavior – Part II (Niyamas)

Kara Bauer Health Guide
  • As discussed in Part I, yoga encompasses much more than the physical practice we are familiar with, taking a class in which we utilize asanas or postures to attain balance and increase our awareness. There are actually eight limbs or stages of yoga that were developed by Patanjali, the sage who compiled the Yoga Sutras over 1,700 years ago.[1] Of these stages, the first two (yama and niyama) offer behavioral guidelines for living in balance with others and within ourselves. In Part I, we discussed the five yamas, which relate mostly to others. We will now discuss the second set of guidelines that relate to living a life of peace and purpose for ourselves.

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    The second limb of yoga, niyama, means “observances” or general directives.  Again, these suggestions/ways of living were developed to help one live a life of fulfillment and happiness. It is up to the individual as to whether they find value in them and choose to follow them. They are meant to provide liberation, not constraints. The five niyamas are:[2]


    -Saucha (Cleanliness)

    Simply put, practicing saucha means keeping the mind, body and environment clean. Here is where what you put into your body greatly impacts your wellbeing. A clean diet and abstinence from drugs and alcohol are extremely important for a healthy mind and body. A simple uncluttered environment also helps to cultivate peace. 


    -Santosha (Contentment)

    Being content means living in the present moment and recognizing what we are grateful for on a regular basis. Even though our culture constantly reminds us of things we should have or want in order to feel happy, the desire and attachment associated with these things outside of ourselves only leads to suffering. Contentment is a mental decision and one that leads to emotional maturity and an ability to flow with life regardless of circumstances.[3]


    -Tapas (Austerity)

    The Sanskrit translation of tapas is “heat” and is the fire behind our action. The lesson here is to cultivate disciplined use of our energy in order to continue striving towards our personal goals that make up each of our individual paths. Avoidance, procrastination and laziness lead to internal suffering and lethargy. Participating in an asana and/or mediation practice are both helpful ways for keeping our energy balanced and directed towards a life of meaning and nourishment.


    -Svadhyaya (Spiritual Study)

    Taking time to learn about and understand ourselves is one of the most loving things we can do to aid us in our life and spiritual journey. We do this by reading and studying spiritual or inspiring text/books as well as through practices such as meditation where we have the opportunity to observe our mind and how it works. However, any activity that focuses the mind on something can be meditative in nature (running, playing music, hiking, etc.) and bring forth more self-knowledge, so this is an area where you can do what’s comfortable and supportive for you.[4][5] 


  • -Isvara Pranidhana (Surrender to a Higher Source)

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    Even though the literal translation of isvara pranidhana is “surrender yourself to God”, you can replace the word “God” with any word that resonates with you. The idea here is to relinquish attachment to the final outcome of one’s life. Sometimes life unfolds in ways we cannot predict or plan for. Being present and trusting in these moments without fear is the grace available with this final niyama. There are an unlimited number of possibilities for reaching our final destination and by being open to ways in which we cannot predict we experience serenity and courage. The serenity prayer by American theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, illustrates this perfectly whether you believe in God or not.[6]


    “God, give us the grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.” –Reinhold Niebuhr


    [1] (n.d.) Retrieved from


    [2] (n.d.) Retrieved from


    [3] (n.d.) Retrieved from


    [4] (n.d.) Retrieved from


    [5] (n.d.) Retrieved from


    [6] (n.d.) Retrieved from



Published On: December 14, 2012

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