The five niyamas are individual principles, norms of personal conduct, and spiritual self-disciplines. Yamas tell us what we “must not do”, while niyamas suggest what we “must do”.
This relates to the purity of body, speech and thoughts. Our body cleansing begins with asanas and healthy eating. Moreover, once you begin to practice asanas, the body itself starts to tell you what kind of food it needs. You will achieve better health thanks to your own body. The purification of speech begins with the refusal to engage in profanity and the purification of the mind starts by rejecting bad thoughts.
Santosa is being pleased with the present. Santosa is the inner peace and the positive mindset maintained upon meeting various difficulties in life. This principle suggests respecting your limits in asanas. Be grateful to yourself and your teacher for what you have accomplished. Be aware of your progress. This does not mean complacently resting at a set level and ceasing to further develop. See the next principle for more on this.
Tapas means “heat” in Sanskrit. This refers to internal heat, which gives birth and warms life. In yoga practice, Tapas is the fire that fuels persistence and perseverance in achieving one’s goals, which incinerates all doubts and fears. When you force yourself to spread the mat early in the morning; when you overcome an uncomfortable in asana; when you sweat during the next cycle of Surya Namaskar—all of this is the work of your Tapas. Complementing each other, Santosa and Tapas form the most important pair in relation to your harmonious progress.
Personal growth is impossible without the light of knowledge. Keep in mind that knowledge is not just information, but rather, it is information multiplied by experience. Self-knowledge works according to the same laws. In the process of Svadhyaya, our introspection begins with meditative contemplation and continues by accepting and overcoming one’s own imperfections and limitations. It finally leads to the ultimate goal, which is realizing your true nature as an integral part of world unity.
Isvara Pranidhana (Commitment to God)
At first glance, this principle is simple to understand, but how should it be applied in practice? First, this is necessary to tame the ego’s growth and turn to universal divine essence. The ego grows due to a strong focus on oneself during the implementation of the other principles of Niyama. All our practice entails commitment to God; however, one must understand this not as a specific religion, but rather in the highest spiritual sense. Sauca, Santosa, Tapas and Svadhyaya are dissolved in the concept of Isvara Pranidhana, as if dissolving in water, and we faithfully and gratefully drink this elixir from the vessel of Niyama.