Raja Yoga – Part 3: Niyama


Lotus (Photo credit: Vairoj)

The second step in Raja Yoga is Niyama. These observances are for purification and self-discipline.  Let us try to understand it clearly.


Niyama means rule of descipline. It also means “to align”. Niyamas align ourselves towards the real goal of yoga. What are they?  Shri Patanjali Muni defines them as:

Shaucha santosha tapah swdhyaya eshwara pranidhanani niyamah | -Yoga Sutras 2.32  

Cleanliness, contentment, austerity, self-study, devotion to God are niyamas.

  • Shaucha(Cleanliness) : being clean externally- e.g. having regular showers everyday and being clean by mind with only good thoughts.
  • Santosha(Contentment): Being happy not only with whatever we have, but with whatever we get. Otherwise what happens?  It is the human nature to look for better things in search of happiness.  Our mind wanders around outside instead of focusing deep within ourselves.
  • Tapas(Austerity): Endurance of dualities of life- both physical(hot –cold)and mental(happiness-sadness). This needs some explanation. At the physical level, dualities enhance our attachment to the body and comforts. Mentally,they create emotional waves in our minds. So, these are obstacles that prevent us from seeing our own individual self in the pond of mind.
  • Swadhyaya(Self-study):  Reading and understanding our holy scriptures  turns our mind towards  Universal Self. Swadhyaya  also means contemplating  holy phrases such as Om  or chanting the name of the God such as Krishna, Shiva, Rama, Durga etc.  Mantra or holy phrase of a deity e.g. Om Namah Shivaya must be received from a realized master(Guru).  Then only chanting of such mantras will be effective. Tantric mantras are very powerful and should never be chanted without proper initiation from a Guru.
  • Eshwara pranidhana(Devotion to God): As we have already seen in Bhakti Yoga,  devotion to God is an essential  and fundamental in any path of yoga.  God is nothing but Universal Self. If we are not devoted and focused towards Universal Self, how can we be successful in merging with it?  Eshwara Pranidhana also means Nishkama Karma Yoga (desireless yoga of work) i.e. doing our work feeling the  divine and offering the work  as well as its fruits to the Almighty.

As we have discussed earlier, yamas dictate our behavior with others in the society.  Practically, they are tough to practice. Why? Reason is simple. We may be very good ourselves. How can we be sure that other person reciprocates?  He may treat us very badly!  So, it becomes very tricky to practice yamas.

What about niyamas? They direct our own behavior; not dependent on anybody else. Hence, they can be practiced more easily.

As human beings, we are always bothered about results, right!?  So, our natural question now is: “What do we get if we practice niyamas? “  Let us discuss it in the next post.

Next post: Raja Yoga- Part 4. Read on!

Bhadram karnebhih shrinuyama devah |

O Gods, let us hear good things from our ears!

Om Namah Shivaya ||

– Kalidas

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2 Responses to Raja Yoga – Part 3: Niyama

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