Doing inner work isn’t easy. At times it’s uncomfortable. At other times it’s confronting. But if we want to change things up and live a happier, more productive life and be of better service to the world at large, it’s always necessary.
Social rules and personal rules for success
In How To Be Successful and Effective, According To The Yogis (Part 1), we looked at the yamas, the first of the eight limbs of yoga.
Here we look at the second of these eight limbs, niyama, made up of five practices that are said to introduce discipline, contentment and purity.1
While the yamas are effectively a code of conduct, the niyamas are more to do with individual states of being and have more of a spiritual lean.
As stated by the great yoga teacher, T.K.V. Desikachar, ‘compared with the yamas, the niyamas are more intimate and personal. They refer to the attitude we adopt towards ourselves’.2
5 ways to improve your mind, body and happiness
The five niyamas – yogic practices to improve mind, body and happiness levels – are saucha, santosha, tapas, svadhyaya and isvara pranidhana.
Adopting these practices, it is said, can help us to reach our human potential.
1. Saucha (cleanliness)
Saucha relates to purification of the body and mind, and is most commonly associated with physical cleansing rituals (or kriyas).
You may have come across some of these rituals, such as using neti pots to pour salt water in one nostril and out the other.
Neti cleansing techniques aren’t exclusive to the world of yoga: referred to as saline irrigation therapy, conventional medical settings suggest the saline flushing process can ease symptoms associated with allergies and sinus. You can buy neti pots from the chemist; it’s that straight up and down.
More unusual physical cleansing techniques done by yogis include sutra neti (tubing threaded through the nasal passage, down the throat and out the mouth), kapalabhati (pumping breath), basti (enema) and nauli (adominal churning cleanse).
But saucha doesn’t have to be extreme, or even physical.
It can also be as simple as showering regularly, eating wholesome foods, decluttering your office and home, or meditating to clear your mind of messy thoughts.
Or gentler still is trataka – one of my favourites – which is gazing at a candle flame intermittently as a way to focus and ‘purify’ the mind.
TAKE ACTION: clear things that are clogging up your body, your mind and your life. Clearing things out will simplify your life, and a simpler life leads to a happier existence.
2. Santosha (contentment)
Santosha is all about feeling content.
But how can we possibly feel content knowing there’s so much misery out there in the world?
And how can being content be a good thing? Won’t it stifle personal growth? Stop you caring about progressing up the career ladder?
Santosha is more linked to a sense of accepting whatever situations arise, good or bad. So if you get that promotion, okay, get on with it. If you don’t get the promotion, okay, get on with it.
It’s also linked with a sense of modesty.
So if you get that aforementioned promotion, don’t brag or gloat. Get on with it. If you don’t get the promotion, don’t beat yourself up or get jealous of the person who did get the promotion. Just get on with what you need do.
With the bigger ticket items – such as war, messy politics, natural disasters – it is maybe harder to see how contentment is possible, but often it still is.
Because although acceptance is a key to santosha, contentment doesn’t mean inaction or sitting on the fence.4
It means finding peace with whatever situation you find yourself in, and taking the next step based on the knowledge that arises from that peaceful mindset.
TAKE ACTION: check in with yourself regularly to see where there are sticking points, and see if you can find a way to accept the situation as it is before coming up with a solution (if a solution is required at all).
3. Tapas (commitment and persistance)
There are a few translations of tapas, but they all seem to boil down to that of committing to something, and of persistence.
In Light on Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar offers the following definition:
Take, for example, something we’ve all fallen foul of: the ‘I want to be healthy but I’m too busy to eat healthily’ trap.
Maybe you’re working long hours so on the way home grab a takeaway, and then because you’re frazzled and craving a quick hit, you supersize the meal, add a side, and then add a dessert too, for good measure.
You eat the main meal, and you feel full.
But despite feeling full, your hand reaches for the side of hash browns and then before you know it, the double-chocolate salted caramel mouse is delighting your taste buds.
You’re not hungry, but damn, it tastes good.
This is the oppositeof tapas.2
There is no restraint, no self-control, no commitment to your goal of wanting to be healthier.
Of course, in yogic texts the focus of tapas is on even higher aspirations than diet, for example. The focus is on developing a connection with your higher self (or God).
It is about being successful and effective to the highest degree, but to reach this level, you’ve got to start small.
Forgo the dessert if you’re trying to be healthier. Stop drinking during the week if you want to start to address your relationship with alcohol. Start saying no if you want to stop being a people pleaser.
And then keep going.
The real gold is when you start making the efforts about others, rather than yourself. This is true tapas.
And by doing all of this, you will develop ‘strength in body, mind and character’ and gain ‘courage, wisdom, integrity, straightforwardness and simplicity’.4
TAKE ACTION: set a goal that will be of benefit to you and those around you, and then make every effort – one step at a time – to honour that goal. Committing to and then achieving your goal will give you confidence, insight and lead to a happier life.
4. Svadhyaya (self-enquiry)
Svadhyaya means the study and education of the self.2, 4
It’s about looking at what makes you you, and what makes you tick.
It is self-enquiry.
In terms of everyday life, this might relate to actively reading, listening, watching a range of texts and topics, and questioning how you respond to the key points of those texts.
How do they make you feel? How do they change how you look at the world? Will they change how you react to things in the future?
Strictly speaking, svadhyaya is linked to the study of spiritual texts, the ‘sacred books of the world’.4 But B.K.S. Iyengar suggests this is anysacred text, not just the ones associated with the philosophy you subscribe to or the religion you follow.
So if you’re a Buddhist, pick up the Bible. If you’re a Christian, check out the Qur’an, or any other number of spiritual and sacred texts. There are plenty to choose from. Plenty to get through.
And if spiritual and sacred ain’t your thing, you may wish to interpret ‘divine literature’ as you see fit.4
You could, after all, glean insights into your own personality, thought processes and the world at large by reading an inspirational biography or a thought piece on the latest scientific discoveries.
And through these insights and by understanding the texts and yourself better, it is suggested that you’ll:
- Live a healthier, happier and more peaceful life;
- Find solutions to the ‘difficult problems of life’;
- Help ‘put an end to ignorance’;
- Become more knowledgeable’.2, 4
You will also, it is said, start to realise the interconnectedness of everything, and to treasure and revere the construct of our world rather than see it purely as a playground to satisfy your personal cravings.4
TAKE ACTION: choose a book, read it slowly, take notes. But don’t just read; take it further. Discuss they key points with friends, or in an online forum. Consider the teachings and how they might apply to your life and the world as you see it. Does anything change?
5. Isvara pranidhana (surrender to God)
This last practice is potentially a bit trickier for some of us as it is devotion to a ‘higher power’ (God, or whatever you might choose to call that higher power), often carried out through prayer.2,6
If you do follow a religion, isvara pranidhana will make sense. It is what B.K.S. Iyengar suggests we do when we say ‘I do not know what is good for me. Thy will be done.’5It is letting go of personal desires and cravings and aversions and accepting that whatever you’re facing is part of a bigger picture, one that you likely won’t ever understand. It is ‘surrender of the self to god’.4
As we live in an increasingly atheist and agnostic world, however, the idea of even considering praying or surrendering to a god or higher anything is problematic.
But what if there is something to be said for letting go, for letting things unfold?
Think back to a time where things just got too hard, were too much, and there was no obvious way forward so you threw your hands up and admitted defeat. Let it happen. Trusted that somehow it would work out as it was meant to.
This is maybe somewhere close to the idea of isvara pranidhana. The idea that ‘after one has exhausted one’s own resources and still not succeeded’ you let go of trying to control the situation and instead ride out whatever outcome emerges.5
Easier said than done, but a relief at times when you give yourself permission to let it unfold. To not demand control of the direction of every situation and event; to not hold too tightly onto a specific outcome.
That creates breathing space. That creates some ease.
TAKE ACTION: identify something that isn’t currently working well for you in your life. Can you let go of trying to control it? Can you say ‘let this be whatever it’s going to be’? What happens?
What’s the point of following the niyamas?
While the yamas might seem an easier starting point than the niyamas, it is within the niyamas that you might make more obvious comparisons with other theories, such as self-actualisation at the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
It’s where we step into our better selves, our potential.
Follow these guidelines, suggest the yogis, and you increase your potential to not only be successful and happy, but to also be the best version of yourself.
The overarching idea of staying focused and disciplined yet open to whatever happens has definite application to everyday life, whether that be business, personal or home.
We can’t control the world or the actions (or reactions) of other people but we can learn to stay on our path and be okay with whatever arises.
And if that doesn’t lead us to experience success and happiness, what can?
References and further reading
- Iyengar, BKS. The Path to Holistic Health: The Definitive Step-By-Step Guide. 3rdedn. 2014. Great Britain: Dorling Kindersley Limited.
- Desikachar, TKV. The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice. Revised Edition. 1995.
- Iyengar, BKS. Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Revised Edition. 2002. Thorsons: Harper Collins Publishers Limited.
- Iyengar, BKS. Light on Yoga. Revised Edition. 1979. Schocken Books.
- Bullard, G. The World’s Newest Major Religion: No Religion. 2016. https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/04/160422-atheism-agnostic-secular-nones-rising-religion/. Accessed 30 December 2018.