5 More Steps to Happiness
On Sunday, July 31st, I introduced the concept of the 8 Limbs of Yoga as discussed in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. The next day, I went into more detail on the Yamas, or the restraints of yoga. Today’s post will be on the counterpart to the Yamas, the Niyamas.
The Niyamas represent the ethical disciplines that Patanjali thought were the most important on the path to happiness and enlightenment. The 5 Niyamas are:
- Saucha – Cleanliness
- Santosha – Contentment
- Tapas – Heat/Passion/Discipline
- Svadhyaya – Self-Study
- Ishvarapranidhana – Surrender to God, or surrender to the powers greater than yourself, or simply, surrender to that which is.
The first Niyama is self-explanatory. Saucha means to keep your body clean, keep your environment clean, and to keep your mind clean of harmful and negative thoughts. Saucha also references staying tidy when you visit other people, and cleaning up after yourself in public. Littering would be included in this Niyama.
It happens, right? Sometimes you throw something in the trash in public and you miss. Or maybe you are a smoker and you throw your cigarette butts on the ground. Saucha would urge you to try to do the right thing. If you ever find yourself doing something that is not right, but you think to yourself, “Oh well”, perhaps you should correct that small infraction. Just take a second to bend down and pick up what you missed from tossing in the trash.
The next Niyama is Santosha, one of my personal favorites. Santosha means finding contentment with where you are in your life. It is OK to want to change your situation, but at the same time, it is imperative to feel content with where you are. If the word contentment makes you feel like you are settling, then use the phrase “happily discontent”, meaning that you are happy where you are in life, but you are open to improvement.
In yoga, we focus on the present moment, because the present is the only moment that actually exists. The past is history and the future is a mystery. We can learn from our mistakes and we can desire change, but we still must be happy in the present moment and not let our past depress us, or our future bring us anxiety. When we live too much into the past, we can live in fear. When we live too much in the future, we can exist in a constant state of anxiety, or worry. Neither living in the past nor living in the future would keep you open to the possibilities of the now. Santosha reminds us to stay present in the moment. The present is where life actually lives, because the past is gone, and the future is not a guarantee.
The next Niyama, Tapas, refers to having heat or passion for that which you are doing in the present moment. It can also translate to being disciplined in your actions. Essentially, if you are going to do anything in this life, you should perform it with all the gusto you can muster. Do not “half ass” anything, as my father used to tell me. If you are going to do anything in this life, give it your all. Otherwise, you are wasting your time.
Tapas also means to burn, which indicates ridding yourself of bad behavior and keeping the body and the mind fit. As it translates to happiness, burning off unwanted behaviors, unwanted pounds, or unwanted thoughts of a fettered mind are beneficial to the Self. What actions or thoughts can you burn off in your life that would make you a happier and lighter person in mind, body and spirit?
The fourth Niyama is Svadhyaya, or self-study and self-reflection. It is my personal opinion that this is the most important tool to the expansion of consciousness and the evolution to the psyche. It is why I am always asking you questions in this blog, to stimulate your self-awareness. I constantly remain open to self-study (see Self Improvement Is My Middle Name). If people mention that I am well-adjusted, I simply tell them that I am a good student, and my best subject is myself. For true happiness, I recommend that you strive for a Ph.D. in your own psychology.
Finally we come to Ishvarapranidhana, which translates to surrendering to a higher power. This higher power can be any word you are comfortable with. It can mean Mother Nature, God, Allah, Yahweh, Spirit, Self, Atman, the Collective Unconscious, Evolution, the Universe, or for my sci-fi geeks, the Force. It matters not what you call this power, what matters is that you understand that it is bigger than you as an individual, and that you recognize you are a part of it.
What’s the biggest fish in the sea? In his translations of the Yoga Sutras, Swami Satchidanada said it was the Self-Fish. Do you selfishly think the world revolves around you? Ishvarapranidhana would remind us that we are actually a very small fish in a very large sea. The ocean, in Satchidananda’s example, would be the force to which we would surrender in order to live our lives peacefully. How successful would a fish be if it were constantly fighting the power of the ocean? Be at peace with what is, and all the while remain as happy as you can.
It all boils down to this: be clean in your life, in your thoughts and in your actions; continually stay content with what is in the present while remaining open to possibility; keep the fires of your passions burning and rid yourself of unnecessary and unproductive actions and thoughts; master the study of yourself; and peacefully surrender to that which is. This is the path of the yogi, and these are five more tools you can use to bring happiness into your life.