To distinctly identify what will suit and serve you most valuably, using the yoga NIYAMAS gives us a great reference, guide and source of information to ascertain Self Care. The NIYAMAS, the second “limb” and a most valuable tool of Patanjali’s eight-limbed yoga system describe actions and attitudes to be cultivated to overcome suffering and the illusion of separation. In Sanskrit, “niyama” means “personal observance,” or conducts, rules, laws.

They are not exercises or actions to be simply studied. They represent far more than an attitude. They are actions to take that bring about a way of being that builds and deepens through the practice of them. Compared with the yamas, the first limb, ethical conduct/universal morality, these niyama actions/practices extend the ethical guidelines provided in the first limb, and are more intimate and personal. They refer to a way of being that we adopt/embrace toward our Selves as we cultivate living more in ease and grace for the benefit of all creation. 

NIYAMAS* – PERSONAL CONDUCT/PERSONAL OBSERVANCES that establish discipline in daily life. Discipline = Health & Freedom!

1. SAUCA/SAUCHA - Cleanliness of Mind and Body - Purity   

Sauca has both an inner and an outer aspect. Outer cleanliness simply means keeping ourselves clean. Inner cleanliness has as much to do with the healthy, free functioning of our bodily organs as with the clarity of our mind. Practicing healthy eating and drinking, asanas or pranayama are essential means for attending to this inner sauca. Asanas tones the entire body and removes toxins while pranayama cleanses our lungs, oxygenates our blood and purifies our nerves. "But more important than the physical cleansing of the body is the cleansing of the mind of its disturbing emotions like hatred, passion, anger, lust, greed, delusion and pride." vi. Iyengar, page 36. Light On Yoga, by B.K.S. Iyengar

2. SANTOSA - Contentment - Peace of Mind - Ease

Santosa is simplicity in the feeling of being content with what we have in any given moment which brings ease, clarity and accessability. To be at peace within, and content with one's lifestyle, even while experiencing life’s challenges. This  is different than settling for less or resignation. It becomes a process of growth through all kinds of circumstances. It is the practice of being with what is, in any given moment, such that it becomes an act of acceptance that shifts us forward to a deeper awareness of what is next for us to know and move into.

3. TAPAS – Fervor - Discipline - Intention - Consistency - Sustained Practice - Attention   

Tapas is one of the most powerful concepts in the Yoga Sutra. The word “tapas” comes from the Sanskrit verb “tap” which means “to burn.” The traditional interpretation of tapas is “fiery discipline,” the fiercely focused, constant, intense commitment necessary to burn off the impediments that keep us from being in the true state of yoga (union with the universe).

Unfortunately, many people mistakenly equate discipline in yoga practice with difficulty. They see another student striving to perfect the most difficult poses and assume she must be more disciplined and therefore more spiritually advanced.

But difficulty does not in itself make a practice transformational. It’s true that good things are sometimes difficult, but not all difficult things are automatically good. In fact, difficulty can create its own impediments. The ego is drawn to battle with difficulty: Mastering a challenging yoga pose, for example, can bring pride and an egoistic attachment to being an “advanced” yoga student.

A better way to understand tapas is to think of it as consistency in striving toward your goals: getting on the yoga mat every day, sitting on the meditation cushion every day—or forgiving your mate or your child for the 10,000th time. If you think of tapas in this vein, it becomes a more subtle but more constant practice, a practice concerned with the quality of life and relationships rather than focused on whether you can grit your teeth through another few seconds in a difficult asana.

  1. Tapas – Disciplined use of our energy 

Tapas refers to the activity of keeping the body fit or to confront and handle the inner urges without outer show. Literally it means to heat the body and, by so doing, to cleanse it. Behind the notion of tapas lies the idea we can direct our energy to enthusiastically engage life and achieve our ultimate goal of creating union with the Divine. Tapas helps us burn up all the desires that stand in our way of this goal.  Another form of tapas is paying attention to what we eat. Attention to body posture, attention to eating habits, attention to breathing patterns - these are all tapas.

Tapas in Sanskrit literally means “heat” or “glow.”

It can also mean “discipline” or “austerity.” It is also one of the five niyamas (observances) outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

Tapas in Sanskrit literally means “heat” or “glow.”  It can also mean “discipline” or “austerity.” It is also one of the five niyamas (observances) outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Well, tapas actually has a very different meaning when applied in a yogic sense. Tapas in Sanskrit literally means “heat” or “glow.”

It can also mean “discipline” or “austerity.” It is also one of the five niyamas (observances) outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. An early name for a yogi was tapasvin, which meant “voluntary self-challenge.” It literally comes from the Sanskrit verb “tap” which means “to burn.” As we slide into the between-times (not yet spring but not quite winter), tapas is a great thing to help us stick to those resolutions and rediscover that internal discipline – and keep us warm! Tapas, in plain English terms, is our effort not to identify with the monkey-mind.

So, how can you implement tapas in your life and your practice? Tapas begins with intention. You must intend to overcome whatever challenge you are faced with. You must choose whatever new ground you want to break through. Once that intention is set, you need discipline, heat, drive to keep you on a forward path. You must put forth considerable effort, whether it’s mental, physical or spiritual to burn away the thought processes, habits or any sort of rut you are in that prevents you from living a happier, healthier and more peaceful life. Lastly, you need endurance, the courage to stay the course even when you are shown what may seem insurmountable obstacles, to stay the course.

However, tapas is not measured by the level of difficulty of a particular task. Say we are talking about asanas – you don’t need to achieve the difficult asanas in order to practice tapas. Tapas can be measured by the steady, consistent, subtle practices. Not letting yourself gossip about a friend or turning off the TV before you get sucked in for another hour or two. In the consistency of getting on the mat or meditation cushion every day. In tapas there is no expectation of reward, but you try to move beyond the duality of good/bad and into the unity and joy of the present moment.

Some concrete examples of the application of tapas:

  • Body: Things like cleanliness, chastity, non-violence (towards self as well as others), compassion and politeness, as well as devotional activities.
  • Mind: Silence, serenity, concentration, avoidance of unkind or negative thoughts.
  • Speech: Truthfulness, only speaking when helpful and necessary, trying to make no offense while still speaking the truth.

Practicing pranayama is one of my favorite ways to bring tapas into my asana practice. Focusing intently on keeping the breath smooth and even, while regulating inhales and exhales can bring you directly in contact with your body/mind/spirit and how they all swirl together. Learning and focusing on maintaining Ujjayi breathing can be a great way to bring tapas into your next Asheville Yoga Center class. Pranayama can be a key catalyst to help you burn through the layers of toxic stuff (mental, physical, emotional – all of it) that you have hanging around.

One of my favorite definitions of tapas is the “burning enthusiasm to learn and understand how all facets of life are tools for self-realization.” This implies an attitude of self-discovery in every moment. Everything we do can help us on the road to knowing ourselves and becoming happier people as a result.

4. SVADHYAYA – Study of the Self - Self Inquiry - Self Examination - Self Awareness - Self Discovery - Self Realization  

Many many ways to go about this! Stay turned for further information!

5. ISVARA PRANIDHANA – Contemplation - Attuning - Surrender - Receptivity - Devotion    Many many ways to go about this too! Stay tuned for further information!

*Please note there is a grand pool of information, interpretations and applications available for the above principles that can be researched.