Niyama, Observances

Niyama (observances) is the second limb of Patanjali’s eight-limbed yoga system.


Unlike Yama, the first limb of yoga which is primarily concerned with the world around us, Niyama refers to positive duties or observances directed towards ourselves. The practice of Niyama helps to maintain a positive environment for us to thrive and develops self-discipline and humility.


Here are five niyamas that we can practice:

  1. Shaucha (self-purification): It was discovered that impurities in both our external environment and internal body adversely affect our state of mind. The practices of pranayamas, asanas and meditation will help to cleanse the body and mind. We should also select wisely from the many choices of food, emotions and thoughts that we allow into our body and mind.
  2. Santosha (contentment): Contentment comes from the experience of acceptance of life, ourselves and whatever life has brought us. When we choose to be contented, we will be happy. We can work on this by accepting what is and what isn’t at every point of our lives and by being contented with the present moment.
  3. Tapas (self-discipline): Tapas accompanies any discipline that is willingly and gladly accepted in order to bring about change. For example, the practice of asanas is a form of tapas for the body while meditation is a form of tapas for the mind. Tapas can be achieved even for the smallest things in life. We can practise this by being aware of our intentions to change and improve and take small steps to get there.
  4. Svadhyaya (self-study): Svadhyaya relates to introspection. As life presents endless opportunities for us to learn about ourselves, consciously recollecting, contemplating and meditating on our experiences will help us to understand our thoughts and desires more clearly. We can practise this by starting with breath awareness and meditation which will help us tune inwards and recognise when we are acting in harmony with our goals.
  5. Ishvara Pranidhana (self-surrender): To attain the goal of yoga, we must dissolve our egocentric nature and let go of our constant identification with ourselves. Ishvara Pranidhana is the dedication, devotion and surrender of our practice to a higher power. It is the act of giving ourselves to a higher purpose.


By consistently practising the niyamas above, it will help us to put our spirituality into action, bring about greater internal awareness and a more peaceful state of mind.



Progress Takes Time

Progress takes time – this is one of the parallels that I’ve drawn between my yoga practice and life.


When I first started my practice, I recall placing a lot of pressure on myself whenever I could not perform certain asanas optimally (e.g. with my tight hamstrings, I wasn’t able to touch my heels to the mat in downward dog / touch my toes with my fingers in Uttanasana). I remember getting really impatient as I looked around during classes and saw that most of my fellow classmates were getting into the asanas so effortlessly. I often left classes feeling like I wasn’t good enough and was not able to enjoy the practice fully.


However, as I started to go for classes more often, I started noticing the little steps of progress made with consistent practice. My yoga practice taught me to tune inwards to focus on how I want to improve myself with each practice, instead of focusing externally on how I compare to others in a particular asana.


I started to notice that this new mindset was helpful in other aspects of my life too. Whenever I sense myself starting to feel frustrated because certain situations aren’t going my way, I would take some time to remind myself that progress takes time. Instead of focusing on why things aren’t where I want it to be yet, I remind myself to focus on the things I can control and do better to get the desired outcome that I am hoping for. With time, I’ve come to realise that I’ll always be able to see how far these efforts have gotten me when I look back!


In today’s world, many of us are often inclined to choose instant gratification over patience and long-suffering. With the need for instant gratification, we may feel easily frustrated and would tend to give up more quickly when we do not see instant results. Let’s all remind ourselves that progress takes time, to enjoy the process and be focused on the baby steps that would eventually get us there!

Inversions and Me

I have been practising yoga for about 4 years now but I have never attempted inversions prior to joining YTT. Maybe it was because it always looks so difficult and I was of the view that you had to be a super advanced practitioner to even attempt that. I’m really glad that the requirements of this course exposed me to attempt inversions, which was something I never thought I would have been able to do at this point.


After starting my inversion practice during the course of YTT, I am starting to understand and experience the benefits of inversions. I have been incorporating Sirsasana (headstand) into my practice, and would love to share some benefits of this pose:

  • Stress relief: Headstands stimulate the pituitary gland, which is responsible for releasing endorphins. Endorphins primarily help one deal with stress and reduce feelings of pain.
  • Skin glow: Headstands reverse the flow of gravity and stimulates blood flow to the face. This results in increased circulation to the facial cells which helps to sustain youth and may create a glowing effect on the facial skin.
  • Improving digestion: Headstands reverse the pull of gravity and this helps to stimulate the intestines, release trapped gases and improve blood flow to the digestive organs.
  • Strengthening of core: Headstands require engagement of the abdominal muscles (obliques, rectus abdominis and transverse abdominis). With more practice, the core strengthens and this will improve the alignment of hips over chin and the ability to extend the hip flexors for legs to be vertical.
  • Toning of upper body: Headstands are primarily supported by the muscles of the shoulders and upper back. It requires us to contract the trapezius and deltoid muscles to protect our head and neck.


Of course, headstands require moderate shoulder strength and can be dangerous if the practitioner is not ready to support his/her own weight upside down. It is always advisable to attempt your first headstand in the presence of a qualified yoga practitioner.



Detaching, with Love

One of the topics that came up during YTT class was the concept of detachment from identities we create for ourselves. As humans, we often associate our identities with the things we achieve, the roles we play or the jobs that we do.


For example, someone may be holding a high-ranking position at a job, respected by many others in the firm and constantly being validated by the results he/she brings in and praises from management. If this person starts to derive an identity out of this role, the person would likely feel a loss of his/her sense of self if anything happens to this job.


The example above can be applied to many other different aspects of our lives as we take on different roles like being a parent, spouse or even just as a friend to someone we care for.


It is perfectly human for us to display such attachment behaviours as we all crave belonging and connection. However, when we begin to derive our identities from external factors beyond our control, we run a risk of allowing our mental and emotional states to be dependent on these identities that we have created. When things do not go well, we are likely to become more reactive, discontented and emotionally vulnerable as we struggle to regain control of the identities that we have created.


We may even try to control and have expectations of others who are involved in the role we play. For example, a parent may feel like he/she is only a good parent if his/her children have good grades. If his/her children do not do well in school, the parent might take it personally if his/her identity is derived as such. This could potentially lead to negative behaviours which will be unhealthy for both the parent and children.


Hence, I feel that it is very important for both ourselves and the people around us that we remain mindful and aware of our attachments and identities we create for ourselves. When we mindfully detach from such identities we create, we will be able to see and accept ourselves and others for who we are.


To detach mindfully does not necessarily mean we have to not care or be guarded. Here are some ways we can work on ourselves to navigate through our attachments and ultimately detach with love and compassion for ourselves and others:

  • Love yourself first: Loving without attachment will allow us to address our insecurities and be able to love and accept ourselves as we are right now. When we accept ourselves, it will be easier for us to accept others for who they are too.
  • Practice observance: When we notice ourselves being reactive, we can pause and breathe to listen to ourselves and observe why we are reacting in this manner. This way, it will help us understand ourselves better and identify our attachment triggers. With better understanding of ourselves, we can approach situations more rationally and make better decisions.
  • Recognise progress: Mindfulness is a constant practice and it will never be perfect. Once we have accepted this fact, it would be easier to make peace with ourselves as we know we are not always going to get it right. Instead, we can recognise each time we see ourselves make progress and be grateful for it.