The Five Niyamas

Hari OM

This summary is derived from the class themes from last term, when we looked at and discussed how to practice Sri Patanjali's five Niyamas - guidelines for personal discipline, to help create a tranquil mind prepared for meditation.  The Niyamas are, of course, associated with the five Yamas, self-restraints or rules of conduct that help produce fertile ground for meditation practice by regulating our behaviour and emotions.  


1. Saucha

The word means purity.   Saucha is purification on all levels.  It involves personal cleanliness, maintaining a tidy and orderly home, eating healthy food and drinking pure water.  It is the cleanliness in mind and speech that comes from refraining from emotionally and physically charged obsessions.  It is finding the balance in life.  The heart and mind are purified of attachments. 

“When the body is cleansed, the mind purified and the senses controlled, joyful awareness needed to realise the inner self also comes”

YS 2, 41 (Trans BKS Iyengar)

Think of  ways in which you could simplify your life and practice them one by one; perhaps you could use a sankalpa, a resolve, just as in Yoga Nidra.  Sankalpa is far too important to be practised only during Yoga Nidra.  


2. Santosha

The word santosha means contentment.  Patanjali says of this one:
“From contentment, the highest happiness is attained”

Swami Satyananda says ”contentment is one of the fixed rules for an aspirant who is serious about the higher aspects of yoga.” 

Isn't it great that we can actually practice contentment?   But how?   Witnessing our response when things go awry is a good place to start.  Of course, life most definitely doesn't go to plan and sadness and hardship are part of life; but if we practice contentment - perhaps even calling it acceptance- it may mean that we don't make things worse for ourselves.  And when things are going well, pausing for a moment and noticing that we're enjoying something  is also "practising" contentment.  When we make plans and they go awry, we tend to feel discontented; our inner control freak begins to nag or the guilt button begins to flash - - "I'm going to be late, stress, TRAFFIC!!! -  “I should have left 10 minutes ago!”  Could we try instead accepting that lateness is inevitable; and remaining calm (at least then we're less likely to crash) because we can’t use a time machine to make us not be late. But of course, remembering next time to leave earlier.  And what about the WANT monster, which we feed so it grows all-consuming?  Can we witness this happening and decide we're going to stop feeding it, so it starves for lack of attention?  Easier said than done, but a valuable practice.


3. Tapas

Tapas is both the third niyama and the first in a list of three aspects of what Patanjali calls Kriya Yogathe path of action which consists of

  • Self-discipline/purification/control of the senses (tapas)
  • Study/self-observation (svadhyaya)
  • Evolving self-awareness (Ishwara pranidhana)

that enables the practitioner to clear the mind  and prepare for meditation practice.

The word tapas means heat; self-discipline refers to austerity, will power.

From austerity, on account of the removal of impurities, the perfection of the senses and the body manifests. 

Suggestions include controlling the quantity, quality and regularity of one’s food intake, quality of other sensory inputs such as books, TV, what one talks about etc.  Lots of food for thought there. 



Sometimes referred to as the mystery Niyama,  the word literally translates as “study of the Self (sva means one’s own self).  This is of course not unique to yoga philosophy - the words of Socrates around 400 years BCE are often quoted. At his trial, he chose death rather than exile as "the unexamined life is not worth living".  

How  do we practice svadhyaya?  By observing ourselves. This is where we can tenaciously and lovingly watch our choices, get curious, and ask ourselves two simple questions: “Where does this habit or pattern show up in my life?” and “How is that working for me?”  The practice of svadhyaya  helps us notice unconscious patterns and make subtle shifts—often with very little effort—to help align our outward actions and our inner desires. When we do this, we naturally experience more power and peace with all things, exactly as they are. Our desire to change the outside world may diminish once we have adjusted our inner perceptions.

We can also practice svadhyaya by reading texts such as the Yoga Sutras, the Bhagvad-Gita or one of the Hatha Yoga texts and reflecting on how to apply the knowledge in our lives.  (I'm reading the Gheranda Samhita on that basis at present).


5. Ishvara pranidhana. 

This is again often seen as a difficult concept, in our ego-driven control-freakish age. Pranidahana means to surrender, but to what and how?   Ishvara is usually translated as unmanifest reality, or the principle of higher consciousness or the supreme being;  in some translations Ishvara means God. It is said that when we dedicate our lives to the benefit of others, with an attitude of service, that is Ishvara Pranidhana. 

How do we practice?  There are two ways of looking at this sutra when taken into daily life; it’s often described as the ‘easiest’ path to peace and realisation, requiring no effort or pain on our part – we simply let go, devote everything to a higher power and completely devote our actions to whatever we consider that higher power to be.  In my mind it links to karma yoga, the practice described in the Bhagavad Gita  as carrying out our duties without selfish attachment to their "fruit" or outcome. 

A few suggestions:

  • The idea of ‘surrendering’ can be applied to the intention we set at the beginning of practice; Ishvara Pranidhana can be thought of as ‘offering up the results of one’s actions for the benefit of all beings’.   In this way, our asana practice becomes less about what it can do for us, but how we can help ourselves stay healthy enough to help the world around us
  • A particular asana – knowing when and how to let go; or surrender to the posture, perhaps staying in it a few breaths longer
  • Yoga nidra - ‘creative surrender’, a deliberate and conscious relaxation of the mind and body

To sum up, studying the Yamas and Niyamas  reminds us  that the purpose of yoga is not only to be strong, flexible and healthy, although asana and pranayama practice can certainly provide that.  Yoga is more about managing the mind to develop self-awareness to the point of liberation (from the mind's turmoil.) As Sage Patanjali puts it,

"Yoga is the ability to direct and focus mental activity.  When the mind is focused, the inner being establishes itself in all its reality.  Otherwise, we identify with the activities of the mind" (Trans. Bernard Bouanchaud)

 Swami Satchitananda writes, in his commentary on the Yoga Sutras, "when even one virtue becomes our nature, the mind becomes clean and tranquil.  Then there is no need to practice meditation; we will automatically be meditating always".   Quite a thought!









    Spring 2017 Newsletter

    Hari OM all

    Last term, in the weekly classes, we continued studying the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali looking at the Niyamas, the five observances or rules of personal discipline to create tranquillity in the mind in preparation for meditation.  I was in the middle of preparing a summary when I pressed the wrong button after 2 hours' work and deleted the lot.  A great opportunity to practice one of them, santosha (contentment).  

    So I'll just send a brief newsletter about the classes beginning after Easter and go back to the Niyamas when I've recovered!  Rather than send it out as another newsletter, I've added it as a blog post on my website 


    Weekly classes

    Gate 55 - the class resumes on Monday 24th April.  

    Currie Community High School - I hope Term 3 will start on Tuesday April 18th but that depends on numbers.  At present both classes are listed on www.joininedinburgh/currie so if you haven't re-registered please support your class; one or both will only run if numbers are sufficient. 

    West Lothian - all classes resume on Wednesday 19th April.


    Progressive Pranayama Course

    Day 1 of this course I'm teaching was full but it's not too late to hop on board for the rest of it.  Day 1 was very preparatory, "Making Friends with the Breath".  The remaining dates (all Saturdays, 14.30 - 17.30) are

    • April 29th
    • May 20th
    • June 17th

    It's happening at Santosa Yoga Studio, off Leith Walk, Edinburgh.  Booking is via the website of Edinburgh Community Yoga Outreach

    (this doesn't work as a link so copy and paste address in to your search engine).  Each session is £20.  All proceeds go to ECYO.  


    Swami GyanDharma weekend  "The Power of Awareness" May 13 & 14

    There are a few places left on the weekend in Dunblane.   I'm really looking forward to it and would warmly encourage any of the more experienced students to book for it.   There will be an opening Hatha yoga class each morning , one taught by Yoga Jayanti and one by me: and as well as lots of discussion and practice of Antar Mouna (the Tantric meditation practice of Inner Silence) we'll have yoga nidra and a kirtan.  Bookings are through Carol Godridge - Tel. 01848 200681


    And now an item of information about my classes.......

    Prana Vidya retreat

    Between May 24th and June 3rd I'll be at Mandala Yoga Ashram on a retreat.  I'm sorry, but there will have to be gaps in the schedules unless I can find people willing to teach in my place. I've been hoping to go on this programme  on Prana Vidya (taught by Swami GyanDharma) for 3 years and have finally decided to go this year.  The Gate 55 and Currie High School classes will only miss one week, (May 29th and 30th respectively) and Currie has agreed to add the missing week at the end of the term.  The West Lothian classes will unfortunately miss two (May 24th and 31st)  because of travelling on the 24th.   I'll see what I can do about finding someone to teach the classes.  


    Wishing you all a very happy Easter.  See you next term!

    Love and OMMMMs





    Winter 2016 Newsletter

    Hari OM everyone

    My final newsletter of 2016 comes with good wishes for a very peaceful and joyful festive period to all my students and their  loved ones.  This time last year I sent out a newsletter decorated with little trees and starry snowflakes, but I don't know how to do that with this new format.  So you'll have to do the "advanced practice"...visualize them!

    All my classes are now on a break until w/b January 9th 2017. 

    One of the philosophical themes in the autumn term was Living an ethical life off the mat.

    We looked each week at one of the Yamas, the succinct guides to our behaviour towards others recommended by Sage Patanjali in Chapter 2 of his Yoga Sutras. We've had some great discussions, so here's a reminder of some of what we covered:

    The  purpose behind practising the 5 Yamas  is to calm the mind and prepare it for meditation practice. They are basic guidelines for living a life of personal fulfilment in respect of our relationships with others. Patanjali makes clear the consequences of not following those precepts: simply that we will continue to suffer. One verse I love explains why we aspire to practice them:

    "These are called the

    great universal vows

    when they are extended unconditionally 

    to nurture everyone,

    regardless of status,

    place, time or circumstance."

     A high aspiration especially at the present time of trouble in all corners of the planet.  

    Reflecting on them and trying to live in accordance with them may help refine our intentions for our practice. The Yamas aren't harsh rules but a description of human potential. They offer us the means to live with deeper consciousness, integrity and joy. Applying them to our lives one at a time, perhaps keeping a note in a little diary, makes a very worthwhile practice. The five Yamas are:

    Ahimsa - non-violence - avoidance of harm to any other sentient being.

    Heads the list, and is seen as the root of the other four yamas.  Non-violence encompasses giving up the spirit of malice or hatred, including avoiding the violence of harsh thoughts, words, and of course deeds.  Mahatma Gandhi is often quoted as the exemplar of the practice of Ahimsa.

     Satya – truthfulness

    Truthfulness defined as one's words and thoughts being in exact correspondence.  Lively discussion about modern political discourse, in the week of the presidential election in the USA.  An important aspect of Satya is to try to express your vision of truth in a way that does the least harm and preferably does good.  No words can reflect truth unless they flow from the spirit of non-violence.

    Asteya, non-stealing; sometimes translated as honesty or integrity

    Lots of interpretations of how to practice this, ranging from the obvious one of not being light-fingered with other people’s property to making sure we don’t steal the ideas or time of others, share unwillingly, or buy too much for our needs.  

    Brahmacharya – Variously interpreted as celibacy, chastity, moderation.  In a narrow sense, Brahmacharya is sexual abstinence, believed to be essential in developing the inner vigour needed to go forward in spiritual practice.  More broadly, Mahatma Gandhi defines Brahmacharya as "control of the senses in thought, word and deed". Other commentators call it "moderation".  Another lively discussion!  Have more modern translations watered it down or is it that the original commentators from centuries ago were all men, perhaps struggling with the vital forces inherent in human life?  A translation  I like by Mukunda Stiles is:

    By abiding in behaviour that respects the Divine as ever-present, one acquires an inspired passion for life. (Chapter 2, verse 38)

    Aparigraha - freedom from greed, non-covetousness

    One who perseveres on the path of non-covetousness gains deep understanding of the meaning of life. One who is not greedy is secure.  He has time to think deeply if not preoccupied by acquiring unnecessary goods. Some wry observations about how hard it is to practice this in the present throw-away society! 

    Next term we'll continue with the five Niyamas, personal principles of positive action. 

    All classes learned a new mantra, which developed beautifully over the last few weeks, Om Mani Padme Hum.  One of the members of the Bathgate class recorded us chanting it and I can send round a link to the recording on request; please email me. 

    See you all in the new year, I hope.

    with love and OMMMMs












    Autumn 2016 Newsletter - Ayurveda and Yoga

    Hari Om all

    Autumn greetings!   Firstly, just a note to remind everyone who comes to my classes that I'm not teaching this week.  Normal service will resume on Monday October 24th.  Allegedly I'm spending time de-cluttering and tidying, but time alone will tell......

    I hope you all enjoyed the "Indian summer" in September but colder, wetter weather has definitely set in now, with the shortening days.  Autumn is of course the transition between summer and winter, but a season in its own right, a "season of mists and mellow fruitfulness" but also gusts and gales to bring the leaves down efficiently.  

    My way of greeting autumn weather is to embark on an Ayurvedic cleansing programme.  They are typically done in Spring and Autumn. It's going to change my eating habits quite markedly for two weeks, with herbs, lots of water, and no between meal snacks.  Wish me luck!    Some of you will know I'm involved in teaching yoga and pranayama to students on the "Introduction to Ayurveda" course.  I've been studying with Elizabeth Roberts, an Ayurvedic practitioner who devised the course, since 2010 and, although completely different in its approach to the Western allopathic medicine I practised for over 42 years, I'm appreciating the ancient wisdom of living in harmony with the ebb and flow of nature's cycles and one's own constitution.  

    But what is Ayurveda, and why is it relevant to Yoga?  Who better to explain it than David Frawley, a prolific author of books on yoga and Ayurveda.  We used a quote from him in our Prospectus:

    .     “Ayurveda is the Vedic science of healing for both body and mind.  Yoga is the Vedic science of self-realisation that depends on a well-functioning body and mind… The foundation of Yoga should be Ayurveda and the fruits of Ayurveda, Yoga”.  (David Frawley). 

    Perhaps more simply put, Ayurveda and Yoga are described as sister sciences, or even different aspects of the same science.  They work together.   Ayurveda tells us how to live a healthy lifestyle, with attention to proper food, exercise - including but not restricted to yoga asanas - and rest, according to one's own constitution.  Yoga began not as some kind of workout but as a philosophy of living, a path of personal and spiritual development, seeking inner peace, harmony and freedom.  Yoga practices should ideally be tailored to our constitution, the time of day, the season and so on.  By the way, if you're finding in your home practice that balance poses are a struggle at present, that's actually to be expected in the autumn season.  So no need to worry about it.

    Looking forward to seeing you all back at class next week.


    August 2016 Newsletter

    News and Notes

    Hari Om everyone

    First of all, I hope you've all had a lovely summer and are looking forward to classes starting back.  Especial good wishes to the several students who will embark on Yoga Scotland courses - three  Foundation, one Living Yoga course and one teacher training.  I'd like also to mention that the summer classes for charity raised the magnificent sum of £220 - thank you all for your generosity.  Donations will be made to Freedom from Torture and a local charity sending injured ex-service personnel on a yoga retreat.

    I'm home from my travels and turning my attention to the new term of yoga classes and seminars.  My two retreats this summer included a fortnight at Swami Vedantananda's centre in the hills above the Algarve, with a four day practice called Tattwa Shuddhi (intended to clear out mental rubbish!) followed by a week of karma yoga, a challenging practice that involves moment to moment awareness while working at whatever tasks are set.  It was mainly clearing the land because there's a very high risk of fire there.  It was so hot we tried as much as possible to work in the shade of trees.  The second retreat was in South Wales at Mandala Yoga Ashram, a celebration of the 30th anniversary of establishing the Ashram.  It was marvellous - the highlight for me was the 3 - day havan with continuous chanting of the Gayatri mantra.  I recorded some of it so those of you who were practising it with me before the summer break may be interested.  Heart-warming, illuminating, fabulous.  

    Class schedule update

    Meditation Group

    Sunday evenings 7.30 pm, every 3 -4 weeks.   Will restart on Sunday September 4th.  I'll contact the members individually.  

    Weekly classes

    • Gate 55 Sighthill 16.30 -18.00.  Class recommences Monday 22 August.  We’ll continue using the Gayatri mantra as a theme and also I’m thinking of introducing (or revising for some) Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.  I’ll explain on Monday!
    • Currie Community High School The 2016-17 session begins on Tuesday September 20th.   It seems that the class sessions will return to the three 10 week terms.   If numbers signing up permit, there will again be two classes – a gentle/beginners/therapeutic class and the intermediate class as before.  Sign up via
    • West Lothian - Wednesdays Chair yoga class  13.15-14.30.  Starts back 24th August.  Ability Centre, Carmondean, Livingston.

    Bathgate Partnership Centre, South Bridge

    • Therapeutic Yoga class   16.45 -18.15.  This class starts back Wednesday 24th August.  
    • General (mixed level) class 18.30 – 20.00 also begins again on Wednesday 24th August, with the additional discussion & meditation class 20.05-20.45. 

    Future Events

    Edinburgh & Lothians Yoga Association, of which I’m a committee member, has two seminars still to come in 2016

    • Saturday 17th September - Sue McLennan
    • Saturday 19th November with Judie & Ali Freeman

    Both seminars are at ELYA's new venue, St. Margaret's House London Road Edinburgh.  Details on the ELYA website.

    I'll send out a separate newsletter about an exciting event in May 2017 - a two-day seminar in Dunblane on "The Power of Awareness" in May 2017 with Swami GyanDharma from Mandala Yoga Ashram.  

    Contact details



    Phone: 07966 573 804

    See you all soon!

    With love, Bijam