The ‘Eight Limbs of Yoga’
The Niyamas

The Niyamas

The second limb, Niyama (Sanksrit for ‘positive duty/observance’), is the branch concerning self-discipline and personal observance. Compared to the Yamas, the Niyamas are more personal and spiritual in nature, as they are designed to help foster the attitude we adopt for ourselves to create a way of peaceful living.


Sanskrit that literally translates as ‘purity’ or ‘cleanliness’. This refers to both inner and outer purity of the body and mind. Outer cleanliness clearly implies the general need to keep one’s body physically clean. Inner cleanliness is two-fold: both for the health of the inner organs, and for a healthy and peaceful mind.


Santosha (derived from Sanksrit ‘sam’ – complete + ‘tosha’ – contentment, satisfaction) is the characteristic of contentment. Modesty and a feeling of contentment with what we have in life are the goals to be pursued. This also ties with Yama aparigraha. The aim is to focus on being happy with what you do have, and not focus on being unhappy with what you do not have.


Tapas originated from the Sanskrit root word ‘Tap’, meaning ‘heat’ or ‘warmth’. The meaning of the word has evolved to mean the heat produced through physical activity, spiritual cleanliness, or other forms of purification and discipline. The goal is to help focus energy into meditation, reflection and greater spiritual awareness.


Svadhyaya (Sanskrit ‘Sva’ – own, self + ‘adhyaya’ – self, reading) is the activity of cultivating self-awareness and self-study. However, in a broader context, Svadhyaya also encompassed the study of sacred scripture for further knowledge, and, by extension, greater self-awareness through meditation.


Aparigraha (a – non + parigrah – amass/to seize) is the Sanskrit term to avoid hoarding wealth or material possessions. This also means to take what is needed, and not be greedy or take advantage of the situation to gain more than is necessary.


Isvarapranidhana has multiple connotations. In a religious context, this means, in a loose term, commitment to the lord. In a more secular sense, Isvarapranidhana can be interpreted as commitment to a special person and acceptance. Adherence to a deity is not a requisite of Yoga, however there is the idea of something greater and larger at work that binds us all. The idea of Isvarapranidhana is that acknowledgement and contemplation of these other forces should be recognised.


  • Sharma and Sharma, Indian Political Thought, Atlantic Publishers 2001
  • Online Etymology Dictionary
  • Peter H Van Ness, ‘Yoga as Spiritual but not Religious: A Pragmatic Perspective’, American Journal of Theology & Philosophy, Vol. 20, No. 1 (January 1999)
  • Monier Williams (1872). A Sanskrit-English Dictionary: Etymologically and philologically arranged
  • Walter O. Kaelber , ""Tapas", Birth, and Spiritual Rebirth in the Veda," History of Religions 15, no. 4 (May, 1976): 343-386.

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