The niyamas, one of the first two limbs of the eight-limbed path of yoga, are precepts that focus on our attitude and actions toward ourselves. While the yamas focused on our outward attitude and approach to others, the niyamas are more intimate and self-focused.
In Sri Swami Satchidananda’s translation of Yoga Sutra 2.32 states:
Niyama consists of purity, contentment, accepting but not causing pain, study of spiritual books and worship of God (self-surrender).
The next limb, niyama, concerns observances. The five points of yama, together with the five points of niyama, remind us of the Ten Commandments of the Christian and Jewish faiths, as well as of the ten virtues of Buddhism. In fact, there is no religion without these moral or ethical codes. All spiritual life should be based on these things. They are the foundation stones without which we can never build anything lasting.
My yoga church small group has walked through the yamas and the niyamas illustrated by Biblical scripture in our weekly practice. These principles from yoga philosophy and the Bible speak directly issues we face in daily life and help to guide our meditation and our personal growth.
The following are the niyamas and what I believe is the corresponding teaching from the Bible. This is not an exhaustive list. However, I have endeavored to keep the scripture cited here in its original context keeping in mind that I am not a Bible scholar.
Santosha – Contentment – This, for me, is about gratitude – spending time being thankful and valuing what I have rather than wishing I had something else, which certainly takes practice.
Matthew 6:31-34 (NIV)
“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Philippians 4:12-13 (NIV)
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
Tapas – Self Discipline – This is not just about self-control, but also learning from difficulty, finding the lesson within the heat of the trial, pain, or challenge of life.
1 Cor. 9:24-25 (NIV)
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”
Job 23:10 (NIV)
“But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.”
Proverbs 25:27-28 (NIV)
“It is not good to eat too much honey, nor is it honorable to search out matters that are too deep. Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.”
Svadhyaya – Self-study – Like the yama satya, this is a lot about truth. When we turn our light of awareness on ourselves and honestly look at who and what we are, only then, can we grow. No one can grow out of a place of denial or lies.
Ezekiel 18:27-28 (NKJV)
“Again, when a wicked man turns away from his wickedness which he has committed and practices justice and righteousness, he will save his life. Because he considered and turned away from all his transgressions which he had committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die.”
Haggai 1:5-7 (NKJV)
“Now therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Consider your ways! You have sown much, but harvest little; you eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied; you drink, but there is not enough to become drunk; you put on clothing, but no one is warm enough; and he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes.’ Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Consider your ways!”
Matthew 7:5 (NIV)
“You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
Ishvara Pranidhana – Self-surrender – Recently I was at the funeral of a lovely and godly woman. The priest’s homily talked of her organization and preparedness in daily life and for her eternal future, which made her a wonderful mother, partner, and friend. The priest’s went on to address the truth that to excel in the way she did she had to be in control. And that she liked control. His point was that she had to learn a final lesson by dying – that she could not control her future. She had to surrender herself to God and his way, even if it means death. This is the truth for all of us.
“Therefore, I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.”
Galatians 2:20 (NIV)
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”
Matthew 16:24-25 (NIV)
“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves, and take up his cross and follow me.’ For whoever wants to save their life will lose it; but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”
The parallels found in the yamas and niyamas, the framework of yoga philosophy, to the word of God is interesting, but also encouraging. It seems that many of us, regardless of our church memberships or spiritual philosophies, believe in and value the same things. Humans are all different, yet the same. Peace.
This was the second post in a two-post series on the yamas, niyamas, and the Bible. You can read the first post by here.