Niyamas of Yoga

The Five Niyamas of Yoga: Definition & Practice Tips

Published on October 13, 2020

The second limb of Patanjali’s eight-limbed yoga system contains the five internal practices of Niyama (observance). These practices extend the ethical codes of conduct provided in his first limb, the Yamas, to the practicing yogi’s internal environment of body, mind, and spirit. The practice of Niyama helps us maintain a positive environment in which to thrive and gives us the self-discipline, humility, and inner-strength necessary to progress along the path of yoga.

The Five Niyamas of Yoga

  1. Shaucha (purification and cleanliness) is a central aim of many yogic techniques and is the first principle of Patanjali’s five observances. The yogis discovered that impurities in both our external environment and our internal body adversely affect our state of mind, and prevent the attainment of real wisdom and spiritual liberation. The practices of asana, pranayama, and meditation cleanse and purify the body and mind, as well as strengthening their capacity to maintain a pure state of being. We must also consciously work at surrounding ourselves with a pure environment (including food, drink, friends, entertainment, home furnishings, and transportation) to not add any external impurities back into our bodies or minds.
  2. Samtosha (contentment) is not craving for what we do not have as well as not coveting the possessions of others. The yogis tell us that when we are perfectly content with all that life gives us, then we attain true joy and happiness. It is easy for the mind to become fooled into thinking that we can attain lasting happiness through the possession of objects and goods, but both our personal experience and the teachings of the sages prove that the happiness gained through materialism is only temporary. Practicing contentment frees us from the unnecessary suffering of always wanting things to be different, and instead fills us with gratitude and joy for all of life’s blessings.
  3. Tapas (asceticism and self-discipline) is a yogic practice of intense self-discipline and attainment of will power. Basically, Tapas is doing something you do not want to do that will have a positive effect on your life. When our will conflicts with the desire of our mind an internal “fire” is created which illuminates and burns up our mental and physical impurities. This inner fire can also be used as a source of spiritual energy; the yogis say the sole practice of Tapas can lead to the release of kundalini and attainment of enlightenment. Tapas transforms and purifies us as well as enables the conscious awareness and control over our unconscious impulses and poor behavior. Tapas builds the will power and personal strength to help us become more dedicated to our practice of yoga.
  4. Svadhyaya (self-study and self-reflection) is the ability to see our true divine nature through the contemplation of our life’s lessons and through the meditation on the truths revealed by seers and sages. Life presents an endless opportunity to learn about ourselves; our flaws and weaknesses give us the opportunity to grow and our mistakes allow us to learn. Examining our actions becomes a mirror to see our conscious and unconscious motives, thoughts, and desires more clearly. The yogic practice of Svadhyaya also involves the study of sacred and spiritual texts as a guide to our interior world where our true self resides. Self-study requires both seeing who we are in the moment and seeing beyond our current state to realize our connection with the divine.
  5. Ishvara Pranidhana (devotion and self-surrender) is the dedication, devotion, and surrender of the fruits of one’s practice to a higher power. This personal observance fuses two common aspects of yoga within it: the devotion to something greater than the self and the selfless action of karma yoga. Patanjali tells us that to reach the goal of yoga we must dissolve our egocentric nature and let go of our constant identification with ourselves. To do this, our yoga practice and all of the benefits we may receive from our practice must be seen as an offering to something greater than ourselves. Through this simple act of dedication, we become reminded of our connection to our higher power, and our yoga practice becomes sacred and filled with grace, inner peace, and abounding love.

Tips for practicing the Niyamas

The foundation limbs of Patanjali’s eight-fold path of yoga, Yama and Niyama, create a solid foundation and strong container for the yogini to move into the deeper stages of yoga with focus, inner-strength, and success. Simply by reading and contemplating the Niyamas, we begin to practice them. Yet, the daily practice of aligning our thoughts, behaviors, and actions with these personal guidelines can be difficult and challenging. Ideally, practicing the Niyamas should be approached slowly over many years and should be combined with a dedicated hatha yoga practice.

For the best success, practice applying the Niyamas to your life using a structured methodology like the seven steps below. Take one step at a time, and proceed with compassion and without the worry of perfection. As Swami Sri Kripalvanandaji said, ” When you pick one petal from the garland of Yamas and Niyamas, the entire garland will follow.”

  1. practicing the NiniyamasStart with one Niyama. Begin by reading, understanding, and contemplating each of the five Niyamas. As you contemplate how each principle would unfold in your current life, notice your thoughts and emotional reactions to making changes to support each one. You will likely find one or two that have a strong charge for you. Depending on the amount of inner strength and community support you have, you may decide to start with the most charged one or leave those for later. Make a clear and conscious choice to dedicate yourself to practicing this Niyama over a set period of time. A good place to start is committing to 40 days of focused practice.
  2. Start practicing on your mat. Begin to practice the awareness and skillful effort of your chosen observance on your yoga mat. Use your Niyama as the intention or Sankalpa of your practice and let it be the guiding force to how you engage with the breath and the body as you flow from pose to pose. Do not judge when you fail at your attempts, simply vow to try again. Be patient, kind, and compassionate but also dedicated, willful, and focused.
  3. Reflect and track your progress. Keep a journal or find another method of tracking your commitment and progress. It is quite possible that you will encounter epiphanies or discover powerful insights that will be helpful to document. Reflection and contemplation of your experiences with practicing the Niyamas will also be helpful to further integrate them into your yoga practice and life.
  4. Deepen your observation and exploration. As you continue to focus on a Niyama while you move through your yoga or meditation practice you will begin to notice patterns and habits to your thoughts and emotions. Spend some time in contemplation to pull on the threads of these patterns to see if you can discern where they originate from. These patterns will most likely be originating from a Samskara, a deeply rooted wheel of suffering. Niyamas are a powerful tool to shine the light of awareness to these dark and murky areas of the self and to help reprogram our Samskaras.
  5. Take your Niyama off of your mat. Once you are comfortable and competent in using your chosen observance in your yoga or meditation practice, you can begin to practice it in your day-to-day life. As you move out of the controlled and defined environment of your practice, you may feel like you are regressing in your progress. Note any aspects of your life (work, family, relationships, health, money, etc.) that appear to be the kryptonite to your Niyama. If this area is too challenging or overwhelming, give yourself permission to apply your Niyama after you have had success in the other aspects of your life.
  6. Commit to the next Niyama. Once you feel the challenge and charge of practicing your personal observance has diminished it may be time to commit to another one. As your inner awareness strengthens you may be able to take on more than one Niyama at a time, but it is still advised to not rush the practice of the Niyamas. Before you take on a new one, you may want to reflect on your past experience and decide on any changes or refinements to your approach.
  7. Keep peeling the onion. The Niyamas are considered a vow you make for the entirety of your yoga practice. Practicing them will get easier over time, but you will probably find that each observance has several different layers of practice and discovery. You may choose how deeply and completely you practice each one—only fully committed enunciates should vow to practice the Niyamas fully and completely.  Continuing to peel back the layers of each Niyama will deepen your inner-transformation, strengthen your awareness, and purify your heart and mind.
  8. Explore other limbs and philosophy of yoga. These first two limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra create a solid foundation to go deeper into the deeper practices and philosophies of yoga. The Yoga Sutra is just one of the many core texts that can inform and guide a yogi towards a state of oneness and liberation. The more understanding you have of these many elaborate facets the greater wisdom you can attain to experience the gem of yoga.

Goals of the Niyamas

In a practical sense, practicing the Niyamas creates a strong and pure physical container for the deeper practices of yoga.  When we practice the Niyamas we are striving towards living a healthier, holier, and more peaceful life and at the same time, we strengthen our powers of awareness, will, determination, and discernment. The more we cultivate conscious and skillful action, the easier it will be to navigate strong emotions and negative thought patterns—and much less likely to act from unconscious programming.

Engaging in these practices is not an easy task, yet by doing so we fortify our character, improve our relationships with others, deepen our equanimity, and further our progress along the path of yoga.

Books to study and practice further

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and the Yamas and Niyamas are rich philosophical topics that can be explored and studied in great depth. If you are eager to study and dive deeper into these practices, consider reading one or more dedicated books on the subject. Below are our recommendations for you to check out to discover more:

Inside the Yoga Sutras book

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21 responses to “The Five Niyamas of Yoga: Definition & Practice Tips”

  1. merchantd99 Avatar


    Life is as painless and devoid of any sorrow if we know our real Nature and get established in it through YOG.
    wITH prem & OM

  2. Dubai Private Yoga Avatar
    Dubai Private Yoga

    It’s hard to find knowledgeable individuals on this subject, however you sound like you realize what you’re talking about! Thanks

  3. Yoga for Weight Loss Avatar
    Yoga for Weight Loss

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  4. Jacki Avatar

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    1. Timothy Burgin Avatar
      Timothy Burgin

      Thank you for the kind words Jacki. We currently do not accept guest blog posts, but please feel free to leave comments expressing your thoughts and ideas.

  5. Wilma Avatar

    Thank you…

  6. J Avatar

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge

  7. Whitney Avatar

    Very well written and simple explanation of the 5 yamas and niyamas. Thank you!


    I think i am getting a wrong interpretation of tapas, tapas is an will you do not perform certain acts, it is not action, it is rather a mental vow

    1. Timothy Burgin Avatar
      Timothy Burgin

      It is both, an intention or vow and the actions that align and support this intention or vow.


    I feel tapas is wrongly interpreted here, tapas is not only act, but also the will to not to perform an act say, if I want to eat meat, but you control your impulse and say I am not eating blood and flesh of another life, and abstain yourself from the act is a form of tapas. so tapas is not only a act but also a vow in your thought made on your own will

    1. Timothy Burgin Avatar
      Timothy Burgin

      Yes. We explain Tapas in more detail at:

  10. Darshan Kaur Khalsa Avatar
    Darshan Kaur Khalsa

    I am very happy to read this post because I have been searching for some information about niyamas for a while now. Thank you so much for sharing this information.

  11. Lena Vargas Avatar
    Lena Vargas

    I am thankful for the clear and concise language used in this article. It made it easy for me to understand and apply the principles of Niyamas to my yoga practice.

  12. Chloe Wright Avatar
    Chloe Wright

    I appreciate the examples provided for each niyama, as it helps me understand how to apply them in real life situations.

  13. Emily Foster Avatar
    Emily Foster

    I like how the article emphasizes that practicing the niyamas is not about being perfect, but rather about making an effort to live a more intentional and ethical life. I think the niyamas offer a helpful framework for self-reflection and personal growth, and I am inspired to incorporate them into my own yoga practice and daily life.

  14. Katherine Wilson Avatar
    Katherine Wilson

    The niyama of tapas really resonated with me. The idea of self-discipline and burning away impurities is such a powerful concept, and one that I will definitely be focusing on more

  15. Ava W Avatar
    Ava W

    Ishvara Pranidhana brings together devotion, surrender, and selflessness. I find it inspiring to think about dedicating the fruits of my practice to something greater than myself.

  16. Julius Valrie Avatar
    Julius Valrie

    The tips provided for practicing the Niyamas are practical and helpful for integrating them into daily life gradually. I appreciate the suggestion to start with one Niyama at a time and reflect on progress before moving on to another. It’s a reminder to be patient, compassionate, and focused on the journey. Samtosha, contentment, is something I strive for in my own life. It’s a valuable reminder that true joy doesn’t come from material possessions but from being content with what life gives us. Practicing contentment can truly free us from unnecessary suffering.

  17. steve gibbs Avatar
    steve gibbs

    I love how the Niyamas emphasize the importance of maintaining a positive environment both internally and externally. Devotion and self-surrender are beautiful qualities to cultivate. By dedicating our practice to something greater than ourselves, we tap into a sense of grace, inner peace, and love. 🙏

  18. Amanda Wilson Avatar
    Amanda Wilson

    This article has given me so much insight into the Niyamas and their importance in yogic philosophy. It’s clear that practicing them takes dedication, but the rewards are immense—improved relationships, equanimity, self-discovery—all leading to a more peaceful existence. The tips for practicing the Niyamas are really helpful! Starting with one Niyama at a time, incorporating it into yoga practice before daily life is a great approach. Reflecting on progress along the way builds mindfulness and awareness.

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Timothy Burgin Avatar
About the author
Timothy Burgin is a Kripalu & Pranakriya trained yoga instructor living and teaching in Asheville, NC. Timothy has studied and taught many styles of yoga and has completed a 500-hour Advanced Pranakriya Yoga training. Timothy has been serving as the Executive Director of since 2000. He has authored two yoga books and has written over 500 articles on the practice and philosophy of yoga. Timothy is also the creator of Japa Mala Beads and has been designing and importing mala beads since 2004.
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