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What is Santosa?

Niyama = 2 out of 9 limbs of Yoga

  1. Saucha (Purification)
  2. Santosa (Contentment)
  3. Tapas (Asceticism)
  4. Svadhyaya (Study)
  5. Ishvara Pranidhana (Dedication to God/Master)

Contentment is a real challenge for many people so it’s well worth examining why it’s so damn hard to feel happy with ourselves. The culture of always wanting more, of status, of constant striving to out-do is so pervasive that it actually takes a bit of effort to realise that it’s not compulsory. Existing in a state of constant dissatisfaction and comparison isn’t the only way. A practice of expressing gratitude can help us feel better about the good things we do (already) have in our lives.

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What is Tapas?

Niyama = 2 out of 9 limbs of Yoga

  1. Saucha (Purification)
  2. Santosa (Contentment)
  3. Tapas (Asceticism)
  4. Svadhyaya (Study)
  5. Ishvara Pranidhana (Dedication to God/Master)

One of the translations of tapas is heat, so it is often interpreted as encouraging practices that stoke our inner fire. Miller explains that asceticism was though to produce the heat of tapas. Purification through self-discipline is described in Patanjali’s work. In contemporary yoga, tapas might be observed through the daily practice of postures or meditation which require self-control to maintain.

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What is Svadhayaya?

Niyama = 2 out of 9 limbs of Yoga

  1. Saucha (Purification)
  2. Santosa (Contentment)
  3. Tapas (Asceticism)
  4. Svadhyaya (Study)
  5. Ishvara Pranidhana (Dedication to God/Master)

Svadhyaya is sometimes translated as self-study, which implies that it means introspection, however, that doesn’t seem to be the original intent. Rather, it meant the study, memorization, and repetition of sacred prayers and mantras, which was and continues to be a common practice in Hinduism. In modern times, we may choose to interpret this as an exhortation to be diligent students of the world, whether through formal or personal education.

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What is Ishvara Pranidhana?

Niyama = 2 out of 9 limbs of Yoga

  1. Saucha (Purification)
  2. Santosa (Contentment)
  3. Tapas (Asceticism)
  4. Svadhyaya (Study)
  5. Ishvara Pranidhana (Dedication to God/Master)

This can be a tricky one since many modern practitioners bridle at the suggestion that God is a prescribed part of our practice. It’s interesting to note that the meaning of Ishvara in the original text is also open to interpretation. It could have meant a master, a teacher, or an unspecified god. Submission to a teacher is in line with the guru-student relationship that was an established tradition within yoga in India. However, surrender to a guru doesn’t sit that well with many Western students. For our purposes, we can perhaps think of it as a necessity to acknowledge that yoga is a spiritual practice. It affects the whole person, whose constituent parts are mind, body, and spirit.

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What is Pratyahara?

5 out of 9 limbs of Yoga

(Withdrawal of the senses)

Isolating consciousness from the distractions offered by engagement with the senses is the final physical preparation for the meditation practices outlined in the final three limbs. This can be in itself a form of what we would call mindfulness in which sensory input such as sounds, sights, or smells are noticed as external and then allowed to pass without capturing our attention.

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What is Dharana?

6 out of 9 limbs of Yoga

(Concentration)

Dharana is the first stage in the inner journey toward freedom from suffering. During this type of meditation, practitioners concentrate all of their attention on a single point of focus such as the navel or on an image in their mind.

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What is Dhyana?

7 out of 9 limbs of Yoga

(Meditation)

In this stage, the practitioner meditates on a single object of their attention to the exclusion of all others. While we are accustomed to a type of meditation that attempts to clear the mind of all thoughts and images, this doesn’t seem to have been a requisite part of the method described by Patanjali. As long as the attention is focused, the object is not specified.

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What is Samadhi?

8 out of 9 limbs of Yoga

(Pure Contemplation)

When dhyana is achieved, the practitioner enters a state of samadhi in which they merge with the object of their meditation. Although this has been interpreted to mean union with the divine or with the entire universe, Patanjali’s explanation does not go this far.