II.32 शौचसन्तोषतपःस्वाध्यायेश्वरप्रणिधानानि नियमाः

śauca-santoṣa-tapaḥ-svādhyāyeśvara-praṇidhānāni niyamāḥ
śauca-santoṣa-tapaḥ-svādhyāya-iśvara-praṇidhānāni niyamāḥ

“The niyamas are cleanliness, contentment, discipline, self-study, and surrender to the source.”

The niyamas are the actions of self-care. They are the habits of our daily life that we establish to support ourselves. They are psychological, emotional, spiritual maintenance. They are personal. Rohit Mehta emphasizes that the niyamas are unique to the individual: “There can be no rigidity in this,” he says.

As with the limbs of yoga (II.29), many commentators reflect on the inter-relatedness of the niyamas. A process of cleaning (śauca)–sweeping, brushing, moving (perhaps in a figurative sense, perhaps literal)–leads to a clearing, an experience of contentment (santoṣa), of light, of space. Likewise, the principle of contentment can support a habit of discipline (tapas) and the commitment to a routine.

The study of the self (svādhyāya), traditionally associated with the study of sacred text, is the exploration, examination, discovery, of “all that belongs to me.” Questions of identity, meaning, purpose are inherent in this study, but are not more critical than the ordinary aspects of self–the body, behaviors, thought patterns. Surrender and devotion (iśvara-praṇidhāna) are a kind of mainstay of the niyamas, a root support.

At the start of this chapter, Patañjali introduced tapas, svādhyāya, and iśvara-praṇidhāna as the threefold actions of yoga. There, they correspond to the three paths of yoga: karma (action), jñāna (knowledge), and bhakti (worship). Their presentation here, as niyamas, can be read as a looping back, an opportunity to take a second look, to contemplate their personal –and universal–significance.

We will look at the individual niyamas in upcoming sūtras. Here, it is worthwhile to pause and consider self-care generally. The yamas and niyamas shine a light on the quality of relationship to self. Am I living in a peaceful, loving way–toward myself? Am I living in an autonomous way? Am I living in integrity?

In the Bhagavad Gītā, Krishna tells Arjuna to “lift the self with the self”:

uddhared ātmanātmanaṁ
lift the self with the self
nātmanam avasādayet
the self do not degrade
ātmaiva hyātmano bandhur
the self indeed is truly a friend of the self
ātmaiva ripur ātmanaḥ
the self indeed an enemy of the self
Bhagavad Gītā, VI.5


Atman, translated here as self, is a word that both means ultimate spirit and individual self. The word repeats in this verse as a challenge. What self is it that can uplift me, care for me? Am I living in connection with that self? What self is capable of degrading me, putting me down, oppressing, depressing me, perhaps doing self-harm? Am I a friend or enemy to myself?

The answer to these questions is not intellectual. It demands an exploration of my own inner workings. It is approached through experience, not rigidity–through practice and awareness–with love, in quotidian time.


“The first principle of niyama is śauca, which means cleanliness. …When both sides [of the body] bend harmoniously they are properly cleansed and irrigated by the blood, which carries with it the biological energy known as prāṇa.  You know how electricity is produced: water flows like a waterfall onto turbines which rotate under the action of the water to generate the current. So also, when we are performing āsanas, we make the blood fall on every one of our cells like water onto a turbine, to release the hidden energy of our body and bring new light to the cells. When that light comes, we experience santoṣa, contentment.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, The Tree of Yoga, p. 50

“Patañjali tells us that certain…habits need to be eliminated and certain others maintained so that the body and the mind may function in a healthy manner. What to eliminate and what to keep is a matter regarding which each man has to decide for himself. In order to come to a right decision, one must observe oneself–one’s bodily tendencies as also one’s mental reactions. From such an observance one will be able to decide as to what hampers the healthy functioning of the body and the mind and what is conducive to healthy living. So yama and niyama have to be in terms of one’s own observation….There can be no rigidity about this.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 150

•What are your habits of self-care? What process has helped you develop these habits?
•Do you trust your own observation of yourself?
•Do you gain energy from your yoga practice? Clarity? Emotional support?
•Are you a friend or enemy to yourself?



masculine noun in compound

cleanliness (from śuc, “to be radiant”)


masculine noun in compound
contentment (from sam-,”with or all,” + tuṣ, “to be satisfied”)

neuter noun in compound

discipline, fire, pain (from tap, “to be hot, blaze, burn”)


masculine noun in compound

self-study; traditionally, study of sacred books and repetition of mantra (from sva, “self, one’s own” + adhī, “to study, to go fully into”; root verb is i, “to go”)


masculine noun in compound

owner (from īś, “to own,” + vṛ, “to choose”)


neuter noun, 1st case plural

devotion, surrender, contemplation (from pra-, towards + ni-, “under,” + dhā, “to place, support”)


masculine noun, 1st case plural
personal rule, inner discipline (from ni-, “in, down,” + yam, “to check, restrain, regulate”)

2 thoughts on “II.32 शौचसन्तोषतपःस्वाध्यायेश्वरप्रणिधानानि नियमाः

  1. Hi, Julia. A friend of mine sent me your post on self-care. I thank her and I thank you for that you for that..

    I would very much be interested in receiving your posts.

Leave a Reply