The Five Niyamas
The niyamas are orientations and attitudes that we take in aligning ourselves with the direct practices of the yamas given above. Together, the yamas and niyamas are like a strong pair of legs that form the foundation of our yoga practice. Depending on the tradition consulted there are 5 or 10 niyamas. I will follow the tradition of the Yoga Sutras which list 5 practices. You will find that the 10 niyamas of other traditions are subsumed under these 5.
Traditionally, the last 3 niyamas of tapas, svadhyaya, and Isvara pranidhana are known as kriya yoga and can be considered a separate series of practices themselves. For the purposes of the Nadi Yoga I am choosing to consider the first 3 niyamas as part of an orienting group which helps to stabilize the 3 traditional energies of the gunas.
The 3 gunas are the primal energies of creation. Sattva is the energy of clarity, rajas is the energy of movement, and tamas is the energy of stability. These are similar to the western alchemical energies of mercury, sulphur, and salt. They correspond to the 5 elements as well. Sattva corresponds more to the lighter elements of space and air, rajas to the elements of air and fire, and tamas corresponds to water and earth. If these gunic energies are out of balance in the individual, then disease results. For the practice of yoga, we need primarily sattvic energies, with a careful balance of rajas and tamas.
From the perspective of Nadi Yoga, the niyama of shauca can stabilize sattvic energies, the niyama of santosha can stabilize the rajasic energies, and the niyama of tapas can stabilize the tamasic energies.
The niyama of shauca is oftentimes translated as cleanliness and/or purity. At the outermost level, this niyama is about cleanliness of body and external surroundings, all of which are conducive to clarity of mind. On a more internal nadi level, shauca is about cleaning our house, our internal house. If our system is clogged with impurity and undigested food, how can we function? How can energy flow clearly and cleanly?
Shauca is about having the willingness/intention to bring internal balance about within ourselves. It is about clarity. If this willingness is fully embodied with the actions of the yamas, then we have the means to move forward to clean the house. If we cannot first assess with full satya - clarity and truth, the state of our house, how can we hope to clean it? If we violate ourselves, if we are not willing to see the truth in ourself, if we expend ourselves, if we hoard undigested food, if we rely on others for our strength, we find that we are already living in an unclean house and no amount of cleaning will be able to overcome these tendencies that we have habituated ourselves to. The yamas are thus seen as the action component of shauca. In this way, the yamas and niyamas work together, in this case shauca providing a motive for the yamas to function and bring about a clearer space.
Why should we have a clean house? Vyasa, the first major commentator to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, tells us in his first sutra commentary that there are five states of mind/body. These five states of mind in turn are based around three qualities of the gunas, described above. To state again, Sattva guna is clarity, openness. Rajas guna is activity. Tamas guna is inertness. When we relate these 3 qualities in different ways to the mind, Vyasa tells us we come up with five combinations. These are called mudha or torporous, kshipta or frenetic/distracted, vikshipta or mildly distracted, ekagra or one-pointed, and niruddha or resolved. The mudha state is one in which the mind is mostly tamasic in nature. The kshipta state is one in which the mind is mostly rajasic. The vikshipta is a mixed state. The mind only becomes one pointed or ekagra when it is mostly sattvic in nature. The last state is transcendent of the gunas and we will discuss this later.Shauca is a commitment to balance one’s gunas and come to a more sattvic or clear place in one’s life. Recognizing that the mind and body are not separate, if we seek to improve the clarity of the body, the mind will come into line. So the commitment to cleanliness and clarity of our environment, both external and internal will bring clarity to the mind, which will bring about the deeper result of yoga - one pointedness.