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Teaching the Niyamas in Asana Class

Learn how to seamlessly incorporate the five niyamas into your hatha yoga class.

By Aadil Palkhivala

Tapas (Heat, Perseverance)
When a student is not working hard enough, it's time to encourage the practice of tapas. Wise effort can be discerned as the difference between someone who simply fantasizes and someone who is on the path toward their dreams. Effort is required to make anything bear fruit in the physical world, and yet we have to balance tapas with samtosha-effort with contentment. If we try to force things, we will end up doing harm.

If a student feels intimidated by a pose, as if they simply cannot do it, scale down the pose in such a way that it leaves the person thinking, "I wish I could have done more." Since the person is used to being overwhelmed, underwhelm them! This will build in them the desire to do more. My brother once used this technique to get his daughter to eat her vegetables. When she resisted eating, he would put just one or two peas on her plate. She would quickly and easily eat these, and then demand more.

Svadhyaya (Study of One's Self)
Sva means "self" and adhyaya means "education of." Svadhyaya is, in essence, the study of one's self. This is largely accomplished through careful self-observation. During class, we must constantly encourage our students to look within and feel what is going on inside their bodies. After working in a pose, ask them to pause, become still, and feel the changes. This builds self-awareness, the foundation of svadhyaya.

From the very first class, tell your students that, when they are practicing, they are all alone, even though they are in a class full of people. Emphasize that they are not in competition with their neighbors. The focus during yoga practice has to be completely internal. This approach not only nurtures self-knowledge, it also prevents physical injury because your students will be more aware of what they are doing, and they will stop before they hurt themselves.

As yoga teachers, it's our responsibility to help students develop a practice of constant inner reflection so that they will become aware of the changes that yoga is making. This can be done by asking such questions as, "Why are you here? If you had all the money, all the time, all the energy you wanted, what would you do with your life?" In my teaching, I find that these sorts of questions stimulate the practice of svadhyaya.

Another way to encourage svadhyaya is to quote from respected scriptures in class. If you regularly quote from Patanjali's Yoga Sutra, you encourage your students to develop an interest in further exploring them on their own.

Ishvara pranidhana (Surrender to God)
Most students are very concerned with "getting there." They want results. They want to achieve. Explain to them that it is not the results that matter, because the results lie in the hands of the Divine; it is our intention and effort that count.

Teach your students that they are part of a universal force. With this in mind, they don't have to work only for themselves, because there is a bigger purpose. In a sense, we are actors playing out our own part-our own dharma on the massive stage of life. When yoga students truly understand this, they become less obsessed with themselves and the results they create. They will be able to do yoga with both intensity and calmness when they dedicate practice to a universal life force of which we are all a part.

God, as the name for the universal life force, is worshipped in different forms by every religion and faith. The name we use doesn't matter-the dedication does.

This article is excerpted from a forthcoming book called Living the Yamas and Niyamas, by Aadil Palkhivala.

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Reader Comments


A well wirtten & meaningful article.


The green peas thing was GENIUS!

yogi sukhdev

great artical ! tks for sharing your wisdom with the world !

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