Niyamas are observances that a yoga student should include into their way of life.
Let’s start with saucha, the cleanliness. Of course it is recommended that you start your asana practice with a clean body (yes, empty your bowel before the class if possible), in a clean environment but also with purity of mind. If there is anything that bothers you, try to use breath or any other technique to calm down. Anger may make you push yourself too hard and injure yourself, while sadness may make you inattentive and slack.
Second niyama is santosha, contentment. In asana practice it may be expressed as appreciation of your body as it is now. That’s the only body that you have and the only one that allows you to experience life. During a class you may feel that you aren’t strong/flexible/balanced ‘enough’, but it’s because you think of your body as a tool that is to be used to perform beautifully-looking shapes, while it should be the opposite – asanas are your tools to calm your mind down. And you can practice them thanks to having your body, as it is, right now.
Another niyama is Tapas, discipline and ‘burning enthusiasm’. We all face challenges posed by limitations of our body, and in a way it’s a great opportunity to train your mind towards being more resilient, keep practicing and sustain the enthusiasm for yoga.
Svadhyaya, study if the self, means that in our asana practice we can observe our mind, our reactions to different situations. What is important is that getting to know ourselves we may notice thoughts and emotions that we could label as ‘wrong’ and if possible we would do better avoiding such judgments, just notice the thoughts and emotions and try to meditate in your practice, in other words switch from focusing on the ego, to being present in your higher Self.
Isvara pranidhana, surrender to a higher being
or simply to develop a more trusting attitude, where we can accept what is. In asana it may be expressed as entering an asana and spending time in it, truly surrendering the body to a posture. When we practice we spend some time entering a posture, making adjustments, but then we should spend some time just being in it. Probably the best asana to practice this niyama is savasana – to truly relax all the body is to surrender, believe that it’s ok to stop ‘holding your body’ and just allow it to rest and be.