There are five:
1.Saucha - cleanliness
Hmmm, what does this mean exactly? Outer body? Inner body? Mental? All?
Let's approach from a common sense point of view. Yes, we need to keep clean otherwise stuff happens to our skin! Keeping clean inside too is VIP. Proteins, carbohydrates, vegetables, fruits and dairy. The basic nutrition for us human beings. Don't forget water! So what we put in our bodies matters also! However we are brainwashed to put stuff in our bodies that is not good for us!
Mental cleanliness? Hmm, interesting concept! How do we keep our minds clean? Maybe ask what stains the mind? Violence? Anger? Abuse? The shadow side of human nature? But our shadow side is a reality of each and every one of us! So maybe respect it, know it, listen to it? Once heard it can relax again?
My reminder for inner physical cleanliness is the acronym NODSCAF! It stands for NO Drugs, Sugar, Cigarettes, Alcohol and Fat!
Of course it's easier said than done but NODSCAF acts as a reminder. I have fought with all its variables all my life! Cleanliness is a process.
2. Santosha - contentment
Aaaaaaah, yes, contentment. When was the last time you were truly content? Really, really content?
"Be happy in the moment, that's enough. Each moment is all we need, not more." -- Mother Teresa
Wherever you are find the joy in it somehow? The lesson of patience while waiting in line? The lesson of x from y? The joy in the lesson! Content in your own growth. Being mindful of the present can bring true contentment. Simply being content brings happiness. Focus on your breath anytime anywhere = the present!
3. Tapas - heat or austerity!
From the practice of yoga (asana, pranayama and meditation) we can develop a fire, a heat inside, a burning desire to better ourselves. Using this heat, we motivate ourselves to grow and become better. Become aware of your drive, your motivation, your heat.
Austerity wise it may mean making a change to certain habits. Reducing calories? Eliminating negative addictions? Net-net is improving oneself! "Self-contracting" to be the best you you can be!
4. Svadhyaya - Study of oneself
Know thyself! This has been wisdom of the sages of the ages? When we know ourselves, we can know our needs, and put in place behaviors to fill our needs. This can be tricky though because being human we can posses a dark or shadow side. We may not acknowledge our shadow side. We may not hold ourselves accountable for the behaviors that stem from our shadow side. Once we become aware of them and own them we begin to heal and become a whole person. Unless you're a saint already?
5. Ishvara - Pranidhara - surrender to God
Hmmm? God! Okay? What if I do, or do not, believe in a god or the god? The religion stuff can be mumbo jumbo to some. Surrender! No way? Surrender what exactly? Our egos can fight this?
With 7 billion people on our planet, some Christian, some Muslim, some Hindu, some Jewish, some "other", some none of the above! There are a lot of opinions! Everyone believes they are right and holds the correct immortality formula, some with deity's, some without, some with faith? Adamant theirs is the true path possibly? A least common denominator of sorts could be:"treat others as you would wish to be treated"!
Ernest Becker has voiced in his book Denial of Death that the human condition needs to believe in some sort of immorality formula too help us get through this life and into the next!
A study was done on astrophysicists about how many of them believe in god. Out of about 7,000 there were 15% who did believe in god. Surrender to god so to speak. 85% did not! Again a lot of opinions in our world. Faith is a personal choice and opinion.
Surrendering to a God of sorts is like softening to the universal. One does not need to forsake your individual self, just soften it, paying homage to the universal, acknowledging how we are all connected, biologically, chemically and atomically! When we soften our individual self and open a part of ourself to the universal, we become more open, more connected to everyone and everything. In this place, what we call love has the opportunity to root and spread it's pollen wide and afar.
The Niyamas, like the Yamas are guideposts. We simply do our best.