When all is said and done, it can be our complete surrender from our expectation of results and progress that can bring us a sense of relief, peace and, some may say, enlightenment. So what’s God got to do with any of that? Let’s find out.
We come now to our last of our series of yamas and niyamas. I hope you’ve enjoyed the journey as much as I have. Ishvara pranidhāna is our last of the niyamas, and doesn’t fail to disappoint. Isvara is often translated simply as ‘God’, or a recognition that there is a God, or a higher intelligence. Pranidhāna means total surrender from, or submission to. In a culture where religion does not take the prominence it once did (anyone remember when shops used to shut on Sundays?), the thought of worshipping God can be an uncomfortable one.
But before you get caught up in that, consider this. Desikachar is the son of Krishnamacharya, considered one the greatest yogis in the modern era, and wrote a book called The Heart of Yoga. In it, he struggles to translate Isvara, saying, “Unfortunately I cannot find an English world for Isvara: perhaps it is God, or Divine Power. What is important is that yielding to this higher being is an expression of a belief that something exists that is higher than ourselves, something in which we can place our trust.
God may not feel like the right word for you, but don’t get caught up in semantics, this is really about accepting that there is a greater power beyond ourselves. You may feel more connected to observing the phases of the moon, the season changes of nature, or even the world around you rather than God, but whatever it is that helps us feel connected can also make it easier to lose our attachment to the physical world.
The root of suffering is attachment.
Whether it’s attachment to our yoga practice, our careers, our possessions, even our own health, sooner or later we have to let go of our need for outcomes and just trust in the process. Anything other than this just gives us pain – pain when we still can’t touch our toes after two years of practice, pain when we don’t get the promotion we’re after, or pain when we get sick despite of endless amounts of wheatgrass and green juice. Don’t expect this to be easy, let’s not forget that we are human after all, and there’s a reason why yoga is all about practice. Wondering how to even begin practising this niyama? Then read on.
Using Isvara Pranidhāna On The Mat
Don’t Miss The Point
In a yoga class, it can be easy to get focused on a particular ‘result’. We may want to look a certain way, find a pose easier, or just feel stronger. Often, with this mindset, we can miss the subtle energy shifting as we move into the pose, not just the sensation we feel when we’re in it. I find particularly with seated forward bends, students can be so focused on grabbing their toes that they miss the gentle spaciousness that can come from inhaling fully to lift the chest, and exhaling deeply to move the heart forward. Yoga’s little joke often is that the depth of the āsana comes when you least expect it. Enjoy noticing how your body can move, where the restrictions live, and what happens when you begin to use the breath — and enjoy it! We can enjoy our practice without getting attached to the end results, much like children playing. Stay aware, but also have fun.
Don’t get cocky — showing off in class is not a good look. Also, depending on your perspective, what may look pretty spectacular to an Ashtangi may make an Iyengar student cringe. As Shakespeare said in one of his moments of infinite wisdom:
Nothing is neither good nor bad but thinking makes it so.
Your practice will vary day to day, month or month, year to year. It’s not that you shouldn’t try (remember what we said in tapas?) but it’s that you don’t get attached to the results. Move, breathe, stretch, bend — enjoy what your body is able to do. It’s as simple as that.
Find Your Teacher
With busy schedules and pressures on our time, I know what it’s like to not be able to commit to a regular class. Even if you do commit to a regular class, your yoga teacher may take a holiday once in a while. Even so, if you can find a teacher you trust who has more knowledge and experience than you, it’s easier to navigate the complex world of a yoga.
Taking Isvara Pranidhāna Off The Mat
Although I’ve mentioned it a few times already, it’s worth bringing up again. If we stop resisting against what is, we can find a greater sense of calm and contentment. In a culture where we want everything, like, now, this can be harder than it sounds. Wanting more all of the time encourages us to form attachments to the external world, which, when trying to go deeper into our yoga practice towards samādhi (enlightment) is counter productive. Next time you’re sitting down to a meal, take a moment to be thankful for the food in front of you. Just taking a moment to pause and appreciate the day can bring you instant gratification. Who’d have thought it?
I’ve always thought that meditation is comparably easy in the yoga studio. It’s taking that sense of focus, calm and concentration into the outside world which is tricky. This is where mindfulness comes in. There are lots of courses out there on mindfulness, but you don’t need to do a course to be more mindful. Sometimes just slowing down can make it easier to be in the present moment. Taking just 30 minutes out to sit and really enjoy your cup of tea can bring you more into the present moment.
Have A Media Fast
Back in the times when books like the Sūtras were being written, yogis didn’t have to worry about over consumption of TV, film, music and social media. Here in the 21st century, though, we do have to recognise that this constant access to increasingly violent and sexual images could be having an impact on how we view life and act in our relationships. Try cutting back a little, and see how it makes you feel. Start noticing how many times you automatically reach for your phone to check whatever social media channels you’re tuned into, and consciously make an effort to cut back a little. Often, we just need to build new habits to replace the old ones.
Taking Isvara Pranidhāna From Here
Although all the yamas and niyamas compliment each other, isvara pranidhāna really needs tapas and svādhyāya to materialise. We need to put in all the work required from tapas with the focus and awareness of svadhyaya before we can truly experience our last niyama.
I wish you all the luck on the journey ahead. It takes strength and courage to try something different, something new, and if you’ve taken just one suggestion from my series on yamas and niyamas, then good for you. Yoga can be, and should be, a search for truth. How is your search going on? Will you recognise treasure when you find it? Leave your comments below.