After a summer hiatus, I have returned to blogging. The subject of this (long overdue) post is the final niyama or observance in the eight limb system: Ishvara-Pranidhana.
As with most of these concepts, there’s more than one way to view or interpret Ishvara-Pranidhana, but most interpretations have something to do with “god” and “devotion.” Let me explain. Sometimes, we hear the word “god” and we jump to whatever we’ve been conditioned to think about this term–be it, “oh, goody! Yoga looks like my religion because it talks about GOD and how important GOD is” or “uh-oh….god? I’m outta here” and undoubtedly some sort of reaction in between. In a very yogic way, neither of these extreme responses really reflects I-P and yet they both reflect it perfectly.
In essence, Ishvara-Pranidhana boils down to living a life of devotion and seeking manifestations of the divine (“GOD” or “Ishvara”) in all that you do. In this way, I-P is similar to brahmacharya. While the standard definition of brahmacharya certainly suggests celibacy or abstinence, brahmacharya also encompasses sanctifying the seemingly mundane. Ishvara-Pranidhana is an extension of that: live your life as a devotion to something higher (“GOD”) and in so doing seek out and celebrate the divine all around you. When we move beyond ourselves, we enter the state of yoga.
To me, this all seems like straightforward spiritual stuff. Right? Devotion, divinity–you’ve heard it all before, no matter what path you’ve chosen. What I’d really like to talk about is insecurities. Our own personal insecurities. Because I believe it’s here where we can truly practice Ishvara-Pranidhana.
We can transcend who we are when we come face-to-face with who we are, and sometimes it seems like nothing illuminates us to ourselves more than our foibles and limitations. Recently, I was feeling insecure about some friends. You know the drill: I was scared that they no longer liked me–in fact, I was sure that they had probably never liked me. I channeled my hurt, confusion, and insecurity into a snarky comment, which did nothing to relieve my insecurity.
Instead, by practicing Ishvara-Pranidhana, I could have stayed calm in the face of my raging insecurities. Focusing on compassion–what connects us to each other–means that I have compassion for my friends and trust our connection and that I have compassion for myself and the ways that I may have fallen short of the mark as a friend. A life of devotion isn’t a life of punishment and reward or naughty/nice; instead, it’s a life full of grace and compassion for the bumps along the road. It’s a life much bigger than us and our wounded pride.
To seek out divinity in all the crevices in our life isn’t simple the Baptismal vow of many Christians or the guiding principle in other major religions: it’s a way to calm the mind. It’s a way to go beyond the mind–and that, is yoga.