Hello! Before you keep reading; the following ten posts were written as a companion to the August 2020 Yoga Camp. They will collectively make more sense if you scroll down to the first entry on Ahimsa (August 17th) and then read up from there. Enjoy ❤
ISVARA PRANIDHANA : SURRENDER
The specific verse from the Yoga Sutra states “With complete surrender to God, samadhi is achieved”. Samadhi refers to a deep state of contemplation where one is so immersed, there is an experience of union, or oneness, with everything (yoga!). As part of our 8 limbed path, the practice of the yamas and niyamas helps lead us to a place where we can experience that state. Also, specifically according to this verse, through complete surrender to God.
Let’s take a second and talk about the G-O-D part. I’ve been teaching yoga long enough to know that this word does not resonate with everyone. Many people come to yoga specifically because it is spiritual, yet not religious. I personally believe in a force greater than myself, and the name I give it is God. If that’s not you though, don’t worry. According to the Yoga Sutras, there are plenty of other things we can contemplate instead, such as the subtle elements of nature, or the mind itself. If you read the whole book, over and over again it will suggest that contemplating on God is the most direct path to samadhi. But that doesn’t mean if you don’t believe in God, that the practice of Isvara Pranidhana is still not useful.
Which brings us to the surrender part. Regardless of what word you give it, God, nature, energy, the universe, ripe avocados 🙂 there is something powerful in feeling something bigger than your individual self. Something so vast that it may be hard to comprehend, but that you simultaneously feel a part of. I think of the feeling I have when I look up at the stars on a very clear, dark night. Here I am, so small, and yet part of something so big and awe inspiring. My mind and heart feel quite literally expansive when I immerse myself in that experience. What is perhaps most powerful though, about participating in an active relationship with something bigger than ourselves, is that at times it will require our willingness to surrender. Which does a very important thing: it gets us out of our constant need to know and control.
A fun example for me around this is riding a motorcycle. The first time I did it, I was almost consumed by the fear. Every part of my logical brain was telling me it was an unnecessary risk, especially for someone who relies on their physical body for their profession. But once we started going, I realized the fear was not allowing me to fully enjoy the experience. When I realized that, I decided to let go a bit – and it was the most amazing thing I ever felt. So much freedom, so much lightness, all from letting go of the fear and surrendering to the ride instead.
Granted, most of life does not feel like a fun motorcycle ride (especially right now). But my guess is that for most of us, there is still plenty of opportunity to feel the expansiveness that comes realizing we can’t control everything, and to try letting go a bit instead. Or at the very least, try handing ourselves over to something bigger than just ourselves.
As I mentioned before, we now have a barn behind our house with 30 chickens, 5 cats and 2 cows. This is 37 times more animals to simultaneously take care of than ever before in my life. At first, the farm chores involved fell into the category of “not my work”. Or more accurately, “ I don’t want to” (you did read the part about me living in NYC for 15 years, yes?) But the workload for Brad became so much that he asked if I could please just do a little each day. At first, it was just feeding the chickens. Then when they started laying, collecting the eggs. Then I started changing the water. And cleaning the pens. And feeding the cows. Next thing I knew I was taking stray barn cats to the vet because it seemed like they had a cold. It wasn’t too long before I was telling Brad, “maybe we should get home, the animals need us”.
It’s been the loveliest turn around. It’s still work and at times I don’t want to do it, but I have found in it a great solace, especially when I am down. When I am sad, I have a habit of burrowing in, trying to dig my way out of the tunnel by going in deeper. Sometimes, it’s useful. But other times it can leave me quite deep in a place where there is very little light. Having all these animals to care for, it’s not a choice to stay in the tunnels too long. The animals need me and apparently, I need them.
Surrender, devotion, being in relationship to something bigger than ourselves, is all part of Isvara Pranidhana. The practice starts to bring us back around to where we started, back out into the world with our practice of the yamas where we start down the path all over again. Each time we work with the yamas and niyamas, our individual selves become transformed. And then in interacting with the vast universe around us, it too becomes transformed by us.