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The word Yoga can be used in two ways, as a noun or as a verb. In the first instance Yoga refers to our natural state of being in which we no longer identify ourselves with the body and mind but know ourselves to be the Infinite communal life force that is present with in all beings and all aspects of the universe. It is synonymous with the state of Enlightenment, Samadhi or God Realization. In its second use, as a verb, the word Yoga refers to those practices which will help us to reach this state of being. We are blessed that through the goodness and grace of his heart Shri Patanjali, the wise Sage and Yoga master, compiled for us the Yoga Sutras in which he expounds on not only the state of Yoga but the powerful Yoga practices that we can use to reach that state with in this life time!
In chapter 1, Sutra 23 Patanjali gives us a sure fire way to reach the state of Yoga. It is a practice called Ishvara Pranidhana. Ishvara is a Sanskrit word which can be translated to mean Supreme or Personal God. Pranidhana means to dedicate, devote, or surrender to. The practice or Ishvara Pranidhana therefore means that if we are able to completely surrender our individual ego identities to God (our own Higher Self) we will attain the identity of God. If we can dedicate our lives to serving the God which dwells with in all other being, human and non human alike, we will move beyond all feelings of seperatness. If we can say without reservation, " I give You myself: my body, my mind and my heart, to do with as You best see fit.” then we will be freed form the stress, anxiety, self doubt and negative karma that arises from our reliance upon our egos to determine which actions we take in our lives.
Ishvara Pranidhana will help to cure the afflictions of the mind that cause pain and suffering as it is designed to redirect our energy away from our selfish desires and personal dramas towards the ultimate pursuit of Oneness. So important and powerful is this practice that Patanjali gives instructions for it on three seperate occations in the Yoga Sutras. And while it is the simplest and most direct method to attain Yoga, it is not necesarily an easy practice or even an attractive option to some. In our modern Western culture where feelings of seperatness and disconnection prevail, often times we pride ouselves on being strong and dominering over others. We are used to our egos calling the shots and the belief that we are somehow in control of the universe. Becuase of this, the idea of surrendering is taken to mean something negative as it implies a sort of weakness or defeat. An army, for example, might surrender to the opposing forces rendering the opposition the victor. In Yoga, however, it is quite the opposite. Victory is attained as we willingly surrender our limited idea of who we are (i.e. our name, our jobs, our problems etc.) and create the space needed to feel our True nature of Self which is one of limitless and boundless joy. It is like trading in a grain or sand and receiving the whole universe in return. And though it requires great self discipline, trust and faith to practice Ishvara pranidhanva, ultimately it will take far more effort to cling to the smallness of the ego then it will to surrender the the Higher Self.
Within a Yoga class there are many ways to practice Ishvara Pranidhana and cultivate our ability and willingness to surrender. By continuously offering up our efforts and rewards to something more then just personal gain we are able to keep Ishvara in the fore front of our minds. By putting aside our judgments and criticisms and following the instructions given to us in class we learn to more easily take cue from something other then the ego. With each forward bending posture we bow down to God in some form that has meaning to us and with each back bending posture we offer up our hearts so that we may carry out the Will of the universe with every thought word and action we take.
From this day forward let us not waste away the moments of our lives consumed with smallness, jealousy, lust, greed and false notions of superiority . Contemplate daily the Supreme attributes of Ishvara as you meditate and offer yourself completely as a vehicle for Divine Will. Peace comes when we relinquish the idea that we are the ‘doer’ and allow the Infinite to guide us on our way. Let go, and Let God.