This week was dedicated to the practice of Isvarapranidhana, which means to recognize that there is some divine force that is larger than ourselves and is guiding and directing the course of our lives. The literal translation of Isvarapranidhana is to lay all of your actions at the feet of God.
When I first started teacher training a few months ago, I remember having a negative reaction every time our instructors brought up the idea that yoga would connect us to God. I have been told that a lot of people who practice yoga casually have a similar reaction to the concept.
I can't speak for everyone, but for me I always think of yoga as bringing lightness to my life and the concept of God brought a sense of heaviness, guilt and obligation that I did not want to associate with my yoga practice. As I continued with my training and learned about the meaning of God as it exists in yoga philosophy (as well as Hinduism and Buddhism) I started to be more open to the idea that yoga could connect me to God.
In fact, the God that I learned about in yoga training is much more consistent with my concept of what God should be. Even before I started training, I often found myself referring to things like mother nature, the universe and karma as opposed to God. If someone was going through a hard time, instead of saying a prayer for them, I would tell them that I would send them good karma.
As I make this transition, I find myself in a place where I have two ideas of God. One is the traditional religious sense where God is the father of Jesus. I have always been told that God is a powerful being who is capable of love and forgiveness. Yet, I have never felt connected to that God. He brings with him all of the baggage of organized religion. And all of the rules, expectations and conditions under which we need to live our lives to experience that love and forgiveness.
My new idea of God is more consistent with my practice of yoga. God is a divine force that placed the seed of Brahman into the universe and created everything in it. In my new concept, God isn't a person. It is divine energy. And that energy exists in every person and everything on earth because we were all created from that one seed of Brahman.
The practice of yoga recognizes that God isn't a distant being to be worshiped. The divine exists in each of us. And through the practice of yoga, we seek to strengthen our connection with the divine, which helps us to strengthen our connection with our true self. Rather than placing the focus externally to find the forgiveness, unconditional love and acceptance we are seeking, we find it within us.
That is the beauty of yoga. And as I continue my practice, I believe that my traditional view of God that developed through years of participating in organized religion will start to fade away and I will recognize that the God we worshiped for all of those years in church is really just a different manifestation of the same light that I am seeking my yoga practice. Yoga simply cuts out the middle man (i.e. the church) and allows me to communicate directly with the divine energy.
This week was a perfect one to practice Isvarapranidhana because I happened to be experiencing a major change in my life. My job is being eliminated at work and I found myself at a crossroads. I could either choose to take another job at the same company, or I could leave and seek out a new opportunity that would be more consistent with who I am and how I want to live my life.
One of the things that got me through the week was to take a moment each day to connect with the divine energy of the universe and show gratitude. The other was a more traditional prayer that has been used by many people during challenging times in their lives. It is the serenity prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
I have never used this prayer in the past, but I found it really helped me this week. When I think of that prayer with the term "God" reflecting my new definition that comes from my yoga training, it is a beautiful sentiment. It recognizes the higher power in the universe while at the same time acknowledging the role of the individual to take action to improve their life.
In the end, I decided not to take another job with my company and instead to take a leap of faith and trust that I will be able to find something better out there. I am planning to take the summer off to teach yoga and hopefully start to explore other opportunities to share my skills and be a positive force in the universe.
If any of you practiced Isvarapranidhana this week, I would love to hear from you in the comments section.
As for me, I have come to the end of my weekly practice of the Yamas and Niyamas. Believe it or not, we have completed all ten of them! This week, our assignment is to read about the concept of obstacles in yoga philosophy and consider how they might impact our yoga practice. I will be back next week to share my experience.