“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” ~~ The Bible, Romans 12:2 (New Living Translation)
I don’t know about you, but in the first couple years of my yoga practice, I was so concerned with “getting there” in my poses. I’d look around the room and see what the other students could do with their bodies that I could not do with my own body, and I wanted to be like them. I wanted results. I wanted to achieve perfection. Many times, I walked away from class with more frustration than I originally came in the door with, and I would feel disappointment.
Even when I first became a teacher, my yoga practice continued on in this way. For the first year of teaching, I would guess that I taught decent classes in terms of the flow of the vinyasa sequences I strung together. But I consistently felt “off”, like I wasn’t connecting with my students in the way that I was wanting to.
Fast forward a couple of years. I was working towards the more advanced courses in my teacher trainings, where we started learning more about the lifestyle aspects of yoga. We learned about the chakras and the eight-limbed path, which included the Yamas and the Niyamas. As you know, we’ve been focusing on the five niyamas these past few weeks. The last of the niyamas, which is Surrender to God (Ishvara Pranidhana), is the one that really struck me the most.
In learning about this last of the niyamas, I realized that I had it all wrong. It’s not the results that matter, because the results lie in the hands of the Divine. What really matters is our intention and our effort. If we approach our yoga practice, and our lives, with good intentions and honest effort, that’s all that matters. We may not get the results we expected, but we’ll get results that are more meaningful when we approach things in this way.
God can be thought of as the universal life force. God is worshipped in different forms by every religion and faith. The name you use for God isn’t what matters. It’s the dedication that matters. If you can dedicate yourself in this way, you will realize that there is a bigger purpose…and you are playing a part. When you come to this realization, you’ll find that you are able to approach your yoga practice and your life with equal parts intensity and calmness.
Sometimes on this path to seek enlightenment, you may find yourself questioning all that you thought you knew, and you may feel powerless or lost. This is normal. It’s certainly something I experienced, and it was kind of a scary time in my life. Everything I thought I knew about myself and about life was up for judgment, and that can be a scary thing. But it forced me to really dig down deep and figure out what I was all about. Some surprising discoveries were made…some good, some not so good. And once I knew my true intentions, I was able to turn it over to God. It wasn’t easy, and sometimes I find myself encountering a new struggle. This is the way of life. But each and every time, when I truly examine my heart and soul, and then give it up to God, I always come away stronger and more peaceful. I realize that when I do this, when I truly let God take the reins, there’s no more “I” or “me”. It means I am never alone.
This week, practice this last of the niyamas by surrendering in your poses. Don’t think about what you think your body should look like in your poses. Instead, close your eyes and just let it happen the way it’s meant to. Feel your breath…it should be moving freely and easily while you’re moving into your poses. Feel your body…notice which muscles are strengthening and which are stretching. Notice the intensity…it should feel like you are challenging your body, but it shouldn’t be painful, and your face should feel relaxed. Finally, notice your mind…it should feel open and receptive, not jumbled and chaotic. And if you find yourself focusing on the negative (“I am so tight”, “I wish I looked like her”, “I’ll never be able to do THAT”), then acknowledge the thought…but then let it go. Give it up to God.
For many of us, this is not going to be an easy thing to do. It definitely takes practice and patience to be able to totally surrender. But I can promise you that you will feel such peace and calmness when you are finally able to truly let go.