In previous articles, the Niyamas have been discussed and applied to our daily experiences. The last of the five Niyamas is Isvara Pranidhanani–defined as surrender, devotion to God, the mental attitude of acceptance and detachment from results of actions.
For the last few months [after September 11th], many yoga students have said how much their yoga practice and yoga community of friends has felt supportive and comforting in a time of loss and uncertainty. It has been for many of us a time of reevaluating what is important in our lives.
The Yoga Sutras explain that it is our connection to our inner self (Atman), that’s important. And from this inner connection we continue to spiritually evolve outward in our daily living and in relationship with others. Yoga is a practice that draws our attention inward, having a stabilizing affect physically, as well as mentally and emotionally. When we are thrown off balance in our lives, we have to learn what will bring stability, an attitude of being able to stand on our own two feet.
Students of yoga are first introduced to balance in standing poses by feeling weight evenly distributed through the feet and legs. This concept is more appreciated when one-legged poses are introduced and the importance of balance and stability is more obvious. In asana, balance is maintained by mental focus and a physical interplay of action and release. Anatomically, muscle groups work this way. For example, for the bicep–the inner upper arm muscle-–to contract, the tricep–the outer arm muscle-–must release and lengthen. More obvious is the relationship of the hamstrings and the quadriceps, the back and front upper leg muscles. To bend forward the hamstrings must release as the quads contract, drawing the pelvis forward. The opposite is true in a backbend. The quads lengthen as the hamstrings contract in a back bending action. Every yoga student meets themselves in where they are stuck and resistant, and where it is easier to move and feel freedom.
Our practice becomes the gift of inner knowing as we individually meet ourselves in how we deal with challenge and how we respond to ease. Since September 11th, most of us have reevaluated our stance on these two principles. We have been challenged to feel our vulnerability and be patient with the lack of ease in some taken-for-granted areas of our life. Like asana, balance in our life comes from learning where our support and nurturing comes from and the interplay of what is of value and what to let go. What drives me crazy and what soothes my soul become guiding questions. This type of deliberate assessment is an example of Sutra 1.2: “Yoga is the ability to direct and focus mental activity.” Inner focus connects us to our feelings, which are our guide toward what brings joy and freedom and what to surrender.
My teachings are easy to understand
and easy to put into practice.
Yet your intellect will never grasp them,
and if you try to practice them, you’ll fail.
My teachings are older than the world.
How can you grasp their meaning?
If you want to know me,
Look inside your heart.
– Chapter 70 Tao te Ching, Stephen Mitchell