Īśvara-Praṇidhāna was my word for sutra day during Love School–aka–my 200-hour yoga teacher training at Laughing Lotus. The last of the Yamas and Niyamas (the ten living principles of yoga), it means an ultimate surrendering to the divine. According to the yoga sutras of Patanjali it is the highest practice.
Key word: Practice. When I began exploring what Īśvara-Praṇidhāna meant, it made total sense that it was the concept I was to explain to the group. I have always had a need for control in my life, blame it on the various societal factors of being raised as a (insert multiple identity labels here). When I thought I had everything in control, it all came falling apart, and I felt at a complete loss and standstill. I could not understand what had happened, and I had no other option but to say “OK universe, you win, you take the wheel because I cannot drive anymore, YOU tell me what I should be doing.” And, with that, the pieces began to fall back into the place, the way they should, which is not how I planned! I welcomed and ushered it all in, my newfound blessings and healing, which lead me to my yoga teacher training and receiving Īśvara-Praṇidhāna as my sutra day word.
Īśvara-Praṇidhāna means understanding that I am you, that you are me, that we are all a piece of the Divine. It means understanding, committing and surrendering to the fact that we are guided by this powerful energy. It means accepting that we may not always get what we want, but we always get what we need. That we are exactly where we are suppose to be and that if we continue to trust in this Divine energy, in this Divine plan, our dharma, that we will continue to be provided for, taken care of and guided.
In rereading the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, I came across this line that has become my favorite line of the moment: “Let us all dedicate our lives for the sake of the entire humanity. With every minute, every breath, every atom of our bodies we should repeat this mantra: “dedication, dedication, giving, giving, loving, loving.” Īśvara-Praṇidhāna also means THIS! It means with every minute, every breath, every atom of our beings we must stay dedicated, giving and loving.
Dedicated to our practice! There are NINE practices that come before Īśvara-Praṇidhāna:Ahimsa (non-harming), Satya (truth), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (not squandering energy), Aparigraha (non-grasping), Saucha (cleaniness), Santosha(contentment), Tapas (austerity), Svadhyaya (study). It’s called practice for a reason; we have to show up every day, in some way, in every breath.
Īśvara-Praṇidhāna: it means that we constantly surrender. It means that just because we’ve let go once, or in one situation/moment, does not mean that we go back to trying to be in control of it all again. It means that we constantly come back to being dedicated, giving, loving, connected with the divinity within us that connects us with everyone and everything else.
Minerva, a devoted yoga mat souljah, loves to lead folx back into their bodies, with their breath, to unity with their Gift Of Divinity. She’s all about getting back to our roots – learn more at RootsHealing.org & join her in March for a beautiful trip to Cuba!
With the magic of music, asana, pranayama, meditation, Minerva’s classes are soulful, playful & makes you sweat. Join her every Tuesday at noon for Soul Sweat, Tuesdays & Thursdays at 5:30pm for Happy Hour Flow and Saturdays at 11:45am for a sweet Lotus Basic. .
As it states in the preface, The Yoga Sutras are, “a living scripture to illumine our spiritual path.” They are threads of wisdom to weave throughout your daily life. There is so much valuable information in the Sutras, and I highly recommend taking one Slokah at a time and letting it resonate inside you. My favorite Slokah is Book 1:33 because it applies to everyone everyday. In fact, Patanjali advises that we commit at least this one Sutra to memory.
Book 1 Slokah 33:
By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.
Patanjali says that there are only four kinds of locks in this world. Suka, duhkha, punya and apunya–happy people, unhappy people, the virtuous and the wicked. The keys to these locks are friendliness, compassion, delight and disregard.
This month marks four wonderful years of working as a receptionist for the front desk at Laughing Lotus. I like to think of myself as a “Spiritual Bartender” more than a receptionist. I greet everyone with a cheerful smile and quickly surmise what key will work to “open” them up.
Patanjali says that the key to opening up the happy is to use the “friendliness” key. Unfortunately, even four thousand years ago, there were people who were not happy at seeing others happy. I greet the happy with excitement! I take great joy in looking at all vacation pictures, and I ask leading questions to find out what made their time away so special. I love hearing about anything and everything that makes you happy. Did you finally clean out that hall closet that has been haunting you forever? GREAT! Please do share! Let’s do a big ol’ high five! I want to be that person you look forward to sharing your life with, my happiness is increased when I know that you are happy. Its a wonderful win-win situation.
Compassion is the key to the unhappy. Patanjali says to be merciful always. “By doing that, you will retain the peace and poise of your mind. Remember, our goal is to keep the serenity of our minds.” If you can lend a helping hand, do it. For the unhappy, I offer empathy and compassion. I want to be that sympathetic ear that you can confide in and know that it will go no further than our conversation. I take great pride in holding a safe place to confide your troubles. I hold everyone’s secrets and pain with honor; I don’t take that privilege lightly.
For the virtuous, feel delighted! I bask in the virtuous! Virtuous people are filled with wisdom and advice. Instead of feeling envy over their accomplishments, appreciate the virtuous qualities and try to cultivate them in yourself. I have learned so much about life and yoga just sitting around in the lobby of Laughing Lotus and chatting over tea…virtuous people are everywhere, you just have to take the time to listen.
Sometimes the world just gets to be too much and we find ourselves in a “bad way.” We shut down and no amount of kindheartedness can soften our thoughts. When you find someone in a “wicked” way, it is best to treat them with indifference. Don’t let them penetrate your happiness and dim your inner light. I always greet people who appear to be having a bad day with a smile and space. Tomorrow is another day, hopefully whatever woes there are today will be gone tomorrow.
Pantajali says these four keys…Friendliness, Compassion, Delight and Indifference should always be with us. “If you use the right key with the right person you will retain your peace. Nothing in the world can upset you then. Remember, our goal is to keep a serene mind.”
Adriana teaches Wednesday and Friday Sunrise Flow at 7am and Thursday Soul Sweat at 12pm. Find more information at www.spottedelephantyoga.com!
by Alex Crow
Have you ever felt as if you were at a loss for words? As if you simply could not place the perfect word for how you felt? It has been said that truth cannot be spoken, it can only be felt. The simplest truths are not so simple to explain, let alone teach. I have come to many truths within the exploration of my own body-mind, and in my attempts to offer them to my students, I often get tripped up, blocked by the limitation of the English language. Perhaps this is why movement speaks to me so purely, it is not restricted by words, syllables, grammar, logic. I can feel the way that life IS by listening to the rhythms of my bones, the speech of my sensations, the pathways of my breath. In a way, I am able to learn the truths of the universe by listening to the intuitive intelligence of my very body. Perhaps it was the recognition of these internal truths that brought the ancient sage, Patanjali, to write the now famous text, and what some call “the bible of Yoga”, The Yoga Sutras.
The Yoga Sutras are an ancient transcript of yogic wisdom written in Sanskrit, a now dead language that stays alive through the practice of Yoga. For westerners to understand this ancient text, we were forced to translate it into English, and in doing so, I believe some of the truth was lost in translation. Much of the translations of the Sutras available to us have left me feeling confused, unclear, and lost in a sea of esoteric jargon. However, if what they say is true, that the truth cannot be found in the words themselves, then it is our responsibility to take these practices into our bodies, and so translate accordingly.
Luckily for me, Nischala Joy Devi’s translation of the Yoga Sutras offered a me new way to engage with the Sutras, which is based in the method of feeling, as opposed to thinking my way to the truth behind these ancient threads of wisdom. She offers a feminine approach, one centered in the heart. This is a fitting translation for our current age as we are beginning to challenge patriarchal systems and re-establish our priorities to include the feminine side of ourselves, the side that honors the wisdom of the body and the truth of our hearts.
Sutra 1.2-1.4 explains the reason for why we practice yoga and what yoga in essence is:
1.2: yogas citta vrtti nirodhah
1.3: tada drastuh svarupe vasthanam
1.4: vrtti sarupyam itaratra
In most translations of these sutras, which understandably (due to the time that they were written in) were written by men, it is explained that:
1.2: yoga is the restraint of the movement or modifications of the mind
1.3: when stillness of mind is accomplished, then the Seer (Self) abides in His own nature
1.4: At other times the Self appears to assume the forms of the mind movements
The idea of trying to control or restrain my thoughts felt not only impossible, but a bit harsh and outdated. I asked myself, what was I to gain from putting more limitations on myself when in truth I was searching for freedom from the many years of mental and physical discipline that led to much of my neurosis? I lovingly recognize the value of discipline, but I struggled with the idea that I had to find a way to stop the movement of my thoughts in order to find my true Self. This is a perfect example of how the truth can get lost in translation! It wasn’t until I read Joy Devi’s translation that I recognized a different way of realizing the same truth. She writes:
1.2: yoga is the uniting of consciousness in the heart
1.3: united in the heart, consciousness is steadied, then we abide in our true nature-joy
1.4: at other times, we identify with the rays of consciousness, which fluctuate and encourage our perceived suffering
This translation brings such relief into my practice of yoga. I feel a natural alignment with the suggestion to join my focus and awareness into the soul’s space in the heart. When I actually do the practice of bringing my mind to the meeting place of the heart, the energetic center of my body-mind-spirit, I am in union (in yoga) with my truth, which is unwavering and still (naturally the mind quiets as it harmonizes with the heart), which fills me with the feeling of JOY! This is freedom! At other times, when I feel the echoes of pain and suffering, I now recognize that I am out of alignment with my true nature, and so I practice yoga (uniting consciousness in the heart) to bring myself back to home, to the truth of who I am, to the truth that abides in the heart.
Once again, it is seen that the truth cannot be understood by intellect alone, it must be felt! The resonance of Joy Devi’s unique translation rang true for me, and perhaps that is the most potent truth of all…no one can bring you to your truth but you. Yoga feels right to me. It is like a homecoming every time. And although the practice of yoga is a path that we must tread alone, we can recognize the spirit within one another, walking hand in hand as we all travel together towards the truth that resides in our own hearts.
Namaste, and so much love.
Alex Crow is a Yoga Therapist and Certified Reiki Master currently spreading her wings in the Bay Area yoga and dance communities. Laughing Lotus Yoga Center has been her yoga home for 4 years, and you can catch her for either Lotus Yin on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and/or Lotus Fly on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays every week!.
by Laura S
It’s hard not to begin with Chapter 1, Sutra 1 when contemplating “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.” Depending on the rendition, there are approximately 196 sutras (or threads) that make up this classic work of yogic philosophy, and each time I pick up my copy, there is something new to explore. The sutras build upon one another, so in some ways randomly opening to a sutra (while fun!) means missing out on the profound accumulation and unveiling that happens if you read the sutras in order.
The Sanskrit word “atha” translates to “now begins.” So, the first sutra, “Atha yoga anushasanam,” means, “Now begins the teachings of yoga.” I’ve also heard this sutra translated as practice or sharing instead of teachings. I like each of these word choices for slightly different reasons. In recent weeks I’ve been nerding out a bit over comparing and contrasting three different translations that I have, and I like the nuance of revisiting a familiar sutra with a slightly different translation to examine. Regardless of translation, the key word in this first sutra for me is the word NOW.
Yoga (whether the physical postures, meditative practices, daily sadhanas, or off-mat/real world scenarios) is about our relationship with the present moment. Our practice is about what is happening in our awareness and actions right now in this very second. Everything else (in the Sutras and in life) seemingly comes next, but really we are always in this ever-present now. This is where the practice/teaching/sharing continually exists. Now is always happening, always changing, and always the only thing. It’s overwhelming, but also pretty awesome!
I’m drawn to the idea that each time I step on my mat or open my Yoga Sutras, the practice of yoga starts anew. Now, again and again, I begin. There is something urgent about this sutra. We must begin NOW. But there is also something reassuring. No matter what else has happened, no matter what has come before, we can begin again. Now is always here for us to step into and inhabit.
Of course, after this initial declaration of now comes the work of the remaining 195 sutras. My newest translation is quite fat and at first I was anxious to tear through the pages and get to the end. But, I resisted, and instead have been savoring the first five or so, and especially this first one. The sutras are not merely conceptual; each one can and should be threaded into our practice in real ways. One way to work with the first sutra is to lie down on your mat, or take a walk, or find a comfortable place to sit. Next, simply allow yourself to rest in the now without any concern for what will come next, in your practice or in your day. Feel what the present moment really brings with it and move from moment to moment within the body and the breath. I love this practice because there is so much potential in it: for relaxation, for discovery, for self-reflection, for creativity, for healing, for really noticing.
Stephen Cope’s book “The Wisdom of Yoga” is an interesting exploration of the sutras. He shares personal stories and anecdotes from both himself and his students with the sutras as a pervading wisdom that can be applied to each person’s situation (and I love that these ancient aphorisms really can apply to our modern lives). One line from Cope’s book has become a mantra of sorts for me, and I have written it down and taped it above my desk: The self is a process, not an entity. This idea is what inspires me most in my yoga practice: we are all in the midst of a fluid and dynamic process where who we are and what is happening is never fixed. Each breath is new. Now, the practice of yoga.
Laura believes the transformational power of yoga is accessible to everyone. Catch her Lotus Basics classes on the schedule later this fall!