An Unfolding - Ishvara Pranidhana II

continued from An Unfolding: Ishvara Pranidhana...

Yoga practice is all about noticing our habits and tendencies: eliminating those that lead us towards suffering and cultivating those that lead us towards a peaceful, content, more wise way of living. 

One of my own tendencies has been my resistance to surrender - I find it hard to trust the unfolding.  My habit is to think that I can work it all out intellectually and then make a positive decision about what to do; that through sheer tenacity and the force of my will I can make things happen a certain way.  Of course I can't and I'm working on breaking that way of thinking!  The concept of ishvara pranidhana is helping me to do that.

After writing about ishvara pranidhana last week, from the point of view of one who seeks to control the world, one of my students asked, what if you are coming from the opposite direction?  What if the world feels permanently out of control and that you have nothing solid to cling to?  What if you often find yourself feeling fearful about the way the world tosses you about?  What if, instead of trying to control the river's flow (as I have done), you feel that you are at the mercy of it, with no ballast to keep you steady?

Ishvara pranidhana is as relevant to you as it is to me.  Whether you feel a victim of life's happenings, or you take up arms and fight against them, we are still all subject to the fact that life just happens and all we can do is to meet it where we find it, with as much strength and peace in our hearts as we can muster.  We know when we look back that life is random and curious: some of the best times of our lives came out of darkness; some of the saddest dropped from the clear blue of a sunny sky; still others are that bittersweet combination of bliss and pain.  With the wisdom that comes with time we see that sorrow is as crucial for our personal development as joy.  Ishvara pranidhana is accepting that life is there to teach us if we are willing to watch and to learn from it.

The key to the practice of ishvara pranidhana, whichever side of the control fence you are sitting on, is discovering your own centre; finding your essential core of peace and personal wisdom and resting within it.  Every human being has within them balance, the capacity for love, wisdom, peace and patience.  Yoga is called a practice for a reason: you have to do it yourself and you have to keep on doing it; learn how to centre yourself in the good times so that you have the tools ready to cope with the harder times.

This is also a question of personal power.  Some of us don't like the idea of power - it seems hard and strong and not at all like us.  But as Brene Brown points out, the opposite of being powerful is being powerless... and I don't know anyone who enjoys being powerless.  By personal power I mean the humble kind of personal power that is brave enough to admit one's own frailty and to seek the support of loved ones in times of crisis.  I mean the kind of personal power that makes you resilient, rather than come crashing down or go running from the slightest challenge to the status quo.  I mean the self-reliance that stops you from reaching out to others in the hope that they will save you or give you the answer, the magic pill to all of your questions and problems.  I mean the kind of power that lets you sit quietly with tough feelings rather than hiding them behind busyness and noise so that you don't have to think about them (they don't go away, you know).

So no, we cannot control the fates and life is surprising.  But neither are we powerless victims of life's vicissitudes.  Yoga helps us to locate and develop our sense of personal power; our steadiness; it helps us to stay loving, kind and resilient even in the face of life's most difficult challenges.  Through yoga practice we find we can maintain strength, integrity and equilibrium through the good, the bad and the indifferent times.  In our practice we seek our own wisdom and find the courage to take notice of it and to live by it.  And the next time you feel yourself blown about by life's storms, you find you have become your own anchor.


  1. I'm going to read this several times to start taking it all in. Makes sense on first reading and I like being called a student! V.

  2. Still reading and digesting! V. PS We loved the fabulous forty sunnies; very creative and imaginative.


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