Do you practice yoga to find freedom? I mean, on any level. What from? My original reasons for starting yoga were anxiety and curiosity. Realizing how fun yoga is, how kind it is and how good I felt after practicing, I wanted more. Eventually I tunneled deeper into my practice by joining a teacher training. It was then that I realized I was seeking freedom. Ten years after doing that first training, I’ve found so much; and I appreciate every little bit. And yet I know there’s so much more. Yoga is a continuous practice of letting go and letting in, of devotion and discipline. When you practice yoga, you walk the never-ending path toward freedom, getting closer with every step.
Ishvara pranidhana is one of the niyamas from the Yoga Sutras. It refers to surrendering to the divine. The divine is not defined - it could be god, the pure consciousness or the divine inside you. Surrendering is not easy, physically or emotionally. Through awareness, we notice where we’re holding, where we’re refusing to let go. From a physical standpoint, this could be a muscle that doesn’t seem to want to stretch. Becoming quiet allows you to study the muscle, to see where the release won’t come. Every bit of awareness of the specific location of that resistance leads to some amount of letting go. The surrendering of the mind is similar - watching and waiting without judgment, your awareness sharpens and you allow yourself to see the truth of your emotions. Learning how to let go is one (difficult) task, but learning to let in is quite another challenge. With new awareness, we learn what we might be blocking that’s necessary to be free. Adventurousness and curiosity hook and pull us to what brings us love, joy, compassion and even suffering. In doing so, they lead us to experience what it is to be wholly human.
You can go through the motions of your asana practice as though it’s nothing more than a workout. In that case, you’ll likely build strength and flexibility to some extent. Or you can approach your practice with devotion and discipline. Getting your head in the game, giving yourself over to the practice, you allow yourself to learn more than what you see on the surface; and you allow the magical to show itself. Visiting your mat and meditation seat regularly and often, you give yourself the chance to experience transformation; and you see your progress clearly.
When I tunneled into the confusing muck into which yoga invited me, I sought freedom from anxiety, tightness and pain. I have found freedom, though not complete, from this trio of afflictions; and I continue on my path. The yoga tools of letting go, letting in, devotion and discipline are potent, but require patience. But as with everything, transformation over a long time tends to stick. A comforting side effect of heightened awareness is that you can see the tiny changes along the never-ending path. It’s as though you wear special “yoga glasses”, from which you can see everything, even the slow coming of freedom.