Since being reintroduced to the eightfold path, I find that I have been practicing some of its elements without realizing it. This is the fifth of six columns devoted to exploring their value in today’s world.
Isvara Pranidhana (surrender to God) – I’ve seen it translated “dedication to God” or dedicating one’s actions to God. This is a big virtue in Christianity, too. A great line I found on beliefnet.com is: “By holding onto that which in any case is forever slipping through our fingers, we just get rope burn.” This is what dedicating one’s actions to God means.
If we do what must be done, or what is at hand to do, and we let go of the outcome, we take ourselves outside the cycle of suffering. If we do the best that is within our power and turn the rest over to “God,” we let go of huge burdens. We can be happy whatever the outcome of our efforts.
That letting go of outcomes is one of the tougher disciplines. It is also very powerful. Worrying about outcomes keeps us from enjoying the here and now and also, sometimes, from doing the best we can right now or taking advantage of opportunities.
Problems arise when we, as individuals, think God wants infidels dead and the sinful to be punished. I say, if that’s what God wants, let God take care of it. I’ll do the best I can here and now and strive not to be attached to what other people do or don’t do. I feel happier already.
We in the West tend to practice the asanas, or postures/exercises, for purely physical reasons. We want to become stronger, more flexible, healthier and stay physically young. The postures help our bodies move through life more easily. I have seen my own students grow younger by practicing yoga. There are plenty of physical disciplines that provide some (though seldom all) of the same physical benefits. But asana, practiced with spiritual intent, brings the mind to the present moment and a fine awareness of the interplay of mind and body. It reveals to us the way mind and body interact with spirit. Asana grounds us in the here and now as a kind of mindfulness meditation.
The word prana in Sanskrit means both breath and spirit. In English, the word respiration comes from the same root as the word spirit. In some ways yogic tradition sees the two as literally the same. Ayama means control, therefore pranayama is breath control, and it leads to greater awareness of spirit. B.K.S. Iyengar describes pranayama as “the hub around which the wheel of life revolves.”
Cultivation of breath control, even just bringing attention to the breath, is a useful first step toward a meditation practice. Refer to the first Bringing Yoga Home column for help in learning to breathe well.