Another Thanksgiving holiday, another week (or month) of yoga teachers preaching gratitude for your Thanksgiving yoga practice.
Which is great except that gratitude also feels good on January 15, March 23, July 2, and every other day of the year.
I will be the first teacher to admit that I too have themed my yoga classes around Thanksgiving gratitude for years.
This year, I didn’t.
Gratitude in the Sutras
Gratitude is not actually a concept referenced explicitly in the Yoga Sutras.
Santosha, or contentment, is a state of awareness worth working toward according to the Sutras, and gratitude is a wonderful way to get there.
Staying present in the moment, a foundational concept in yoga practice, also can be aided by gratitude practices that remind us about what we already have rather then what we want or think we need.
But gratitude in and of itself is never mentioned in the Sutras and there are certainly no instructional practices outlined on gratitude. (There are, in fact, no instructional practices outlined for anything in the Sutras.)
Introducing Ishvara Pranidhana
Each week, since the beginning of 2017 I’ve shared one or a set of Yoga Sutras in my classes in chronological order. As fate would have it, this particular Thanksgiving week’s Sutra happens to be all about Ishvara Pranidhana.
Sutra 2.45 states:
“Reverence to God promotes the ability to completely understand any object of choice.”
T.K.V. Desikachar in The Heart of Yoga
“From resignation to Isvara (follows) the accomplishment of Samādhi.”
Dvivedi from The Unadorned Thread of Yoga
“The perfection of samādhi – cognitive absorption is due to īsvara-pranidhāna – perfect aligning of attention with the omniscient seer within (īsvara).”
Houston from The Unadorned Thread of Yoga
“From an attitude of letting go into one’s source (ishvarapranidhana), the state of perfected concentration (samadhi) is attained.”
Jnaneshvara from The Unadorned Thread of Yoga
This concept of surrendering to God is sometimes controversial because it can easily be interpreted as a religious mandate.
However, the word Ishvara is malleable in that there is no one Yoga authority who defines what Ishvara means. (Although, there are plenty of people who pretend they are the only and most important authority in all of Yoga — they’re lying.)
Ishvara is a personalized concept of something greater than yourself. You may call that God, the universe, Allah, Jesus Christ, Mother Nature, whatever. The beauty of this concept is that you get to decide what to name the higher power, if you even want to give it a name at all!
Knowing this, Sutra 2.45 becomes a powerful reminder about the importance of surrender in yoga practice.
In Chapter 2 of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali outlines the Yamas and Niyamas, or the moral qualities and practices of a yogi. Ishvara Pranidhana is the last Niyama.
That list alone contains enough practices to last much longer then one lifetime!
In fact, it’s easy to get caught up in always having to do something, especially in our modern lives. We are always looking for something to do, someone to help, some thing to attach meaning to.
The Yamas and Niyamas easily become a list of to-do’s to hang your hat on.
But, the last Niyama negates it all, in perfect paradoxical yoga fashion.
Basically, all of the Yamas and Niyamas lead up to 2.45, in which you learn that you can’t actually attain enlightenment by doing anything.
In other words, follow the rules and then let the rules go.
Do the work, and then throw it all away.
Do what you need to do, and then surrender.
The Yoga Sutras remind us that we aren’t the ones controlling our journey. Ishvara is.
Do all the work because it’s good for you, but only divine grace will decide when it’s your turn to be enlightened.
Thanksgiving yoga practice
In fact, I think the holidays are so special because of all the crap we deal with in this 6-week period.
Instead of focusing exclusively on gratitude, consider how you can let go and surrender to the flow.
You may find that if you let go of your illusions of perfection and instead ride the wave of the day, Thanksgiving will turn out just fine and you won’t have to worry about every misstep and obstacle along the way.
I will be practicing this particular concept as I drive home to Ohio. My husband and I did everything we could (read: control) to make sure we wouldn’t have to drive home in the height of rush-hour Wednesday evening traffic. Alas, we have to drive home during Wednesday evening rush-hour traffic.
So instead of getting frustrated, I will be shifting my focus from worrying about slow traffic to figuring out how to go with the flow and make the drive as enjoyable as possible. We’ll get home when we get home and that’s just how it’s going to be. Whether it’s the standard 6-hour drive or the standard Thanksgiving 9-hour drive, it is what it is.
If I’m looking for something to do about it, the only thing I have control over is how I choose to respond to what is in front of me. I can get annoyed and angry and change nothing or surrender and be happy and still change nothing. Might as well make the best of it!
Seane Corn once said we teach what we most need to learn and I assure you, I need this lesson more than anyone else 😉
Namaste and Happy Thanksgiving to all of you who are celebrating in the States this week!
Start living life inspired today!
Have you mastered the 7 elements to inspired living?
Do you have a plan in place to integrate them into your life?
The Inspired Life Checklist draws from core concepts in the Yoga Sutras and helps you identify where to focus your energy so that you can start living your most inspired life right now!