The Path of Devotion

By Rita Ribot, in reverence to all the teachers.

I still remember that moment when I started taking my yoga practice seriously. Yoga was my remedy to lower back pains and stress relief. For a while, that was my goal. But as time passed, I felt my yoga practice was not complete. Until I finished my first teacher training, I had no idea of what was wrong. I learned there that yoga had many ways to heal my life beyond the physical. Yoga could also take me deeper into further spiritual development. During the last years, as I’ve been teaching yoga, I’ve also seen how many students have adopted yoga as their stress reliever, as their pain remedy, as their daily exercise or as time for themselves. But not too many will count yoga as a complement to their spiritual development. Well, it takes time to get to this point. Yoga can be a complement to one’s spiritual path, but you have to be ready. It shouldn’t be forced, but there is nothing wrong with opening the door to this ‘radical’ concept. 

The goal of all yoga practices is reconnecting us with our bhav, “love for the Supreme Lord”. In Chapter 1 of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali says: “Ishvara Pranidanad-Va”. Ishvara means the Supreme Controller, is one of the many names for God. Pranidhana literarily means (dhana) giving and (prana) life force, giving or dedicating your life force, in this case to the Supreme. Patanjali ends the Niyamas with this simple yet profound instruction: “or by dedicating with love and devotion our life to the Lord.” This confirms that Hatha Yoga is also based on “bhav”, and that the one way we can feel complete in this yoga practice is thru the path of devotion. Actually, he also clarifies that all these other practices are unnecessary, like asana (postures), or pranayamas (breathing exercises). If you don’t have much time, you could just do Kriya Yoga, which includes the last 3 Niyamas: Tapas (austerity), Svadhyaya (the study of scriptures and the self) and Ishavara Pranidhana (devoting your life to the Lord).

The ancient scriptures from India, the Vedas, also say that “devotion without study of scriptures is fanaticism and study of scriptures without devotion is intellectualism”. For us to be able to cultivate devotion for the Lord and other living beings (who are each a spark of God’s creation), it is essential to study the scriptures in depth and put them into practice through our daily lives. By tolerance and humbleness, we all eventually can evolve into this Niyama, “Ishvara Pranidhana”.

How do we all cultivate friendships or a healthy relationship with one another? We care, we keep in touch, we look out for each other. Isn’t this why all the social media has been successful in the first place? The practice of “Ishvara Pranidhana” is like social media, is our channel to relate and cultivate a loving relationship with the Absolute Truth.

The material world is a reflection of the spiritual world, whatever is here, it’s here because it’s already there. As we cultivate our earthly relationships with one another, we can also cultivate a similar relationship with the Lord. The Vedas specify the five rasas, or types of intimate loving relationships we can cultivate with the Supreme Lord. And we can reflect our affection for the Lord as the one we have for a (1) father or mother, (2) a son or daughter, (3) with a friend, (4) with our conjugal lover or (5) as a servant. These are not chosen relationships; they just happen naturally as we evolve in our devotional practice.

We all want to feel whole, and yoga gives us the instruments to experience this desire without the need of material consumption. If we begin to shed the limits in our practice, and venture into the practice of devotion on and off the mat, both our yoga experience and daily lives will be transformed. Ishvara Pranidhana is about breaking away from self-center life, and to transform it into a self-less life and practice. Liberating our hearts into the ocean of devotion into a deep feeling of love for the Lord, and inevitably love for all living beings. This will only result in carrying us into a wholesome feeling of happiness and joy that comes from within.