Yoga is about transformation. In yoga philosophy, the five Niyamas, or "self-restrictions", teach us how we can prepare ourselves to receive this transformation, to become the change in our lives. By cleansing our bodies and our environment (saucha), we get rid of what is unhealthy, making space for positive growth. By accepting ourselves as we are and feeling gratitude for all our blessings (santosha), we are able to appreciate even the smallest transformations in our lives as a gift. By being disciplined and putting in effort (tapas), we transform wasted energy into the fire of transformation. By studying ourselves (svadhyaya), we strip away the ego and allow the True Self to emerge.
The final Niyama is "Ishvarapranidhana", or "devotion to God". It is a concept that I have struggled with many times, not being, or ever having been, of any religious creed. So for those of you who may also struggle to untangle the same sticky philosophical threads, I offer you the story of Dumbo. Yes, Dumbo. The baby elephant with the enormous ears.
Dumbo is a social outcast. Ridiculed by the circus where he was born, he is taunted and turned into a clown. His mother tries to protect him from a judgemental mob, and is imprisoned as a mad elephant. His circus makes him an object of ridicule, forcing him to fall from a high platform into a vat of pie filling. But then, Dumbo is given a magic feather and told it will make him fly. Desperate to change his situation, not out of ego but in order to get his mother released, Dumbo takes a leap of faith and flaps his ears. And sure enough, he flies! The next night he takes his magic feather to his act, but at the last minute he loses it. As he plummets down, Dumbo finds out that the feather has no magic at all, and, finally believing in himself, he opens his ears and soars through the air, amazing and delighting the audience of thousands.
The feather never had any magic powers - it was the power of Dumbo's belief that allowed him to break through the barriers in his mind and perform miracles.
Ishvarapranidhana, therefore, teaches us that if we believe in transformation, it can happen. If we set our minds to change our situation, we can overcome obstacles that seemed insurmountable! If we truly believe in ourselves, we will create our happiness. And most of all, if we put all our efforts together, we can inspire others to also witness the unforgettable moments of magic in the world, the glorious liberation of transformation, when barriers are destroyed and miracles happen - the moment when an elephant flies. :)