Isvara Pranidhana

Without it, our yoga practice is said to be only “half baked”. What is ishvarapranidhana? Ishvarapranidhana is one of the 5 Niyamas listed in Patanjali’s eight limbed path of Ashtanga Yoga. Ishvarapranidhana is a part of our practice that needs to be discussed and investigated in order to understand the nature of our true eternal Self.

Commonly regarded as “Surrendering to God”, this Niyama (observance) deserves a bit more explanation. Ishvarapranidhana is more than just bowing to an icon on the alter. It is an attitude and a way of being which allows one to identify with the eternal aspects of one’s own self rather than identifying with the everchanging mind and body.  Ishvara is known as divine awareness, absolute consciousness, the eternal witness that lies within each of us. Pranidhna indicates aligning with, applying one’s self to, surrender, devotion and dedication. Ishvarapranidhana can be regarded as orientating and aligning ourselves with our own internal eternal divinity. An example of this is the surrendering of our mind and ego in order to witness our true self.

Patanjali states that it is this surrendering of the active mind with dedication and devotion that allows one to attain and perfect Samadhi; union with the divine. Advanced practitioners of yoga and meditation will agree that surrendering the activities of the mind is crucial in attaining deep states of meditation and beyond.

Patanjali begins the second chapter of the Yoga Sutras by defining what a real yoga practice is. He states that along with Tapas, (discipline) and Svadyaya (self study), ishvarapranidhana is necessary for a grounded and complete yoga practice. Surrendering has the capacity to reduce our own personal suffering, improve our quality of life and our yoga practice.

Yoga practitioners can integrate this niyama into their lives in a multitude of ways. One is to surrender our own individual needs and desires to serve and accommodate our immediate community. Taking direction from a guru, teacher, or someone with greater knowledge than our selves is a humble way to surrender and show respect. Letting go of your plans, projections, agendas and opening up your mind and heart and asking or praying for direction is a form of isvarapranidhana. “Not my will, but Thy will” is a common phrase that demonstrates humility and surrender. Relinquishing desires of the senses and accepting one’s fate and following personal destiny (dharma) is a noble example. Not being attached to the results or fruits of your labor is a classic form of ishvarapranidhana that is helpful in reducing stress and suffering in the workplace. Quieting the chatter of the mind during meditation and witnessing the beauty and silence within, known as the “peace that passeth all understanding” is perhaps one of the greatest examples of all. Hari Om Tat Sat.