Ishvara Pranidhana means love and surrender to the divinity within the individual.
In Sanskrit Ishvara is the creative source, purusha, (the authentic self which is eternal) pure consciousness, God, Goddess or Supreme Guru. Pranidhana means “with sincerity, dedication and devotion, practicing the presence, surrendering to the fruits of practice.”
I like to interpret it as deep platonic love for the creative, source of pure consciousness that is bigger and more powerful than us. Why should we have a problem with surrendering to our own serene, innate, luminous force that lives inside us? Our true S.E.L.F.
For a western mind, caught up with these words that have become redundant for us. We feel that this is almost impossible. We can’t fully surrender to our loved ones or partners, how do we surrender to a higher, knowing, loving force?
Keely came to me in a state, at 45 she felt that she had gone through a mid-life crisis and was at a loss as to what to do. She had conducted a year, long affair with a man other than her husband, but it all had to come to an end once her spouse found out. Keely had been given an ultimatum and couldn’t break up with her partner especially after 15 years and initially, she selfishly wanted to keep the two relationships going. However presented with a fait accompli like this she was in a quandary.
I suggested the fifth niyama (observances for ourselves on the eight limbed–path of Patanjali’s yoga sutras, (Chapter II, verse 32) – Ishvara Pranidhana or I.P. as I would like to call it. The groundwork has to be done through the other four niyamas first of purification, contentment, burning through obstructions and cultivating self-study and study in order for I.P. to innately arise. Keely knew about the niyamas as a long time student of mine and this is why she was so upset that she had allowed herself to ignore them, as she knew she could not have carried on this affair if she had tried to observe them.
The Samkhya system of Indian Vedic philosophy defines the language of yoga. Patanjali accepts the theory that it is the clarification of advancement. How can we advance out of the ‘me’ syndrome into the wider and bigger picture of a life lived virtuously and well? I suggested to Keely to surrender to a better nature, a better life, a song of true and platonic love, to a soul, which has no boundaries, pride or stipulations, to a source/Goddess within her. Surrender yourself to a higher purpose. This was the only way to deal with the stress and tension she had unleashed on herself.
Fighting against feelings of despair and guilt and hatred of herself she felt that this was a last resort. But Patanjali believes that this crisis response, can be an essential ongoing practice. As B. K. S. Iyengar wrote in Light on the Yoga Sutras, “Through surrender the aspirant’s ego is effaced, and . . . grace . . . pours down upon him like a torrential rain.”
How was Keely going to put I.P. into practice? A start is visualizing and bringing up an image of a specific goddess or god, representing powers, attributes, qualities and virtues of the Supreme Being, or the Divine nature within. Since I.P. focuses not on our ego but on the inviolable ground of being, it reunites us with our true Self – S.E.L.F. Ishvara Pranidhana then is a pathway through the obstacles of our ego toward our divine nature, which is freedom, peace, grace, clarity and unconditional love.
As I live and teach in India, where worship of the divine is part of everyday life. I pointed out to her why I prostrate in front of my Devi (consecrated, living energy) before starting every class. Through this devotion to her qualities of absolute love, kindness, forgiveness, fortitude, grace and positivity, I am able to carry this through my teaching and use an asana class into transforming people’s lives off the mat. Anand an inspiring yoga philosophy teacher who works with me always asks western students to cultivate some form of bhakti (devotion) or surrender to the Divine. This is the way of the path to enlightenment – Samadhi.
There is no obstacle, emotion or inner state, which is beyond the influence of I.P. Even if you are a natural bhakti yogi or yogini or a complete cynic, whether you are performing a straightforward task like cleaning your house or a daunting task like a tough conversation, whether you feeling confused or guilty, the whole breadth of life is in the orbit of I.P. When we listen to our true intuition or heart and become aware how each action and emotion is a constant connection to our higher Selves, our hearts become aware of the divine in everything.
This article was published in The Global Yogi magazine on the 9th of July, 2013.