It has been said that if you can master Ishvara Pranidhana, the last of the Niyamas, there is no need to practice the others. That is not to say the other Niyamas are not important, but that Ishvara Pranidhana encompasses the others. If you are able to successfully practice this Niyama of surrender, surely the others will not be a challenge for you.
Commonly, Ishvara Pranidhana translates to surrender. As Westerners, it may seem odd to think of surrender as perhaps the most supreme of virtues. Perhaps we might think of surrender as what you do when you are beaten. However, as a willow bows and bends in a terrible storm, isn’t that a form of surrender, too?
The willow accepts the strong winds and, instead of being rigid and adamant about being an upright tree, it moves with the winds, bending when necessary. The winds stop, and the tree returns to being upright.
Surrender Your Body
It is not surprising that this is a virtue in the scriptures pertaining to yoga. Constantly in yoga, we ask our bodies to surrender. Perhaps in Yin or Restorative, you’re asking tight muscles to surrender, so you can find the comfort you seek. Maybe you’re in a challenging pose in your physical practice and you’re asking your body to hang in there for just a few breaths more.
Runners, strength trainers, really anybody who does anything physically challenging–You can all relate to that moment when you ask your body to hang on for just a little while longer. You ask your body to surrender to the goals of your brain or spirit.
Surrender Your Ego
Ah, but as we surrender our bodies to the challenge we have created, we must also surrender our egos. Active people, how many of you have surrendered your body but not your ego and created an injury? Yeah, me too.
Most of us have at some point in time decided to power through something just because we wanted to do it (or tell other people that we had done it) and hurt ourselves. The key is to surrender the ego as well, and letting go of the ego is very hard to do when you have a goal. Here’s an example of what that would be like to let go of both:
You have a goal. For this example, we’ll say that you want to accomplish a difficult yoga pose, although it can just as easily be any other goal. Everything you do is with this goal in mind. Your warm-up prepares you for this pose; your mind is ready to take you there. As you begin, you ask your body to surrender. Now, let go of your ego. It does NOT matter if you do this today, tomorrow, the next day, or never.
Working toward the goal, building strength, building confidence–they’re all a part of the process. Believe it or not, it is the process, not the outcome, that is the most important part of what you are doing.
Surrender to God (or the Universe)
On ekhartyoga.com, Emma Newlyn writes:
“The term ‘Isvara Pranidhana’ is made up of two words; Isvara, which translates as ‘Supreme Being’, ‘God’, ‘Brahman’, ‘Ultimate Reality’ or ‘True Self’ and Pranidhana, which means ‘fixing’. In most translations of this Niyama, we’re advised to ‘surrender’ to this Supreme Being or higher self, which in essence means cultivating a deep and trusting relationship with the universe, and making each action an offering to something bigger than us.”
Just as the willow trusts that it will return to an upright position after a storm, we should trust that we will be righted after a time of crisis. Once you start trusting God or the Universe, you will start to see the wonder and humor of how things unfold in life. If you keep practicing Ishvara Pranidhana, you will find ways to make offerings and dedications to the bigger picture.