As we continue to explore the yogic precepts for living, we turn our focus this month to the fifth and final Niyama: Isvarapranidhana.
“…if we concentrate more on the quality of our steps along the way than on the goal itself, then we also avoid being disappointed if we perhaps cannot attain the exact goal that we had set for ourselves. Paying more attention to the spirit in which we act and looking less to the results our actions may bring us – this is the meaning of isvarapranidhana.” – TKV Desikachar, Heart of Yoga
Isvarapranidhana is the fifth and last of the Niyamas of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Isvarapranidhana, which translates most simply to “surrender,” describes the quality of intention and awareness that we bring to our actions. More detailed translations of the word have interpreted it as “offering the fruits of one’s actions to the Divine,” or as the two short translations of pranidhana (“surrendering”) and Isvara (“to a higher source”). Isvara is understood to be beyond one form and yet expressed through all forms, a complex idea that is often represented as pure vibration by the sacred syllable OM.
“Life is not inherently meaningful,” writes Donna Farhi in Yoga Mind, Body & Spirit. “We make meaning happen through the attention and care we express through our actions.” It is through isvarapranidhana that we expand our awareness and bring meaning to life. When we learn to let go, to surrender, we gain a sense of perspective that allows us to recognize and receive the grace of being alive. We accept that we are a part of everything, and trust that our higher selves will guide us along the correct path.
To many, the idea of surrender is unappealing and uncomfortable. Surrender is a last resort, a weakness, a personal failing. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, however, surrender is a powerful practice that leads to the supreme unified state of Yoga: samadhi. Isvarapranidhana shifts our focus from our narrow-minded obsession with “I” to a conscious recognition of a deeper state of being and reunites us with our true Selves. Overcoming the distracting obstacles of our ego reveals our divine nature – peace, clarity, freedom, unconditional love.
The surrender of isvarapranidhana asks that we let go of the need to control all things and requires us to recognize that there is a force larger than ourselves, an extraordinary omnipresent power that resides in everyone and everything, that directs the course of our lives. “Isvarapranidhana,” says Farhi, “means surrendering our personal will to this intelligence so we can fulfill our destiny.” We must stay connected to this essence throughout our lives, every moment of every day, not just during moments of focused awareness. This is the ultimate source of peace and meaning in our lives.
“Through surrender the aspirant’s ego is effaced, and . . . grace . . . pours down upon him like a torrential rain.” – BKS Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sutras