Ishvara Pranidhanat adds a spiritual dimension to our yoga practice, reminding us that there is more to us than our bodies.
Ishvara Pranidhanat is the awareness of the divinity around us and within.
The Sanskrit word Ishvara means the Supreme Intelligence that permeates everything due to which there is harmony and order in life, due to which the movements of life become possible. Ishvara is the Supreme Soul, the divinity, the eternal seed in all beings. It’s the omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, the presence of being.
The Sanskrit word Pranidhanat means surrender, letting go, devotion. The complete Yoga Sutra, chapter II, verse 45 reads: Samadhi Siddhir Ishvara Pranidhanat; by total surrender to the Supreme Soul, Samadhi is attained.
Samadhi is the communion of the individual soul with the universal soul. The experience of Samadhi is only possible when the mind is totally quiet, when we surrender and let go of all thoughts to the presence of now. In the quiet space of now, the consciousness can open up to experience a deep connection with the source of life, the divine. We might have had experiences of Samadhi for short glimpses at times. With a devoted and mindful yoga practice, the glimpses of Samadhi gradually increase and expand.
The process of quieting the mind is the heart and essence of yoga practice. It sounds so simple, but it’s not easy. After 50 years practicing Yoga, I still find it challenging to stop the “mind chatter.” The glimpses of silence and Samadhi are slowly increasing. Maybe in another 20 years of practice I’ll be in total bliss!
To silence the mind we first need Tapas (discipline) and Svadhyaya (observation). When the mind is quiet and the consciousness open and receptive, we can surrender to the divinity, experiencing a communion with the core of life.
Yoga means union. It’s a union between the body, mind, and the eternal soul. When we chant Aum in the beginning of some classes we are calling the omniscient, the omnipresent, the omnipotent into our body, into our practice, into our consciousness, reminding us that there is more to us than our bodies.
Aum represents the essence of all sounds and the essence of life. “They” say that Aum was the sound that was created from the first bang of explosion out of the black hole at the beginning of the universe…
Recently astronomers have found the oldest galaxy in our universe 13 billion light years away! As a comparison, our moon is only a few minutes of light years away. That is “far out,” that is omnipotent!!
Vimala Thakar says in her Glimpses of Raja Yoga “While making effort, while training, while studying, become aware that there is a principle permeating everything. To it have an attitude of surrender otherwise you might mistake yourself as the master of your body and the master of the cosmos of the universe.”
In the end of our Yoga classes we bring our palms together in front of our heart center. We bow and say namasté. The Sanskrit word namasté means the divine light in me honors the divine light in you. Namasté reminds us that we are all interconnected, interrelated, inter beings; we are all here on earth together, needing each other and being guided and supported by the same Supreme Intelligence.
Vimala Thakar goes on to say that if we only practice tapas, self-discipline, and svadhyaya, self-study, without an awareness of Ishvara, no awareness of the presence of the Ishvara around you and within you, then you can become very arrogant, you can become very self-centered and isolatory.
I must admit that my first 25 years of yoga practice did not have much awareness of Ishvara Pranidhanat. My yoga practice was centered around me. My body, my poses, my health, my well being, my happiness, and fulfillment.
A drastic shift in my attitude happened when Maya and David came into our lives many years ago. There was a sudden shift from “me” to “them,” from “taking” to “giving,” and to a continual practice in surrendering and letting go. I needed to let go of my freedom, my solitude, my outdoor sports, my Yoga practice, my Yoga classes, my Yoga students, my agenda, my expectations, and my sleep. Instead I became very present, continually listening to their needs for food, sleep, diaper changes, comfort, hugs, stimulation, and play. As the years went by I had to be fully present to their changing needs, giving them my full support, time, guidance, and love.
It wasn’t easy, but it was the most rewarding and spiritual experience for me. David and Maya offer me daily opportunities to practice my “yamas and niyamas,” the Yogic guidelines for a harmonious life. Maya and David gave me honest feedback on my spiritual journey with them. Before having kids I used to think I was pretty enlightened; I realized I was far from it but improved with my two honest guides, year by year.
The power of letting go plays an important role in our Yoga practice. The hamstrings and the forward bends are poses that especially need lots of surrender and letting go. First we use Tapas, by disciplining the mind to focus on the balance and the healthy alignment. Then we apply Svadhyaya, by reflecting and observing the experiences in the muscles and the body. And last we apply Ishvara Pranidhanat, by using the breath. The exhaling breath is the breath of surrender and letting go. In the end of each exhalation we pause for a few seconds. In that pause the mind becomes quiet and fully present. It’s in that space of silence that we can truly release and let go of tensions from deep inside. I like using the mantra “trust and let go” to myself when I encounter any resistance in a pose. I also find while in a Yoga pose at the end of each exhalation, during a brief pause, when my mind is totally quiet and present, I can connect with a deeper source within that knows pure balance, pure harmony, pure peace. So the more we give with each exhalation the more flexibility we receive. “Give and you shall receive.”
Once in a workshop, a senior teacher had us hold our standing poses as long as we individually needed to and then came out of the pose only after we had connected with the quiet space inside. It’s a nice way to practice our Yoga poses on our mat at home to add a flavor of Ishvara Pranidhanat to our practice.
We practice the power of surrender and letting go in a concentrated way during relaxation, Savasana. The Sanskrit word Savasana means the corpse pose. When I first heard the translation it didn’t particularly invite me to lie down to relax and think of death. It was not until later when reading an enlightened scripture that said that “only by letting go of life can we truly live” that the corpse pose made sense and the name became more inviting. In Savasana we relax and let go of our limbs, our spine, our internal organs, our mind, our thoughts, our resistances and turn our organs of perception inwards towards the core of our being and rest in the quietness surrounding the core. By letting go of our external body we can connect with our eternal soul inside. Our bodies are transient, but the soul is eternal.
Swami Satchidananda says in his Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: “Ishvara Pranidhanat is a life of dedication, of offering everything to the Lord or to humanity. When we want to offer something to God, where and who is he/she/it? Is God sitting somewhere waiting for us to give him something? God made the world out of himself. The world itself is God. All that is outside us is God. When we dedicate our lives to the benefit of humanity and nature, we have dedicated ourselves to God. Whatever we do can easily be transformed into worship by our attitude.”
Following Satchidananda’s thoughts, the word grace comes to mind. To touch with grace, to move with grace, to help others with grace, to garden with grace, to give grace to the food we eat, to live gracefully. To add grace to our lives is to become fully present and mindful in all our activities, and give awareness, care and respect to the divinity in all.
Living in Japan for five years gave me an insight into a culture that actively cultivates grace with their practices of tea ceremony, shodo (calligraphy), and ikebana (flower arrangement). I even saw this grace at the ofuro (public baths) observing women washing themselves, mothers washing babies, children washing grandmothers with gentle, graceful touch, as if they were all washing Buddha.
We can also add grace to our Yoga poses by practicing mindfully with awareness, care, and respect for the eternal soul inside. B.K.S. Iyengar once said, “My body is the temple for my soul and the asanas are my prayers.”
To sum up Ishvara Pranidhanat, the 60’s and 70’s had some enlightened insight: “Be here now.” — “Trust the universe.” — “Go with the flow.” — “And may the Force be with you.”