Thank you so joining me as we explore the yoga-based self-care practices outlined in the niyamas. This blog is about the 5th and final niyama, īshvara prandihāna, which is the practice of devotion and surrender. If you are new to my 5-Part Niyamas Series: I invite you to start with Part 1 which began with the practice of saucha, purity. In this 5-part series we delve into each of the 5 practices within the niyamas, which is the 2nd Limb of the 8 Limbs of Yoga outlined in the Yoga Sūtra (click here to download a chart on the 8 Limbs). The niyamas are personal practices that teach us to respect ourselves on every level: body, mind and spirit. For each niyama I provide a more detailed explanation of its intent and varying ways to practice them in your daily lives. I hope you are enjoying this journey of self-care. Now, onto the final niyama!
DEFINITION OF ĪSHVARA PRANIDHĀNA
Īhsvara translated from Sanskrit means god or divine and the word pranidhāna means surrender to, devotion to or orientation towards. Chip Hartfranft, in his book, The Yoga-Sūtra of Patañjali, translates the practice of īshvara prandihāna as follows:
“Through orientation toward the ideal of pure awareness, one can achieve integration.”
What I love about this translation is that it suggests to direct our devotion to all of the practices within the 8 Limbs of Yoga. His reference to “one can achieve integration” means one experiences samādhi---the 8th limb of the 8 Limbs of Yoga. It is a state in which we truly know and feel that everything is interconnected and we are not separate---we are fully integrated.
INTENT & BENEFITS
While Chip’s definition focuses on devotion to (or orientation towards) the present moment, this practice can also be defined as a devotion to god, the universe or whatever higher power one may believe in. The goal of īshvara prandihāna is to surrender to what is of utmost importance to us. The act of surrendering to something outside of ourselves creates a shift in how we think, feel and act. When we surrender, we are free from needing or craving this or that (clinging has ceased) and we can just allow life to unfold with no desire to control the outcome.
“Surrender asks us to be strong enough to engage in each moment with integrity while being soft enough to flow with the current of life.” - Deborah Adele, The Yamas & Niyamas
WAYS TO PRACTICE
So how do we practice īshvara prandihāna? How can we soften a bit and not be so hard and controlling? How can we surrender to the divine, however we define it? This takes a little self-relfection (svādayāya, the 4th niyama) to look at the areas of our lives where we could soften a bit. Where does our ego get in the way of us really experiencing life? Here are a few ways to consider practicing īshvara prandihāna:
1 - Be devoted to the present moment – When you put your attention on the present moment you almost instantly take the focus off yourself. We tend to soften and allow life to flow more freely when the controlling and fear-based nature disappears. There is an expansive and joyful feeling as you experience the sacredness in each moment versus the contracting feeling you may experience when you try to control and cling to something or someone. The key is to trust that you will be able to handle whatever comes your way. Remember that the yamas (ethics) and niyamas (self-care practices) have given us the skills we need to manage whatever comes our way.
In fact, here is a meditation practice that I shared with you in my blog on aparigrahā which is the practice of non-possessiveness or non-hording. I have experienced that a consistent meditation practice helps exercise our “letting go muscle” and recommend adding this specific meditation practice to your daily routine:
- Sit in a comfortable position with your spine elongated and your hands resting on your thighs. You can sit cross-legged on a blanket or sit in a chair.
- Set your timer for 15-20 minutes.
- Close your eyes and begin to focus on your breath, taking slow, deep breathes in and out of your nose.
- As thoughts arise (as they do), place them into one of two categories: thoughts of planning or remembering. That is generally what our thoughts are about. Try not to judge them as good or bad thoughts or create a story around the thought. Just silently label the thought, let it go and direct your attention back to your breath. Repeat this process through your meditation.
Not only does this practice help keep your attention on the present moment, it also helps you to let go of the need to cling (be possessive) to a story (good or bad) around your thoughts and ideas. It helps you to practice letting go of fixed ideas and allows you to simply enjoy the moment.
2 - Recommit what you ARE devoted to - So often we get caught up in our busy lives that we forget what is truly important to us and we spend our time and energy on insignificant matters. Take time to reflect on what you want to be devoted to. For example, I am devoted to my family and the yoga philosophy and practice. Take out your journal and list 3-5 things that you value, you’re devoted to and areas that you really want to spend your energy on.
Then take an inventory on what you actually devote your time, energy and thoughts to. Make a list of 3-5 main things that come to mind. It could be your work or your worry about the future. For me this question was a great opportunity to reflect on what I was really spending my energy on vs what I really want to spend my energy on. Compare your two lists---is there any cross-over? If not, then hopefully this exercise inspires you to make some changes in your life.
Remember: where your attention goes your energy flows. Namaste.