The 8 Limbs of Yoga - The Niyamas - Ishvara Pranidhana

The word ishvara translates as foremost ruler, or that which is greater than we are.  Pranidhana means devotion or dedication.  So this niyama means surrender to that which is greater than we are. 

In the modern west we tend to think of ourselves as individual entities and masters of our own fate and we are therefore attracted to the tapas element of the niyamas.  The idea of effort, discipline, increasing mastery over our bodies and minds appeals to us, while the idea of surrender is a more alien concept.  We might equate surrender with the idea of giving in, or giving up, or not making much of an effort.

As modern technology brings us ever more control over the natural world and our communications with others, we might be fooled into thinking that we have more control over our lives these days than those in Patanjali's time (c.200BC).  Perhaps, with the existence of modern vaccinations, fertilisers to enhance and protect food crops, efficient transport systems to get us from place to place, we feel insulated and protected from the bad things that can happen in a life.

But the truth is more difficult than this.  Life is random.  Good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people and a life that seemed to be travelling with certainty in one direction can be turned on its axis in a heartbeat. 

There is simply nothing we can do about this, other than get better at accepting it.  Ishvara pranidhana, then, is the practice of going with the flow of life; learning how to relinquish our false sense of control and to become more resilient, flexible and adept at surfing the waves of life.

Through yoga practice; by staying present in each moment; by learning to maintain clarity even under the utmost pressure; we stay open to new opportunities and adventures; we remain open-hearted towards others; we continue to live life fully and with courage.

This is not a passive practice.  Yoga practice is all about being fully engaged in the world; living your fullest version of your life.  There is effort and discipline (tapas), we make plans and move our lives on in new ways.  But we accept that we don't have control over outcomes.  It's like the way you plan a party and you work hard to make sure everyone has fun, food and plenty to drink, and that they are comfortable and that the place looks good.  But when it rains and everyone has to run inside and the food is ruined, you still have a great time, because although it doesn't look how you thought it would, it's still great to be surrounded by your friends and family.  Those of us who can't let go of the way the party looked in our head and who can't accept that in reality it turned out differently suffer as a result.  They miss the party!

Ishvara pranidhana brings to life the strength, flexibility and openness that our yoga practice brings us on the mat.  So that our gratitude for the times when life is on an even keel is matched by our resilience when the waters are more choppy.


  1. We can learn from a tree, how to live in ecstasy...another Yogi tea bag tab, Vanessa.


Post a Comment

Popular Posts