“He who has faith in God does not despair,” says I.K.S Iyengar, the father of Iyengar Yoga.
It is this one simple sentence that best describes the fifth and final niyama (or life observance) by which a yogi lives their life; Ishvara Pranidhana.
Patanjali, who compiled the book on Yoga, explains through his Yoga Sutras that Ishvara Pranidhana means to attain samahdi, or enlightenment by devotion with total dedication to a Supreme God.
But to understand Ishvara Pranidhana, and what it means to surrender we must first consider what is meant by God in the context of yoga philosophy.
Patanjali reminds us that one does not need to be religious or believe in a God to practice yoga. Rather, yoga is a spiritual path that we yogis hope will one day (maybe in 1, 2 or 10 lifetimes!?) lead us to samahdi. We are instead free to consider God, or rather Ishvara as a being higher reality or divine power in which we ourselves choose to believe. This belief very well be free from any religious texts or faith.
Samahdi for a yogi is a truly beautiful attainment unaffected by “any afflictions, actions, or by any inner impressions or desires,” explains Patanjali. An illuminated state of mind where, “…the whole world burns and sparkles with light,” wrote the American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Illuminating your mind mean to cut out the chitter chatter that holds us back from knowing our true self (or mind movements to us yogis). So if you have a daily yoga practice you already have one foot firmly on the yellow brick road to bliss. But in case you need a bit of a helping hand along the path, below are a few ways you can easily apply Ishvara Pranidhana on and off your yoga mat:
1. Get to know you: Take 5 minutes each day to meditate and truly connect with yourself. Turn inward.
2. Connect with the universe: Sit and watch the sunset and then star gaze for a while.
3. Make small gestures: Spare a few dollars for the next homeless person you meet, smile as you pass by a stranger, place your hands at your heart centre in tadasana.
4. Open your heart: Make an effort to talk to 10 different people every day (for some of us, this is easy!). Incorporate a back bend into your daily asana practice for equanimity in your anahata (heart) chakra.
5. Surrender to the moment: Whether it’s an important work presentation or virabhadrasana III, accept every moment of your life for what it is and take comfort in the impermanency.
6. Be a humble warrior: When you fold to uttansana or bend down to tie your shoe lace; make an action like you’re bowing down to something greater than yourself.
7. Listen to some good music: Step outside yourself as you let the music carry you away.
8. Trust the universe: Consider your higher power has your back and openly move with the ebb and flow of life.
So, surrender all to a higher power and live a happy life. It’s that simple.
Well, maybe it is. Especially when you consider that you have nothing more to lose when you give everything over to something bigger than you; bigger than all of us. With this may come a freedom from mental and physical attachment which may just empower you to live a life unhinged from fear and inhibition.