Ishvara Pranidhana

As we have worked our way through the yamas and niyamas, they don’t just appear to become more complex, asking us, as students of this path, for more letting go of all things, but actually insist that if, as students, we wish to truly transform our lives, then yes, it requires a lot. A paradox, this path of yoga. Seemingly contradictory statements such as “will and surrender”, “acknowledge preferences, then let them go”, “consciously choose to respond, allow for organic change to arise”. This niyama is no different, so at least there is that consistency! Ishvara pranidhana is translated to “releasing all results and consequences of our actions to God”.

As long as the ego is in charge, or believes it is, then we have an emotional attachment to the outcomes of all of our actions. We wash the dishes so we can feel good about a clean kitchen. We listen to someone tell  woeful tale as we act as their friend. We spend money to promote our business so that we can be rewarded with money. There is nothing wrong with doing any of these actions, nor in being aware of what we get out of them. Having clean dishes is healthy, being a friend is good for our mental and emotional health, and to function in society, one needs to have money. The act of letting go of end results requires faith and a complete lack of fear. For nearly every human being, one or both of these keeps us stuck.

The act of releasing attachment to a particular outcome is ishvara pranidhana. Without attachment, we don’t experience disappointment or anger at something not turning out how we wanted. It is our biases that give way to mental and emotional agitations. If we remain focused on whatever is occurring in the present rather than on dwelling on the outcomes of a previous action-a contest entry, a job interview, a particular conversation, a gift sent through the mail-then it eases our hearts and minds, which leads to a more artful way to live life.

When our mind is at peace, rather than full of anxiety and worry, then our body is relaxed, thus we feel good. When we are present and focus on whatever we’re engaged with, it becomes a more satisfying experience rather than focusing on the past or the future. If we wish to have less self-doubt and stress, then we release attachment to our dreams. This doesn’t mean we stop dreaming or stop taking action towards those dreams! No! We continue to take right action, we continue to visualize that dream, but by letting go of having it turn out a particular way, we exhibit faith and fearlessness. This allows us to be happy all along the way instead of the briefest of moments at the end of the journey where/if we gain our dream. If we can visualize the future, then return to the present and remain there, release fear of what might or might not happen and how it will all come about, then we are more joyful each day because there is less angst and frustration and worry, and we’re more likely to be aware of insights and subtle perceptions.

How does one go about practicing ishvara pranidhana? By having love for the Divine. As long as love is present, then fear cannot exist. With love, it is easier to let go of wanting things to turn out a certain way. Remember, like everything else, there is no need to go searching outside of ourselves for God’s love. It resides in the heart of each of us. Is this practice easy? No. We’ve become used to the ego running the show, of being driven to achieve things in our lives, and we like the feeling that success brings, and very much dislike the feel of defeat and failure. We’re programmed to create goals and strive to reach them, and everyone accepts the stress of struggle until that goal is reached.

Remember that the intention of yoga is union of mind, heart, and spirit. If we can control the mind by releasing that which causes it distress, then the body is more relaxed. With the body and mind in the present, it allows the spirit to be in alignment as well. I wrote a poem about this practice in Yogis All: A Journey of Transformation, Volume I, which can be read on my website:

Have you practiced ishvara pranidhana? What was most difficult, or easiest? Please share your comments below.