Yoga Is Not About You After All - Practicing Ishvara Pranidhana

Rachel Mack
Yoga Is Not About You After All - Practicing Ishvara Pranidhana

We made it! For the last ten weeks, we've studied the yamas (behavioral restraints) and niyamas (internal restraints) of yoga. This week, we'll learn the ultimate purpose of practicing these restraints. It's time to explore the final niyama, Ishvara Pranidhana.

Ishvara Pranidhana translates as devotional offering or surrender. It's the giving of gifts and the giving up of yourself. According to the yoga sutras, this is why we surrender:

"By total surrender to god, samadhi is attained."

Finding Oneness

Samadhi is oneness with the universe. Throughout this series, I've referred to "making a clear path," but never really stated where the path leads. It may go to a lot of different places, but the end point is a place of oneness. Practicing the yamas and niyamas is about seeking and finding a connection to the divine. It makes sense in light of the definition of yoga--union. In an asana practice, the union that comes first is the joining of body, breath and mind. In finding an individual union, we prepare for the bigger union to come.

Being Of Service

Last week, when the focus was on svadyhaha, I said it was all about you. It turns out that it’s really about everyone else. The clear path is about finding your true calling—and in some way, your calling will lead you to serve others and the world. What are you meant to contribute? When you align with your divine purpose, you’re aligning with divinity itself. Giving up attachments makes it easier to find your purpose, and serving your purpose makes it easy to give up attachments. We find meaning in who we are and what we do for others, rather than letting possessions and labels define us.

The Beginning Of Oneness

By examining our lives through the lens of the yamas and niyamas, we’re able to recalibrate our values and live according to a higher purpose. Through your practice, you’ll learn the true worth of yourself and others. It sounds like a massive challenge, or maybe even completely out of reach, but practicing the yamas and niyamas is a chain reaction. It’s not hard if you start small. Pick the one resonates with you (for better or worse) and work with it. See what happens next. As your practice of each yama/niyama grows, you’ll find that they support and reinforce each other.