Hello Dear Yogis,
Over the past ten weeks we have been exploring the yamas and niyamas, or restraints and observances that are an essential part of the yogic life. They are invitations to take our practice beyond our mat, allowing yoga to be something we live rather than something we do for a few hours per week.
This week brings us to the last of the niyamas, Ishvara-Pranidhana, which means “surrender to God.” Now, if the “G” word makes you uncomfortable, please feel free to insert whatever word resonates with you. Ishvara-Pranidhana means to surrender to THAT which is larger than ourselves, and THAT can be called Spirit, Creator, Source, Divine Presence, Essence of Being, Infinite, or simply Love.
The practice of surrender involves dedicating all of our actions and will to a Higher Power. It means stepping outside of egoic mind and offering ourselves to a power greater than the small self. “Greater” doesn’t necessarily mean outside of us, as that Power can be seen as the essence of who we are.
Ishvara-Pranidhana doesn’t mean surrender in the sense of giving up anything. Rather, it means being filled up with the consciousness and love of the Divine Source. When we surrender to God, no one loses any part of themselves or takes anything away from anyone else. As tantric teacher David Deida describes it:
The word "surrender" is often interpreted as giving up, as weakness, as admitting defeat. Although this is one way to use the word, we will use it in a different way. Surrendering means letting go of your resistance to the total openness of who you are. It means giving up the tension of the little vortex you believe yourself to be and realizing the deep power of the ocean you truly are.
The Bhagavad Gita teaches us to surrender the fruits of our actions to the Divine. This doesn’t mean that we don’t put effort or energy into our work or other endeavors of our lives. On the contrary—we live and love and work with great commitment and intention. But there is a letting go of the attachment to the results, and a softening of the egoic sense of self, the separate “me.” We open to the flow of grace and allow Spirit to work through us. This involves cultivating a deep faith, a sense of trust in Spirit’s will for us. This is a basic thread of spiritual wisdom that is woven through all of the world’s religious traditions. “Thy will be done” and “Let go and let God” are universal teachings.
One need not have a belief in a specific deity or personified image of God in order to live with a surrendered heart. For some, it’s more of an acceptance of what is, and a practice of embracing each moment fully. In opening deeply to life without resistance, one can move forward with greater power and intuitive knowing of the next right action.
When you surrender to what is
and so become fully present,
the past ceases to have any power.
The realm of being, which had been obscured
by the mind, then opens up.
Suddenly, a great stillness arises within you,
An unfathomable sense of peace.
And within that peace, there is great joy.
And within that joy, there is love.
And at the innermost core, there is the sacred,
The immeasurable. That which cannot be named.
Here are some suggestions for inquiry around Ishvara-Pranidhana:
--On the mat, notice if you are struggling with a posture, either straining or resisting. Practice consciously using the breath to surrender, letting your body and mind melt into That which moves through you. Let prana, the life energy that permeates all things and beings, fill you with it's wondrous grace as you release into the pose. Let go of perfecting the pose--rather, give yourself to it fully and surrender the outcome.
--Reflect on an area of your life in which you are struggling with willful attachment and/or are feeling powerless. Make a conscious decision to practice “turning it over” to a power greater than yourself. Prayer can be an effective tool in surrendering one’s will to the Divine. The third step prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous has been transformational for countless individuals who are challenged by addiction:
God, I offer myself to Thee--to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always!
If this is a new practice for you, it may involve “acting as if”, or suspending your disbelief and embracing it as an experiment—a spiritual adventure.
--Reflect on any areas of your life where you have completely let go and surrendered to Spirit. How has that changed your life?
--Create a “God box.” Each morning, write down on a slip of paper whatever needs to be surrendered or turned over to Spirit. Place it in the God box. Ask that you may be a channel of God’s love and light today, a conduit through which God’s healing power and grace may flow. At the end of the week or month, take the slips of paper and burn them, allowing the transformational element of fire to send your prayers out into the Universe.
The Blessed Lord said:
Listen, Arjuna: I will tell you how you can know me beyond doubt by practicing non-attachment and surrendering yourself to me. I will teach you the essence of this wisdom and its realization; when you come to master this, there is nothing further that needs to be known.
~Bhagavad Gita 7:1-2, translated by Stephen Mitchell