Ishvara Pranidhana – A Practice of Surrender


 Surrender can be described as the practice within yoga of letting go of struggle and control. It is linked to the concept of trust. Surrender, as a practice, is referred to by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras as the niyama of ishvara pranidhana, which means “to surrender to God [or higher power].” It is said that this is a crucial step on the path to samadhi, which is the ultimate goal of yoga.

The term ‘Isvara Pranidhana’ is made up of two words; Isvarawhich translates as ‘Supreme Being’, ‘God’, ‘Brahman’, ‘Ultimate Reality’ or ‘True Self’ and Pranidhanawhich means ‘fixing’. In most translations of this Niyama, we’re advised to ‘surrender’ to this Supreme Being or higher self, which in essence means cultivating a deep and trusting relationship with the universe, and making each action an offering to something bigger than us.

There are two ways of looking at this sutra when taken into daily life; it’s often described as the ‘easiest’ path to peace and realisation, requiring no effort or pain on our part – we simply let go, devote everything to a higher power and completely devote our actions to whatever we consider that higher power to be….

But could this actually be the hardest path to follow? We are so inclined to control our every action and its outcome, and ‘letting go’ isn’t always easy. If you’re the sort of person who needs that sense of ‘control’ in life, and is in constant battle with the ‘monkey mind’, (which I’m guessing is a lot of us) then Ishvara Pranidhana is probably the most difficult of the Yamas and Niyamas to follow.

Isvara Pranidhana in your asana practice

At first glance, the word ‘surrender’ may come across as weak, and something we shouldn’t be working towards in our asana practice – isn’t all this practice on the mat supposed to make us strong and flexible?

Surrendering in asana practice is in no way weak at all, it is in fact perhaps the strongest thing we can do. To surrender is not to ‘give up’ at all, and we can look at the aspect of surrendering in two different ways in our asana practice:

Surrender and rest

It’s the end of a long day, and you’ve made your way to your favourite Vinyasa Flow class, when you know deep down that your body could have really benefited from a restorative session (familiar to anyone?). Halfway through class, you notice your body really needs to rest, but there’s a little voice in the mind that says ‘keep going, don’t be weak’. This is where the practice of Ahimsa and Satya also applies…. If we continue to push past our edge – instead of leaning into it – our yoga practice is no longer serving our bodies, and isn’t sustainable.  Knowing when we need to rest shows a huge amount of understanding of ourselves, respect for our bodies, and allows our practice to support us for a lifetime.

Surrender to the posture

Sometimes asana practice is about finding comfort within discomfort, leaning into our boundaries and learning ways in which to deal with difficult situations. Yes, yoga makes us feel good; it heals us when we’re hurt, and it helps us find light when all we see is dark, but it also shows us what we’re made of when things get tough.

Approaching a difficult arm balance or even holding Warrior 2 for 10 or more breaths can be demanding – but it’s when we surrender to the discomfort, the strength and the power of the posture that we really feel and experience ourselves growing and transforming in that very moment. Staying in a posture for another few breaths and surrendering to how it feels right now shows us just how strong we can be in that very moment, and how even when the mind says we can’t, the body shows us we can.

The idea of ‘surrendering’ can also be applied to the intention we set at the beginning of practice; Isvara Pranidhana can be thought of as ‘offering up the results of one’s actions to the divine’or perhaps to humanity. In this way, our asana practice becomes less about what it can do for us, but how we can help ourselves stay healthy enough to help the world around us.

Isvara Pranidhana in your work and ‘dharma’ or ‘life duty’

Surrendering our ego and our selfish desires is very closely linked to the concept of ‘letting go of the fruits of our actions’ and ‘non-attachment’, which is a focal point of the Bhagavad Gita.

If we’ve put a lot of effort into something which is important to us, we often worry about what might happen as a result; “Will they like me?”, “What if I’m not good enough?”, “Will this be successful?”…. All this worrying about things we have no control over is a main cause of our ‘dukkha’ or ‘suffering’, which means we’re never fully engaged in the action we’re doing because our minds are already thinking about what might happen after…. The practice of surrendering here requires us to acknowledge that we can do our very best in each situation, but we can’t really do any more than that; realising this essentially allows us to fully engage and be present in what we’re doing, bringing all our energy to that moment and experiencing it fully just for what it is – what happens after, happens after…. 

Isvara Pranidhaha in your day-to-day life

In our daily life off the mat, Isvara Pranishana can be seen as less of a devotional dedication or a surrendering, and more of an ‘opening up to what is’, and instead of fighting against life’s twists and turns, remaining open to experiencing life as it unfolds.

Remaining fixed and rigid in our conditioned patterns, habits and limitations only leads to a limited life. Surrendering is hugely challenging, because it means transcending the ego, and the ego will do everything it can to hold on to some control. Without the conditioning, worries, perceptions and judgements that we falsely hold so closely to us, the ego would not exist, and therefore it tries desperately to cling on when we work on quietening it.

Surrendering to what is requires trust in our deepest Self, our intuition and the courage to express ourselves for who we are, as we are, with all of our perfect imperfections, which ultimately leads to freedom.

Wriiten by Emma Newlyn and published on


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