Isvara Pranidanah

Practicing the Presence of God


      One of the most interesting niyamas is “isvara pranidanah”. Translating and understanding this concept is a little tricky. This is true in part because the idea of “isvara”. Patanjali defines isvara as “Lord”. Many people are confused by this niyama, in part because yoga is often not presented as a theistic philosophy. Some traditions have interpreted this niyama as requiring devotion to a particular deity or representation of God, while others have taken “isvara” to refer to a more abstract concept of the divine which each person understands in his/her own way. However, Patanjali states in Chapter I verse 23 that devotion to the Lord is one of the main avenues to enlightenment. 

     The word “pranidanah” conveys the sense of “throwing down” or giving up. Thus “isvara pranidanah” can be translated as giving up the fruits of all practice to God. Isvara pranidanah is acting as best we can, and then relinquishing all attachment to the outcome of our actions. Only by releasing our fears and hopes for the future can we really be in union with the present moment. To surrender the fruits of our actions to God requires that we give up our egotistical illusion that we know best, and instead accept that the way life unfolds may be part of a pattern too complex for us to understand. This surrender, however, is anything but passive inactivity. Paradoxically the ability to surrender on this level requires great strength. 

     I have learned this as I have watched my children grow up. Probably the hardest thing to do as a parent is to do nothing, letting them have the powerful opportunity to learn by making mistakes. A wonderful quote states that “good judgment comes from experience but experience comes from bad judgment.” Stepping back and allowing the right to make mistakes in life to my kids has taken a lot of discipline for me. As any mother would, I would like to make their lives easier. However I know that unless they make their own decisions as they grow up they will not gain the wisdom to live life fully and appreciate its sweetness. In mothering, part of my practice of isvara pranidanah is to honor
the Self in each of my children by trusting them and trusting the process of life as they grow up into adults. 

     In a way, the practice of asana or posture embodies isvara pranidanah as well. In order to practice each pose two things at least must be present. First, certain muscles must contract to twist or bend the body into a particular shape. Secondly, the opposite muscles must let go in order to allow the bending and twisting. Strength and surrender in balance create an asana. Isvara pranidanah requires the strength of surrender of the fruits of practice so that one can drink deeply of the present moment.

Judith Hanson Lasater, Living the Niyamas of Patanjali


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