Isvara pranidhana relates to the practice of devotion to God or to something larger then yourself.
Patanjali’s reference to the divine in the Yoga Sutras is not restrictive to a particular conventional God but rather a universal divine force. According to Patanjali, liberation can be achieved without devotion to God however this is seen as a subtle and dangerous path, which results in growth of the ego. Liberation through devotion to God is the safest and happiest pathway which leads to an energy of going with the flow and attitudes of humility and grace. We can look at isvara pranidhana not necessarily as a specific God of a particular faith tradition, but rather a surrendering to a higher power or source.
The concept of god in our world today has become representative of our different faiths and that which divides us, the energy of the divine has been lost. In this sense devotion to God or ‘surrendering’ helps us shift from the individual and obsession with ‘I’ to a more balanced focus on the sacredness of all things and the interconnectedness and ultimately reunites us with our true Self. The word surrender does not mean to give up it means to do your best and let go of the rest. To show non attachment to the outcome. We never know if what we are seeing or experiencing is just a small part of a bigger story the is elaborately unfolding.
I was recently in Tiruvannamali and as always I was in absolute admiration of the complete surrender the Indian people have to God. Each morning, all the homes are ritualistically offered up in surrender to God. The beautiful and elaborate offerings made to Lakshmi (the goddess of good fortune and prosperity) are an integral part of the morning rituals that women made daily by drawing sacred and intricate diagrams (rangoli) on the earth in front of their homes. Sometimes simple, sometimes elaborate, these offerings to Lakshmi were always vibrant-and destined to be erased as soon as the streets filled with traffic. I was inspired by the women's dedication, creativity, and lack of attachment to their beautiful creations.These offerings remind the individual, the families and the public, that we surrender to something higher than ourselves and that we are not alone. These physical offerings remind us to shift our perspective from our narrow and individual concerns, and instead invite us to surrender to that which we cannot control. Through surrender, we are able to drop the ego and trust in the flow of the universe which ultimately leads us to freedom.
The puja on the top of Arunchala was a ritual of surrender to Lord Shiva that I participated in on New Years morning, The hour long ritual consisted of using ghee to mark out shivas feet, carefully placing flowers, camphor and sweets, lighting incense, prayer and meditation. Imagine starting every day with such devotion. Imagine how your life might flow more simply when it is viewed through the lens of compassion and love.
Throughout India, images of the Divine are everywhere, and people of all ages are continuously making offerings of fruit, incense, and gestures, from Anjali Mudra (hands together at the heart) to full-body prostrations. Sellers in the market place offer the money from the first sale at the altar on the cart; your rickshaw driver touches the feet of an image of Krishna before zooming off; All these practices cultivate an underlying connection with the Source; "Me, me, me" starts to move into the background, and spiritual life moves more front and center.
So how can we incorporate this energy into our life and yoga practice. At the beginning of each yoga class, you can offer your practice to that which you want to bring into your life or to dedicate it to a person who is struggling or to whom you feel grateful. This reminds us that the yoga practice is a ultimately a selfless one. The act of letting go in Savasana is also an expression of Ishvara Pranidhana. Whilst cooking a meal you can dedicate your actions and infuse the meal with love and devotion,
As Indian yoga master B. K. S. Iyengar states in his Light on the Yoga Sutras, "Through surrender the aspirant's ego is effaced, and...grace...pours down upon him like a torrential rain."