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Ishvara Pranidhana

Ishvara Pranidhana

This piece was originally published in the OWY newsletter in December of 2013.

Previously I touched on the fourth niyama, svadhyaya (self-study).  As a quick review the 8 limbs of yoga are:

  1. Yamas (external restraints)
  2. Niyamas (internal observances)
  3. Asana (postures)
  4. Pranayama (breath control)
  5. Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses)
  6. Dharana (concentration)
  7. Dhyana (meditation)
  8. Samadhi (absorption)

The second limb, Niyamas, include:

  1. Saucha (cleanliness)
  2. Santosha (contentment, modesty, acceptance)
  3. Tapas (purification, discipline)
  4. Svadhyaya (self-study, witness consciousness, who am I?)
  5. Ishvara Pranidhana (yield to Ultimate Reality, non-attachment to the benefits of our actions)

Ishvara Pranidhana can be the trickiest part of the 8 limbs if you are anything like me. Often it is said that yoga is religious. I don’t believe that it is, but this is the one aspect that of yoga that brings people to that conclusion. Traditionally ishvara pranidhana meant yield or surrender to divinity, or God. Being non-religious, though not an atheist or non-spiritual, I like the more modern and general meaning of yielding the results of our actions, or yield to ultimate reality or the universe.

So what the heck does this mean, yielding. When I studied tail chi yielding had a specific physical meaning. But I think one of the things that drew me to that art was you could take it deeper than moving an opponent’s target out of the way. Over time, and with the guidance of a great teacher Sifu Nathan Menaged (, I applied the art of yielding to my life and actions.

For ishvara pranidhana yielding or surrender means doing what is in front of us to the best of our ability, and not getting caught up in our heads wondering why things turned out differently than we expected. Or having any expectations at all. Is that even possibility in total? I don’t know, but I think regularly progressing towards that goal is the key.

One thing I know is that the universe needs no help from me to rotate galaxies, to cause molecules to interact the way they do. It’s all really out of my hands. So why is it we are so often disappointed with the outcomes of situations. Leaving the results up to God, the universe, or more simply not being attached to desired effects from our actions in the first place allows us to take the next thing as it comes. And the next thing, and the next thing.

So we get through all the rest of these restraints dealing with the outer world and observances working within ourselves only to hear we must let it all go. And only then can we move on.

With that, what ways do you get attached? Are there specific situations where you expect things to work out in a prescribed manner? Do you not sweat the small stuff but get wrapped up in the things that you believe will have a huge impact on you? Does how much you attach have more to do with the amount of things you have going on at a particular time? Are there certain things you eat, listen to, watch, or do that influence your level of attachment to outcomes?

Continue with the third limb, Asana.

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