10 Sep Isvarapranidhana – What does it mean?
In its simplest form, the word is a combination of the words Isvara, meaning Lord, God, Supreme Being or Life Force, and Pranidhana, meaning attention or surrender to, faith in, or reunion with. In many forms of Yoga, Isvarapranidhana is considered the final observance or niyama.
In the ancient texts that teach us how to follow the path of Yoga nothing has been included gratuitously – every asana, sutra, concept, and practice serves a purpose to aid the individual in their growth. What is the purpose of surrender to the Life Force or Isvarapranidhana and how can we attempt such a huge act?
Even the most hardened of atheists will admit to at some point in their lives finding themselves rendered powerless by something they perceive life to have either thrown at them or blessed them with. Whether in a moment of pure joy, such as the birth of a child, an offer of a new job after months of unemployment, a promotion, a financial windfall, or the realisation of having found love with a soul mate; or in a moment of tragedy, such as the loss of a loved one, the devastating effects of a horrible accident, the breakdown of a marriage, or the loss of custody of children, or some other event that leaves us asking, “How did this happen to me?”.
So often our response to these events comes from a place of survival, a place of ego. Overwhelming feelings of joy or loss can leave us speechless, breathless and tearful. With an inability to know how to deal with these huge feelings, our ego, or who we have decided we are and thus what we believe in, which in turn informs us how to act, rises up to do its very best to deal with the feelings that we perceive will consume us in that moment. Our ego is in fact doing what it thinks will serve us best in that instance based on the sense we have made of the world around us and our past experiences. However, so often, the sense we have made of the world is incorrect and our past experiences have misinformed us, and we find ourselves responding to events like the ones mentioned above with arrogance, procrastination, greed, fear, anger, jealousy, dishonesty, impatience or one of the many other principles of action.
You will have often heard the term ‘ego’ branded about by yoga teachers. What is an ego and should we be trying to rid ourselves of our ego? The ego is the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity. For instance, you will probably be able to relate to a situation that in one instance has left you feeling excited, that at another moment fills you with anxiety and apprehension. This phenomenon is due to the back story your mind has imposed on the situation changing, not the facts of the situation themselves.
The ego is not just an overly high opinion of oneself, or even an overly low opinion of oneself; it is simply that we have an opinion of our self at all. Rather than just an awareness of being, we place a judgement of good or bad, right or wrong, just or fair, safe or dangerous, on everything we do and feel, and from these judgements, the idea is that we are able to guide ourselves into the best course of action, thus making the ego vital for survival. We wouldn’t be able to cross a road safely without our egos making sense of the dangers a busy road presents. However, frequently, with the misinformation from past events, our egos are acting from a place of confusion, resulting in consequences from our actions that cause yet more events that require immediate attention. It becomes an unwelcome domino effect. The most obvious example of this is the holding of one’s breath when faced with something frightening or unexpected. The most helpful response would be to breathe even more deeply than normal but next time you find yourself caught unaware by something, take a minute to notice what happens to your breathing.
The purpose of surrendering to the idea that we are powerless and that there is a Life Force far more powerful than us, guiding the flow of life and the unfolding of events, gives our egos just enough comfort to not employ its best coping mechanisms, which are so often misguided, and we allow a space for a miracle to happen – a change in our perception and thus our behaviour that always benefits us. So surrendering, ironically, appears to mean winning.
Choosing to surrender is not as easy as it sounds. Conscious thought makes up just a tiny part of our decision making process, if any at all – the rest is informed by our unconscious. In a fascinating study done by the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, brain scans of the frontopolar cortex revealed that our decisions are made seconds before we become aware of them. If this is the case, it begs the question, how do we willingly surrender? And one of the answers is: Yoga.
You will probably have experienced at some stage in your practice the fight of your upper body as you attempt to fold into Paschimottanasana, seated forward bend, or the unwillingness of your groin to release into Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, half pigeon pose, and have heard the teacher encouraging you to surrender to gravity and ‘let go’. You may also have found that through concentration on a mantra such as Isvarapranidhana, you have diverted your attention from the intensity of the stretch for just long enough, that suddenly you find your chest has indeed reached your knees, or your forehead has reached the floor and you are in a position that you have never found yourself in before or had dreamed possible. The physical surrender you have benignly tricked your body into with the tactic of diverting your attention elsewhere, has allowed for remarkable things to happen.
Yoga asks us to take this concept a step further into the mental and spiritual planes with dhyana, or meditation, and karma yoga, or selfless action. Perhaps if we were to divert our attention from our own thoughts, plans and designs for just long enough, we might find ourselves in a position we have never been in before or ever dreamed possible? So whether your current back story is that life has broken your heart, or that you have been blessed beyond imagination, why not allow life to unfold without the interruptions of the ego’s coping mechanisms by joining us on the mat at The Power Yoga Company, to test out the theory – remarkable things are waiting for you on every level.