Ishwara Pranidhana - A Lesson in Surrender

03 March 2021

The aspect of yoga many people are most familiar with are the poses and the more physical aspect but this is just one of the 'limbs' of the eight limbs of yoga... and it's step number three. Steps one and two are about our actions – actions to others and actions to ourselves.

Our actions towards ourselves may not be something we think about very often but they form the foundation to our lives. How we treat ourselves will often impact our lives as much, if not more than the way other people treat us. The second limb of yoga lists five ways in which, with a little practice, we can completely change our perspective and live our life more fully.

What Surrender Means

This blog is centred around one of these – Surrender (Ishwara Pranidhana). It is the niyama that I come back to the most often both personally as well as in my classes. The word 'surrender' can sometimes sound passive; it is associated with giving up; letting someone else take control. However, surrender can be liberating! By surrendering, we can give space for something better to come along than we planned for.

Cultivating surrender within ourselves means that we are not expending energy getting frustrated, angry or just plain grumpy about the things that are happening in our lives that we think we need to be different.

We often have quite fixed ideas about what we think we need or what direction we would like our life to be going in... and when! We are often in a hurry to get the desired results. With the internet at our fingertips to look up anything we can dream of in an instant or with the wonders of next day delivery, we are used to getting what we want in the fastest possible time. However, everyday life doesn't work like that and we can often get frustrated when what we happen doesn't happen in our expected time-frame or maybe doesn't happen at all.

Bringing Ishwara Pranidhana To Your Yoga Practice

I mention surrender most often in my yin classes. It comes into my mind often with this style of yoga as it's slow. The poses are held for a few minutes giving opportunity to the body to gradually adjust and for the mind to slow down and maybe enter a more meditative state. The length of time each pose is held can vary from one teacher to another but, with a few exceptions I encourage a hold of 5 minutes. I use the stopwatch on my phone or a meditation timer so the time everyone is in the pose is pretty precise. However, depending on how a person is feeling in that pose or their past experience in the pose, their perception of those 5 minutes can differ greatly. And this is where surrender comes into it.

For anyone that practices yoga regularly, you will have a list of poses you really like, some you really don't like and the majority, probably somewhere in the middle. As soon as a teacher mentions a pose, the mind brings up all the information it has stored about the position from previous experience and if it's one that you found challenging the last time you practised, there is already a mental resistance creeping in. There is a good chance that you will not spend those 5 minutes in a peaceful, meditative state. It's far more likely that you will spend those five minutes thinking about much you don't like the pose and that you are sure the teachers timer has broken down! These thoughts aren't necessarily based on the current experience but are based around our preconceived ideas of what we would like – in this case a different pose! By surrendering and watching thoughts and sensations that come up without becoming caught up in them can mean that we have a completely different experience. It is completely dictated by our attitude.

And Now Off The Mat...

We can spend so much time mentally griping and being worried about aspects of our lives that we thought we wanted to happen differently. The idea of surrender is to try to avoid spending time going over and over things that we would like to happen differently.

Sometimes what we need is not what we thought we needed or wanted. There may be a reason why something is happening in a particular way and if we let go of the internal battle we can may be able to understand what that is. We also may end up being grateful for the way things turned out.

Take for example a workshop I was running on one afternoon in January. I had to move it online due to the lockdown and I wasn't happy about it one bit! I'm not a fan of teaching online and would much rather than taught in person and I expended a huge amount of energy fuming and wishing things were different. However, on the morning of the workshop, it started snowing... heavily... and by lunchtime, everything was covered and it was still snowing heavily. Getting my car out of my uphill drive may well have been impossible but because the workshop was online, I didn't have to try; something I was extremely grateful for in hindsight! Practising surrender in the build up would have meant that I wouldn't have put myself in a bad mood during that time.

My next workshop is approaching and yet again, will be running online, as will the one in April. However, each time I catch myself getting the hump about it, I remind myself of last time.

Writing this during a lockdown that most of us would like to see the end of for a variety of reasons is hopefully going to inspire some of you to be grateful for some of the opportunities that may have been brought into your life and may continue to do so over the next few months. I for one keep reminding myself to be grateful of the extra time I have by staying at home more; an opportunity to plan, to revise for my delayed Ayurveda exam and to get my veggie seeds planted for this year among other things. And although I may spend the next few months planning for when we are free again, I am determined not to wish away the next few weeks of my life, but instead embrace that time and all the opportunities it may bring.

With a little bit of practice, surrendering can become an exploration of living life differently to how we expected without being passive. Maybe something better than you hoped will come along...

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