Ishvara is a Sanskrit word that can be translated to mean supreme, or personal God. Pranidhana means to dedicate, devote, or surrender. Put together, ishvarapranidhana can be defined as spiritual devotion or devoting your actions to a higher being or relinquishing selfish motives.
Our struggle with uncertainty and our desire to protect ourselves and the people we love from pain sometimes leads us to live life with a cautious rigidity that can constrain us from a wholehearted human experience.In a time where feelings of separateness and disconnection prevail, so often - too often, in fact - we pride ourselves on being strong and domineering over others. We are used to our egos calling the shots, and giving us the belief that we are somehow in control of the Universe. Because of this, the idea of surrendering is taken to mean something negative, as it implies a sort of weakness, giving up or defeat.
Our yoga practice invites us to inquire + inspire and also to trust in what we cannot see or know. We are asked us to trust in the future and to loosen our grip on the attachment we have to our actions leading to specific outcomes. The practice of ishvarapranidhana requires that we give up the illusion that we can control what will happen to us and to the people around us.
And though ishvarapranidhana requires great self-discipline, trust, and faith to practice, ultimately it usually takes wayyyyy more effort to cling to the smallness of the ego then it does to surrender to the higher self or the greater good. If we can dedicate our lives to serving this higher entity that dwells within all beings - human and non-human alike - it's possible to move beyond all feelings of separateness and therefore get free from the stress, anxiety, self-doubt.
Within a yoga class, there are many ways to practice ishvarapranidhana, and cultivate both our ability and willingness to surrender. Without this devotion or surrender to something greater than ourselves, yoga can become self-serving and binding instead of liberating. By continuously offering up our efforts and rewards to something more than just personal gain, we are able to keep ishvara (our own personal form of God or the Divine) in the forefront of our minds. By putting aside our judgments and criticisms, and following the instructions offered in class, we learn to open up to something other than than our ego. With each forward bend, we bow down to the Divine in some form that has meaning to us; with each back-bending posture, we offer up our hearts so that we may remember that we are a part of the Universe and connected to it with every thought, word and action we take. Peace comes when we relinquish the idea that we are the "doer" and allow the infinite to guide us on our way.