The final niyama is isvara pranidhana, defined as surrender or devotion. The idea of isvara pranidhana is to surrender to a higher power: God, the Divine, the ultimate reality, whatever you want to call it. The idea is to put your faith in something larger than yourself. When we surrender the ego, dedicating ourselves to something beyond our own desires, we are practicing isvara pranidhana.
Satchidananda talks about surrendering in selfless service to God and to humanity (because how do we best serve God? by caring for others). Most of us have done some volunteer work at some point; how did you feel as you left the soup kitchen or the hospital or the community center? Probably tired but satisfied. You’ve worked hard, and your work is going to help others. Someone will eat dinner because of what you did; someone sick and alone feels comforted. You did that. That good feeling comes from setting our selfish desires aside in order to serve.
Devi discusses isvara pranidhana in terms of prayer and wholehearted devotion. Have you ever had an experience of the Divine that came from prayer? I have. Sometimes when I’m walking in the woods, the beauty of the world just overwhelms me. Sometimes when I work hard, I can forget myself in my yoga practice, so that in sivasana I feel truly peaceful. It doesn’t have to be a traditional Hail Mary to count as prayer.
My usual experience of isvara pranidhana is random; it’s a harder practice for me to cultivate purposefully. I’m so busy, I say, I don’t have time to volunteer. Even just in my thoughts, it’s hard for me to relinquish control, to “let go and let God” as they say. I’m always trying to imagine the possible outcomes of every situation, what will happen next, how other people will react, how I will deal with their reactions. It’s not useful, and it can get exhausting. I suspect that making a practice of isvara pranidhana would alleviate this: I’d like to say more often, “I’ve done everything I can, now it’s up to the universe.” And then stop worrying! It’s hard to imagine being able to surrender like that even once, let alone every day.
Satchidananda and Devi both say that isvara pranidhana can be one of the easiest paths to enlightenment if you can do it. It seems like it’d be a nice way to live: do your best, work hard, serve others, pray devotedly, and let your higher power take care of the rest. It sounds so simple. Maybe the first step is doing it once, or even just imagining doing it once. We have to start somewhere.