Ishvara pranidhana, loosely translated as ‘devotion to God’, is one of the foundations of the yoga pracitice. It is one of the five niyamas. This ishvara pranidana practice was descibed in the Yoga Sutras over 2000 years ago. Ishvara pranidhana practice and meditations can transform your consciousness.
Ishvara Pranidhana as a Practice
Yoga is a tree with eight aspects. The first two of these branches are the yamas and niyamas, which are moral and ethical injunctions, and form the foundation of all other aspects of yoga.
The yamas and niyamas are: non-harming, truthfulness, non-stealing, sexual purity, non-receiving of gifts, inner and outer purification, contentment, mortification, spiritual study and worship of God. This last niyama, worship of God, is ishvara pranidhana. Genuine worship is any practice that moves our awareness more deeply into the Divine.
The other aspects of the tree of yoga are physical exercises, breath control, consciously turning the senses within, concentration, meditation and samadhi.
Through the practice of yoga we can become conscious of our eternal nature. It is from our eternal aspect that we develop our sense of God. Eventually, in the yogic journey, we each need to think and feel the Divine in a way that draws our longing to experience God. Once we have a sense of the Divine then we can worship God in a way that resonates with us. This can include karma yoga, prayer, meditation, visualizations, mantra and anything else that connects you with That from which your sense of self has emerged.
To elevate into the practice of ishvara pranidhana is to make a significant stride in your yoga practice because it involves conceptualizing and feeling God and igniting your heart and emotion into your practice. Finding your unique conception of God: with form, without form, masculine, feminine, young, old etc. This is called your ‘chosen ideal.’
Examples of Ishvara Pranidhana
I was raised a Roman Catholic so my first conception of God was that of an old man who sat in judgement of human souls and either cast them to hell or lifted them to heaven. This conception created fear in me but may have been very helpful for learning the feelings of right and wrong and the concept of punishment…for eternity!
I attended a Jesuit highschool. The Jesuits are an order within the Catholic church who are very contemplative and scholorly. Two classes that especially impacted me at Saint Ignatious in San Francisco were Contemplative Prayer and Mediation and The Bible as a Historical Work. Both of these classes helped me to move away from a world view of absolutes and towards an understanding of the subjective nature of reality.
In the prayer and meditation class I learned to feel a living spirituality within myself that was not dependant on the conceptions of others. The ideas of others movitated me but it was the feelings in my own heart that were moving me forward. This is the idea of ishvara pranidana: finding your own love and devotion towards your spiritual journey.
Every journey has a destination and the word God, is often used as the destination of the spritual journey. As much as many religious organizations and fundamentalists thinkers would like us to think otherwise; God can mean many different things to different people. This makes perfect sense as we each view our lives through the unique lens of our personal experiences and cultural upbringing. Hence Jesus, Buddha, a river, or a mandala, or anything else of our choosing can each be God. Is that not the true meaning of religious freedom?
Devotion to your own highest ideals will lift your yoga practice to new heights. Have the courage to conceive of God in a way that resonates with you and find ways to connect with that feeling in your own heart and life. You will soon find yourself soaring to new heights of realization.
Sujantra McKeever is the founder of Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga in San Diego, which serves over 1,000 yogis a week, and also helped create Pilgrimage Yoga Online. He is the author of five books on eastern philosophy, success and meditation. Sujantra studied meditation with spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy and has lectured on meditation and yoga in over 30 countries.