Yoga Niyamas: Isvara Pranidhana, or Surrender to a Higher Power

Yoga is not a hard and fast dogma. It’s flexible. It’s open.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali themselves recommend six techniques for concentration before simply saying “or practice anything that is uplifting.” (1.32-39)

Even as a non-yogi who has no interest in the practice, you’ll find things in the system that are already a part of your life. You can have any religion or no religion, any god or no god, and still practice.

Even so, there is a component in any spiritual system that necessitates a positive and generous relationship with your fellow human beings. The final niyama is isvara pranidhana.

Isvara Pranidhana: Surrender to a Higher Power or Humanity

Surrender to God, humanity, or something greater that yourself.


When firmly established in Isvara pranidhana, you attain samadhi (liberation).


It’s probably not surprising that God shows up in a spiritual tradition and here we have God’s appearance in the yoga niyamas. ⁠

The exact god you surrender to is not specified.⁠

In fact, embedded in the Hindu tradition is a deep respect of the god of the other, that is, respect that you and I might not choose the same godhead to surrender to. ⁠

This is quite different from Christianity, where God is meant to be Jesus or else there’s a bit of an issue. ⁠

But nevertheless, even for you atheists reading, there’s a concept to be grasped here.⁠

Think butterfly effect. Your one life’s impact reverberates around the world. ⁠

You aren’t in complete control of what happens to you. ⁠

At some point in each of our lives, we all require the help of fellow humans.⁠

Isvara pranidhana asks you to surrender to this reality. ⁠

None of us are at it alone, and thus none of us are free from responsibility to and for others.

Ways to live in the spirit of Isvara pranidhana

-Focus not on the result, but on the actions you are taking to get there. Apply yourself fully to your task and detach yourself from what may come. This brings peace. You surrender the fruits of your actions to the universe, your god, or a complex and unintentional coming together of insignificant points that create the future, whatever floats your boat.

-Think of ways in which you can serve the people and things around you. How can you function in a way that helps? How do you fit into your community? What are things you are already doing that serve? Are there changes you can make that transform some of your actions from selfish to selfless? 

-Contemplate the notion of faith. What does faith mean? Do you have a personal connection with faith? Is there anything or anyone that you have faith in? If you can’t identify an area in your life where the concept of faith makes any sense, can you imagine one?

-Sometimes the easiest way to overcome an obsessive worry or spiral of thoughts is to just leave it at the door. Take a break, give it up to god or time or your future self; set it aside while you do something else for a bit. Surrender, if even for just a short time. Getting some space helps you see things more clearly…the forest through the trees.

Sutra 2.45


For more on Isvara pranidhana and the other niyamas click here

For the yamas, click here