Isvara Pranidhana: Understanding the Power of Surrender In The Modern World

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One of the most important pieces of well-being and fulfillment is deriving a sense of meaning out of life. This can feel hard sometimes in the modern world, with all the distractions and separations from nature that we have collectively built into our shared experience. 

Culturally, there is a bend toward finding ways to feel more in control, even though that is not actually true. Whether that is through seeking ever-increasing power over others or using the perfect filters and captions on socials to project the most desired image, it is an illusion. 

All of this is fruitless expenditure of energy from the perspective of yogic teachings. It feeds the ego and creates more layers and depth in the illusion, the maya. This illusion ultimately creates a feeling of separation from source in ways that can leave an unnamed emptiness. 

This is often identified as a sense of “is this all there is?” or “there is something more for me to experience, I just don’t know what that is.” 

The wisdom of Isvara Pranidhana is an important practice in moving toward a space of unity, peace, and purpose, the essence of namaste if you will.

In this article we’ll explore:

  • What is Isvara Pranidhana?
  • Relevance of Isvara Pranidhana in the Modern World
  • Benefits of Isvara Pranidhana
  • How to Cultivate Deeper Surrender
a woman wearing white doing prayer pose with her hands

What is Isvara Pranidhana?

Isvara Pranidhana is the fifth niyama. Niyamas are the second of the eight limbs of yoga. They are sometimes referred to as observances or understood as actions to take on the path to enlightenment. 

Isvara Pranidhana, surrender, is one of the deepest lessons that yoga has to offer. The word Isvara has been translated to God, Brahma, Supreme Being, Ultimate Reality, and True Self among other names. 

The primary understanding of Isvara is that which is greater than oneself and the relative smallness of day-to-day existence.

Isvara is undifferentiated from source and expressed through all things. It is represented by the sound of om. Pranidhana means to devote or surrender.

So, Isvara Pranidhana asks that one soften the attachment to an individual self and move into a space of devotion and surrender to universal energies of creation and destruction with faith and trust. 

This is the space where the pure love, pure light, and pure truth contained in the soul of all things can be most fully accessed. It is the opposite of narcissism or purely ego-driven thoughts and behaviors. 

This practice of surrender allows one to have an embodied experience of existing and flowing easily with the breath of life, recognizing one’s thread in the larger tapestry of being. 

a figure meditating in pink fractals

Relevance of Isvara Pranidhana in the modern world

In the modern world, we are constantly confronted with messaging that encourages continued struggle, and invites us to be in a space of want and lack of acceptance for the reality that we find ourselves in. 

We feel rewarded by our constant seeking of stimuli via the dopamine hit of social media and the messaging surrounding us that we must do more, be more, be different than we are.

There is ample opportunity in every crevice of life to jump out of the power of soul-level awareness in favor of the egoic illusion of control. Indeed, there are whole industries devoted to calling us in the direction of scarcity and fear.

We are bombarded with calls to be strong and “never give up.”

The concept of surrender is something that is frequently viewed as a weakness or a negative, particularly in western or ultra-competitive cultures. The truth is that surrender is the source of power, the furthest from weakness that one can be.

There is no effective way to navigate life on any scale without awareness and acceptance of what is.

Consider navigating with a map or GPS, if you cannot locate where you are, there is an extremely small chance that you will ever be able to get where you have decided you want to go. 

Isvara Pranidhana provides a vehicle for this level of present moment awareness that is so needed. The power of surrender is the antidote to the suffering that results from trying to force life into the confines of our own imagination. 

a woman on her yoga mat with her palms facing upwards in isvara pranidhana

3 Benefits of Isvara Pranidhana

1. When we release the need to fight the reality of the moment we are in, we gain the ability to move through life with greater ease and harmony. 

2. Synchronicities abound and we notice things that have been there all along. 

3. Patterns become easy to recognize in ourselves and in the world around us. It grows increasingly effortless to know the deepest desires of our soul, and to act in the direction of those callings.

This is not the surrender of cowards. Instead, it is full and unconditional acceptance of reality. It can be practiced in all aspects of life and can look many ways depending on the context. 

Isvara Pranidhana Examples

Perhaps you can recognize some of these examples of powerful surrender in your life.

  • Acknowledging the circumstances that led to where you find yourself today
  • Taking responsibility for your actions and behavior without taking undue credit
  • Any ideas of how someone or something “should be” are let go
  • The beauty and value of the individual is acknowledged with love
  • Release of grudges, forgiveness becomes accessible
  • Willingness to receive the lessons of setbacks as openly as victories
  • A sense of deep connection to nature
  • Increased compassion for self and others
  • Stepping down from the pedestal of ego, embrace all aspects of yourself
  • Willingness to be a beginner
two women sitting on a tree branch laughing

the power of surrender & Samadhi

samadhi siddhir ishvarapranidhanat 

samadhi becomes accessible through the unity which arises from the practice of surrender.

Patanjali’s yoga sutras, 2:45

Ultimately, the power of surrender is the state of samadhi, unity with divine consciousness.

When samadhi becomes sufficiently stable this is known as a state of enlightenment. Samadhi is the most deeply connected a human can be to the totality of consciousness while remaining connected to a body. 

Increased coherence with the rhythm and energy of the universe uncovers opportunities that cannot be seen without sufficient alignment with source. Even at stages far from samadhi. 

If you have ever felt exhausted and overwhelmed by life, as though you were pushing an elephant up the stairs as the old R.E.M. song would say, then surrender is a beautiful reservoir of power from which to draw energy.

Attunement and capacity to listen and receive lessons from each experience grows exponentially. 

Once we begin, continued resolution of resistance allows us to reclaim the prana, life force energy, being spent in ways that are not supportive. The feedback loop of struggle is replaced by an ever-increasing well of universal power. In this way, the benefits of the practice expand without limitation.

an illustration of waves

How to cultivate deeper surrender

There are many ways to approach creating more surrender. The best place to start is noticing where there is resistance. Practicing the eight limbs of yoga is an integral part of the path. 

Here are some simple, not necessarily easy, things you can do today to nurture deeper
surrender in your life:

  • On your mat, listen to your body. Give yourself permission to use props, take a restorative class, or experience a new teacher.
  • Try a new hobby that you have been curious about. Invite yourself into a beginner’s mind. This always presents ample opportunity to surrender.
  • Start a sadhana, consider choosing a mantra for one of the gods or goddesses to invite attunement to that energy into your life. 
  • Begin or deepen your meditation practice.
  • Engage with social media honestly. Tell the truth, drop the filter or face tuning. 
  • Apologize or offer forgiveness, or both, as needed.
  • Listen to your intuition. Trust your inner knowing enough to honor it with action.
  • Stay connected to your breath and your body.
  • Continue to increase your capacity for presence through the unique set of practices that support you most.
  • Get out of your own way. Allow yourself to be vulnerable to the gaze of others. External judgment is an opinion, your purpose is to embody what is inside of you as fully as you can.
a man and woman playing piano together


Of all the causes of suffering we humans experience, resistance to reality is one of the highest mountains in the range. 

We create or deepen our anxiety, pain, isolation, confusion, and loneliness through our unwillingness to surrender fully to the experience of being in a human body for the brief amount of time that we are fortunate enough to have this experience. 

We block our own highest expression with the smaller dreams that our ego deems possible for us and we miss so much in the process. We mistake this finite reality for the only reality.

Isvara Pranidhana, the practice of sacred surrender, connects us to the truth of our collective infinite reality. We gain access to the power of the universe moving through us and create the conditions in our mind and body to hold all that life has to offer us. 

It is not always pretty, and it is not always easy, but it is always a road worth walking down.

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Claire Santos (she/her) is a yoga and meditation teacher, painter, and freelance writer currently living in Charlotte, North Carolina, United States. She is a former US Marine Corps Sergeant who was introduced to yoga as an infant and found meditation at 12. She has been teaching yoga and meditation for over 14 years. Claire is credentialed through Yoga Alliance as an E-RYT 500 & YACEP. She currently offers donation based online 200hr and 300hr YTT through her yoga school, group classes, private sessions both in person and virtually and she also leads workshops, retreats internationally through a trauma informed, resilience focused lens with an emphasis on accessibility and inclusivity. Her specialty is guiding students to a place of personal empowerment and global consciousness through mind, body, spirit integration by offering universal spiritual teachings in an accessible, grounded, modern way that makes them easy to grasp and apply immediately to the business of living the best life possible.

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