In the Sanskrit dictionary ishvara is defined as God, the Supreme Being, the supreme soul, king, queen, prince, and capable; and pranidhana as laying on, access, attention, respectful conduct, profound religious meditation, abstract contemplation of, vehement desire, vow, and prayer. Ishvara pranidhana can be interpreted as honoring the Supreme Being or contemplating Supreme Being with wholehearted devotion. At different points in time we may be more or less willing to contemplate notions such as God, Supreme Being and devotion because for most of us these ideas tend to be loaded with many kinds of associations. Consequently, understanding ishvara pranidhana as relinquishing our illusion of control, honoring the continuous flow of life, or as humility can provide a workable way to practice this niyama. For instance, one possible approach to contemplating ishvara pranidhana is to recognize that you probably do not have complete command of your own body, mind, or emotions.
If you ask your mind to stay focused on any one object or idea without ANY distractions for 5 minutes, does that happen?
Can you move your body in any of its possible range of natural joint movement without any discomfort?
Or can you regulate the flow of energy running down through the nerve on the thumb side of your arm (radial nerve)?
Can you regulate the flow of your emotions at will?
Can you control what your mind thinks?
If you find that you cannot fully control your mind, body, and emotions, what are the chances that you may be able to control the world outside of you?
If it is a challenge to control what you think, is it realistic to think that you can control what other people think about you or about anything else? Is it possible to control what other people do?
Pondering these questions may help you realize that in the grand scheme of life in the whole Universe, each individual is a very small particle with limited power and control. Recognizing this can help you develop the necessary humility to accept what cannot be changed or controlled so that you may allocate your precious energy and awareness effectively to what you can influence. The path of ishvara pranidhana may also be a way of appreciating the myriad of connections amongst all aspects of your life and between all that exists. You can also cherish how every moment is perfectly calibrated to provide you with an opportunity to learn and transcend beyond your current levels of understanding. Obviously, you may also engage in pondering the questions:
What is Supreme Being?
What is God?
What is my relationship to God?
Do I have wholehearted devotion for anything?
One more way of practicing ishvara pranidhana is by using the mantra, I SURRENDER MY ILLUSION OF CONTROL.
Like applying the yamas, when trying to put the niyamas into practice, remember to do what is possible for you at this time. Since the yamas and niyamas may uncover some well-practiced patterns in your being, it is important to learn to recognize if these practices are generating pain or if they are making you more aware of discomfort that you have learned to live with or ignore. Confusing these two outcomes can keep you from applying the yamas and niyamas in beneficial ways. Like with any other practice, you are in charge of monitoring that you are doing what you think you are doing and that what you are doing is moving you towards greater clarity and integrated harmony.
As usual, one more way of exploring the meaning of this sutra is by chanting it.
You can choose to chant it in its traditional form with some of the words coming together:
2.32 śauca saṃtoṣa tapaḥ svādhyāyeśvarapraṇidhānāni niyamāḥ
शौच संतोष तपः स्वाध्यायेश्वरप्रणिधानानि नियमाः ॥३२॥
Another option is to chant each word in the sutra individually:
If you prefer, you may listen to the podcast: