When I was an Ashtanga student in Mysore, I loved walking the several blocks to Pattabhi Jois’s yoga shala (school) for 4:30 a.m. practice. In the quiet darkness before dawn, the side streets would be dotted with the neighborhood’s sari-clad women kneeling upon the earth in front of their homes drawing rangoli, intricate sacred diagrams (also known as yantras) made by sifting rice flour between the fingers. Sometimes simple, sometimes elaborate, these offerings to Lakshmi, the goddess of good fortune and prosperity, were always vibrant-and destined to be erased as soon as the streets filled with traffic. I was inspired by the women’s dedication, creativity, and lack of attachment to their beautiful creations. As I became friends with some of the neighborhood women and they taught me a few simple rangoli, I learned that these offerings are not merely duty or decoration, but creative meditations that invoke a connection to the Divine on behalf of everyone. As one mother told me with a smile and an expansive wave of her hand, “These offerings remind me of the big picture, which helps me take care of the small things with love.”
These morning offerings, like so many everyday rituals in India, embody the yoga practice of Ishvara pranidhana—surrendering (pranidhana) to a higher source (Ishvara). Ishvara pranidhana is a “big picture” yoga practice: It initiates a sacred shift of perspective that helps us to remember, align with, and receive the grace of being alive.
Yet to many modern Westerners the idea of surrender as a virtue may seem strange. Many of us have only experienced surrendering to a higher source as a last resort, when we’ve confronted seemingly insurmountable problems or in some other way hit the edge of our individual will and abilities. But in the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali transforms “surrender” from this sort of last-resort, emergency response into an essential ongoing practice. Patanjali repeatedly highlights Ishvara pranidhana as one of the five niyamas, or inner practices, of the ashta-anga (eight-limbed) path (Chapter II, verse 32) and, along with discipline (tapas) and self-study (svadhyaya), as part of kriya yoga, the threefold yoga of action (II.1).
Excerpt from Yoga Journal Article, The Practice of Surrender by Shiva Rea