In its simplest form, the word is a combination of the words (sometimes hyphenated), Īśvara, meaning Lord, Controller, God, Supreme Being or Life Force, and pra-ṇi-dhā-na, meaning "attention to, love for, surrender to, faith in," or "reunion with." "Attentiveness" and "Surrender" are both close English approximations. A close literal English translation of "Īśvara-praṇidhāna" would give "Attentiveness to God" or "Surrender to God." As one of the final or "supreme" stages of many forms of Yoga, the "surrender" aspect of Ishvara-Pranidhana is often used to describe the step, whereas "attentiveness" describes the practice. Both are used interchangeably. Note the similarity to the literal meaning of Islam—submission or surrender to God. A close Christian term would be the Love of God.
In many forms of Yoga, Ishvara-Pranidhana is considered the "final" step, stage, practice, observance or niyama. In Raja Yoga, Pantanjali considers it the 5th or final niyama. In other forms of yoga, it is the tenth niyama. Compare the meditation and mindfulness exercises of Ishvara-Pranidhana with Zen. "Connecting to the Divine Within," or attentiveness and surrender to the Divine within in Ishvara-Pranidhana, parallels the concept of connecting to the inner Buddha-Nature in Zen. In Hinduism, the Niyamas are the "do list" and the Yamas are the "don't do" list, and relate to the practice of virtue in daily life. Bhakti refers to connection with the Divine, or worship. Since many forms of Hinduism are polytheistic, the monotheistic mystic and meditative practices of the love of God focus on Divine qualities (or virtues), which is similar to the Ishvara-Pranidhana practice of surrendering to the Divine qualities within, in each daily activity, and not restricted to specific meditative practice or occasions. The Christian mystic might visualize the qualities of God as All Knowing, All Loving, etc., whereas the Ishvara-Pranidhana practitioner might visualize the qualities or image of a specific god or goddess, representing attributes, powers, names, virtues or qualities of the Supreme Being, or the Divine nature within. If Yoga is the practice of unity or oneness, the question arises: "oneness with what?" Some Ishvara-Pranidhana advocates contrast the practice to the "me" focus of Western culture.