Somewhere over the past few years, I have developed a debilitating fear of flying. As I have entered a season full of travel, I have had the opportunity to further explore the root cause of this fear. What I have come to find is that the larger the distance between my feet and the ground, the further I am from the sense of control that I crave so deeply. It is in that moment that I KNOW that I am truly in the hands of God, of the universe… of something so much bigger than myself.
This newfound awareness has invited me to dedicate the past few weeks of my life and my practice to the act of surrendering – a practice that is so far from my nature.
The more aware I become, the more I notice the tight grip that I try to maintain on all areas of my life. I plan. I make lists. I even try to control the way my sweet man cooks my eggs. And I am certain that I am not the only one.
According to Reverend and LCSW, Nancy Colier (2016), the nature of the human mind is to control everything it comes in contact with. This is the mind’s attempt to take care of us; to create a life full of what we want, and free of what we don’t; to make us happier; to keep us safe. But in a world where we realistically have very little control, this can actually be very limiting. Psychiatrist, intuitive healer, and NY Times bestselling author, Judith Orloff has written an entire book about the power of letting go of this desire to control, and how the simple act of surrender can not only lead to deeper intimacy, joy and meaning in our lives, but can also empower our lives (Page, 2014).
This is new to me. I, personally, have always thought of surrender as being synonymous with defeat, failure, or punishment. I surrendered as a last resort, only after meeting unsurmountable problems. To surrender meant to be weak.
I was wrong.
Surrender is NOT failure, defeat or punishment. Surrender is not a last resort. It takes strength to surrender.
Surrender is a softening of the edges. Surrender is letting go of pride. It is being truly present with what is, without trying to make it what we want it to be. Surrender itself is simple. It is peace and ease. Not because something gets better, but because we come to accept that that we are not in control. I grew up in the home of a man who now lives his life based on the premise of surrender: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” Through surrender, he received freedom. Through surrender, we receive freedom. Be it to God, to the universe, or something else unseen and unknown there is power in turning our lives over to something larger.
But learning to surrender takes practice. Especially for a girl who likes to convince herself that she’s in control.
A key component of the traditional yogic practice is Ishvara Pranidhana: the practice of surrendering to a higher source. A practice that “initiates a sacred shift of perspective that helps us to remember, align with, and receive the grace of being alive.” According to Patanjali, the sage of the Yoga Sutras, Ishvara pranidhana is a way in which we dissolve the agitations of the mind. It is a practice that shifts our egocentric minds from an obsession with “I,” to the “sacred ground of being,” creating the space for us to reunite with our true Self, and reconnect with our Source. It is the quickest way to receive peace and realization. “Like the descent through layers of tension to rest in the release of Savansana (Corpse Pose), Ishvara pranidhana provides a pathway through the obstacles of our ego toward our divine nature – grace, peace, unconditional love, clarity and freedom” (Rea, 2007).
Throughout the practice of yoga asana, the practice of surrender is intentionally interwoven.
The postures themselves are practiced in a way in which we are encouraged to lean into our own personal limits or boundaries, riding the waves of tension in order to make space for growth and change. Settling into the discomfort rather than avoiding it, fighting it, or fleeing it. Yoga is supposed to feel good, but it is also meant to show us what we’re made of. When our mind tells us we can’t surrender, because it’s too hard, too scary, too vulnerable or too painful, our body tells us we can, then allows us to experience the blissful transformation that comes as a result.
With awareness, each stumble, fall, or “fail,” reminds us to surrender the ego, and come back to what we really are, a tiny piece of the universe. With awareness, each forward fold is an intentional act of surrender to something larger. With awareness, the hands come to heart center in Anjali Mudra in a gesture representing devotion to whoever or whatever you choose to believe. With awareness, each heart opener or back bend creates freedom and space around the heart, allowing us to more fully give to and receive from our Creator. With awareness, we bow to the divine with humility in Humble Warrior Pose. With awareness, the very Sun Salutation is practiced as a moving prayer, in which each movement serves as an offering of the yogi’s energy back to the Sun.
The practice of yoga is not intended to merely be a practice of burning calories, stretching, and learning to relax. Shiva Rae (2007) says of her own practice, “As you practice asana, you can start treating challenging yoga poses as microcosms of life’s difficulties, and thus great opportunities to practice the art of offering. In my own practice, I am becoming more and more able to recognize tension as a signal; holding and gripping are signs that my connection with Ishvara pranidhana is lessening. As I offer my tension back to the Source, emptying and surrendering again, I very often experience a boost of strength or a deepening of my breath and flexibility. Even more importantly, I experience a shift from my small, crowded inner world to a big picture of being alive.”
I am not good at surrendering.
It is a constant battle for me.
Yet as I intentionally incorporate the practice of surrender into my life, both on and off the mat, I find ecstasy its inherent freedom.
“Surrender to what is. Say “yes” to life and see how life starts working for you rather than against you.” – Ekhart Tolle
Works Cited and Consulted:
Colier, N. (2016, May 04). Why Surrender Is So Powerful, and How to Experience It? Retrieved December 01, 2017, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/inviting-monkey-tea/201605/why-surrender-is-so-powerful-and-how-experience-it.
Newlyn, E. (2015, March 04). Understanding the Niyamas: Isvara Pranidhana. Retrieved December 08, 2017, from https://www.ekhartyoga.com/articles/understanding-the-niyamas-isvara-pranidhana
Page, K. (2014, June 02). An Interview with Judith Orloff, MD: The Power of Surrender. Retrieved December 08, 2017, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/finding-love/201406/interview-judith-orloff-md-the-power-surrender.
Rea, S. (2007, August 28). Ishvara Pranidhana: The Practice of Surrender. Retrieved December 08, 2017, from https://www.yogajournal.com/yoga-101/the-practice-of-surrender