You've most likely heard the instruction 'surrender' said aloud in many yoga classes, many times. It is usually led by the phrase, 'just let go'. Why does the yoga teacher want you to raise the white flag? Are you in battle? Are you supposed to hand over your wallet and goods? When we hear the words ' surrender' what does it conjure up for you?
The definition of surrender literally means 1. to give up or hand over (a person, right, or possession) 2. to yield one's power, stop resisting to an enemy or opponent and submit to their authority.
So it's understandable to be confused over the matter and a bit unsure of this suggestion. Perhaps this word can bring up insecurities around becoming powerless, losing control, or losing something that we are attached to. However, perhaps that is exactly what the yoga teacher wants you to explore.
Stop resisting and let go
What are we holding onto anyway? When I ask students to surrender, it is usually prompted by seeing their face turn red from holding their breath and trying to force a pose to happen. When I say surrender, it is to remind them to let go of the need to 'achieve' or 'perfect' anything here. The pose itself isn't the means-end, it's what we do in the pose that matters. I am asking to give up the ego and surrender to what is, exactly as it is, at that moment with pure acceptance.
In our day to day life, there may be very unfortunate, but very possible times where we may lose something precious to us. Maybe your relationship ends, maybe you lose your phone, maybe a wildfire or flood sweeps through your home and takes away all of your material possessions in a blink of an eye. What are you to do? Our lesson in non-attachment, the last yama - aparigraha, warned us that our attachments cause suffering as it is against the law of nature for something, anything to last forever. That, although we of course should have, enjoy, and deeply love, we should also be willing to release when the time comes without so much resistance. Change is the only thing that is certain in life, and resisting change will only lead to more discomfort.
The greatest suffering we face is that which we create in the mind. There is an unconscious idea that the more 'unhappy' we become about a situation, the more we can change it, or control it in some way, and while this can be true in the long run, it rarely works in the NOW. Think of a child who hasn't got their way and work themselves up to the point of tears, their brain thinks, and perhaps from a past experience, that the more upset they become, the more likely the parents will give in and change their minds. What is the success rate of this happening? Unhappiness with the way things are can lead to revolutions, but in the present moment, it is not a reliable idea that our inner tantrum and sulking will change the NOW. If we learn to yield to the present moment and truly have acceptance of the NOW, we might find that THIS MOMENT isn't actually so bad and that we are only suffering our mind's imagination of what 'might' come. As we don't yet know the future, and we know that we don't really have full control of it, it really is a choice. We can choose to suffer the 'idea' of what might be, or we can live in the NOW and let go of the suffering that comes from resistance and SURRENDER to what is. If you choose to surrender, I am certain you will be in a lot more peace.
When we surrender, we are not necessarily giving in, we are just accepting what is happening right now. When we are no longer 'heated' in the moment of battle with what is, we can make better decisions as the best decisions or plans forward are never made in the heat of the moment, but when the mind is calm and clear.
When we are practicing on our mat, we can resist what is happening in our bodies in that given moment, tightening and contracting rather than softening to open. We have an idea of where we should be, but our reality isn't matching our expectations. Or maybe the resistance comes from the mind. The ego wants to hold on to this sense of identity we've created, our beliefs, pre-conceived ideas, our way of viewing, and our position in the world. Sometimes the resistance comes from moving outside our comfort zone, be it in a pose or through philosophy, but moving outside our comfortable box is the only way to see a new angle, to gain a different perspective of things. To see things or experiencing things differently than we do now, is the only way to grow, expand, and meet our potential. So when asked to surrender, we are in fact asking you to surrender the ego's agenda so that you can have a new experience. And it is only for a moment, you can choose to climb back in the box whenever you want. The only thing is, once you peek outside, you rarely want to go back in.
Are we really in control?
How much time and energy do we spend on trying to keep control, manage situations, forecast, and predict what will unfold in the future? And how many times has something totally unexpected come in and completely wipe out all of that hard work and effort? There is a saying that there is a book inside of us all, and in that book, I am almost certain it will contain an extraordinary amount of plot twists and turns. It is this very fact that humbles me to the idea that there is something much bigger at play in my life. If I am not in control, who or what is? That is the big question, but I realize I would be a lot more at peace if I acknowledged the concept that there are some things out of my control. Like a dance, sometimes I take the lead, and other times I allow myself to be led around this dance floor of life, I, adjusting my steps and moves accordingly, rather than fighting this rhythm, stepping on 'it's' toes and clumsily stumbling my way around. ( Although, as I write that, I am pretty sure I am more of the clumsy dancer most of the time than I am the graceful one).
The ultimate surrender
There is a pose we usually end our yoga class with, and that is savasana. Savasana is the ultimate surrender. It literally translates into the 'corpse' pose and it invites us to feel the deep peace of surrender that only comes when we come to the ultimate letting go our own death. I know, that word can make some people feel really uncomfortable and while I don't intend to upset anyone, I do believe we could all do with making peace with the idea, as it, along with change is the only certain thing in this life. We all do it. The reason why I am bringing this up is that savasana is asking us, just for a few moments, to experience the deep freedom and serenity that we feel when we can dissolve our ego when we surrender who we are in this world and our responsibilities in it, we no longer care where we are, we even lose the concept of time. Isn't this what happens when the final curtains do close? It is the ultimate surrender and the ultimate peace. It is truly in this moment that the two who were dancing become one, and we merge into ecstatic bliss. This is the true meaning of Ishvara Pranidhana.
"To become all of who we are, we need to surrender the limited sense of who we are – the small self – in order to realize the large Self, or divine potential." Rev Connie L. Habash