When I first started taking yoga classes I was somewhat baffled by the consistent reminder to ‘let go’ or ‘surrender’ into postures, especially in the more challenging asanas. In these moments I would find myself becoming increasingly frustrated and shaky, and often the cue to surrender brought a deeper tension in my physical being and psychic system. But later in class there would always be a pose like eka pada kapotasana (one leg pigeon pose) or jathara parivartanasana (reclined twist) where I could feel a physical release of tension, and a deep ‘letting go’ feeling would wash over me. I tried to connect this physical release with an emotional or mental release as well, sighing out the worries of my day or my checkbook, giving myself permission to have a sense of relaxation during stressful times.
My challenge was taking this feeling into the balancing or strengthening postures like garudasana (eagle) or virabhadrasana III (warrior 3). With much practice I learned that the moment focus shifts from struggle to ease of being and to the breath, it becomes more possible to maintain a feeling of lightness and balance in difficult postures. In these grueling moments, I encourage my students to fill up with air, take the eyes to one point (drishti), and intentionally divert the attention from exertion to the rhythm of the breath. This will help the student tune in less to physical strain and more to the distribution of weight and mechanics of the posture. Here the student will become better able to connect with grace and strength within the body.
Surrendering is much more than opening up on the mat and letting go of physical tension. There are opportunities for us to surrender in each minute of the day. From moment to moment, we are constantly processing the world around us. Everywhere we look there are thousands of stimuli; situations that make us happy or sad, drama we could become wrapped up in, parts of our lives that leave us feeling stressed, overwhelmed, frustrated, or otherwise distracted. In each of these moments we have a choice to react or to surrender. Often it feels instinctual to react by making instant judgments in the mind, snapping to a conclusion that then leads to a mode of action. This is natural, and makes us feel functional and productive. But perhaps the challenge is the opposite… to open up to the obstacle rather than force a solution, suppress it, or suffer through it.
It is in this new challenge that we can start to tangibly see our own personal growth happening. The deeper connection we begin to feel in ourselves and in the world around us, the more mundane and trivial our everyday dramas begin to become. It is paramount to notice that we do not have control over most of the situations that influence our lives. This may seem like a very abstract thought, but the next time you have an opportunity to become frustrated or judgmental, see if you can take a deep breath and redistribute your energy. There are many options and visualizations you can use, such as drawing light and energy around your heart, or envisioning tension dripping down your arms like ash or dirt, dripping out your fingers. Just like in asana practice, try to divert your attention to your breath and heart center. Whatever works for you individually, see if you can come back to it whenever you start to feel a stress or tension building in your system.
This exercise turns everyday trials, like standing in line at the supermarket, or squabbling over a parking ticket, into opportunities for spiritual growth. It also has the potential to help with more intense emotional struggles like grief or depression. My teacher, Swami Shambhavananda, often says, “You are not far from the state of pure Truth, pure Consciousness, and pure Bliss that you are seeking. Even when you are in your darkest hour, it is very close to you.” This expression has helped me through much turmoil, for it reminds me that the potential for all the joy of the world is always available to everyone in it. Beyond our deepest fears, worries, struggles and strife exists something bigger than all of us. Our challenge is to work to open up to that vastness, especially when our lives seem truly grim. Once we have learned how to do this, only then can we truly experience surrender.