Surrender and come out with your hands up.
That would be great advice for how to begin a yoga practice. Surrender, inhale!
There’s a lot of talk about surrendering in yoga, but I find that it is a concept that people can’t seem to grasp the meaning of. I have seen two very different types of people in yoga.
There are those who try to force the body to surrender with inappropriate effort, while paying no attention to their mind.
Then, you have those that seem to walk through the door already surrendered. These are the one’s that move their body around like limp noodles in yoga, while also paying no attention to their mind.
Surrendering in yoga is not a physical act, but a mental state.
Yoga sutra 1.12 says “a steady practice, with non-attachment will stop the mind from fluctuating.” (Abhyasa vairagyabhyam tannirodhah.)
Bruce Lee, a great martial artist said that same exact thing this way: ”Any technique, however worthy and desirable, becomes a disease when the mind is obsessed with it.”
He also said, ”Learn the principle, abide by the principle and dissolve the principle.”
He is saying to let go of everything you know, be open to what you don’t know.
Now, there is this other suggestion that is a short cut, in sutra 1.23: “Isvara pranidhanat-va” or “the goal can be obtained by surrendering.” But sadly, the problem with surrendering is that people take it to mean giving up, which seems negative.
To give up means that you are no longer moving forward.
Stagnation is not the answer; surrendering still creates movement, just not in a predetermined way.
I think of surrendering as giving in.
Giving in, in yoga, is like going down the rabbit hole in Alice and Wonderland. The garden is a representation of your mind, your “citta vrtti.” You must go into the garden/mind to explore what is in there.
Yoga is the exploration of the mind. And the mind has a lot of contradictions.
Remember, at first Alice was too big to fit through the tiny door to the beautiful garden, so she drank from the glass and shrunk. But then, she was too small to reach the key on the table to unlock the tiny door to the garden.
Too big/too little, too tight/too loose, too strong/too weak; in one yoga class, you might experience all of these contradictions.
The way to not be plagued by these contradictions is to be like water—to surrender. Giving in is what water does.
“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.”
~ Bruce Lee
By going inward with our attention, outward things start to make more sense. But, if we look outside to understand what we feel on the inside, it doesn’t translate. If we approach yoga this way, it becomes dangerous. It’s what happens to people when they take everything that their teacher says to heart without questioning it—it’s just regurgitated information.
We have to question what we hear and look inward to see if it resonates with our truth.
We must always stay individualized in our practice and never surrender to someone else’s information. Surrender to the translation of the information. Take what you hear and feel, then dissect it until what’s left has been authenticated.
Authenticity in our practice happens when the truth is established. Keep this yoga sutra in mind 2.36: “Satya pratisthayam kriya phala asrayatvam.” (For one established in truth, the result fits the action.)
The steel inside of buildings has to give, the tires on our cars have to give, the clothes we wear have to give, the trees in your yard have to give. If things don’t give, they break.
To surrender or to wave a white flag means that two opposing entities want a truce. It’s time to negotiate. I’ve always said that in yoga, your breath plays the role of negotiator.
The breath is always trying to be neutral to the opposing energies.
We tend to come to yoga fairly exhausted because we are constantly being pulled in opposite directions, like when our work responsibilities butt up against our desire to play. This will create a feeling of conflict. So what better way to resolve conflict than to call a truce, to surrender and negotiate?
Yoga helps you figure out what it is that will make you feel at peace, no longer conflicted. The physical practice of yoga will take your body back and forth between flexing and extending, between inhaling and exhaling. With this, you will start to find the balance point. Not contraction, nor relaxation, but the two energies in harmony.
Having both energies in harmony gives the body adaptability and fluidity like water. Water adapts to the shape of a glass, bottle, or bucket that it’s contained in. We can either do the asana, or we can be the shape of the asana.
Surrendering is also the process of letting go.
Bruce Lee said “In building a statue, a sculptor doesn’t keep adding clay to his subject. Actually he keeps chiseling away at the essentials until the truth of its creation is revealed without obstructions. Thus, contrary to other styles, being wise in Jeet kune-Do (or Ashtanga) doesn’t mean adding more; it means to minimize, in other words hack away the unessential.”
Eliminate preconceived ideas of yoga, eliminate how you think your practice will go, eliminate what you think a pose should look like and surrender to how fast you think you should be progressing.
Surrender doesn’t mean to give up, to quit or to walk away. It means to let go of thoughts that limit you. Yoga is the practice of subtraction, learning to listen for the truth and eliminate everything that doesn’t align with it.
In order to really call a truce, we have to be willing to hear new ideas, and to be open, and receptive. If we are going to surrender, we have to let go.
On a yoga journey, not everything seen or heard will make sense. But if we take a rigid mindset into yoga, it will break us.
Another great Bruce Lee insight is ” The softest thing can not be snapped.” Be willing to give in to new ideas, be willing to take out old ideas. Where there is a will, there is a way. If we are not willing to be any different than we already are, then don’t unroll the mat.
Bruce Lee would have been a great ashtanga student and teacher: it’s no surprise to me that some of his greatest insights align with the yoga sutras.
He was a disciplined man, a student of adaptability and a master of his craft. He realized that “A teacher must never impose this student to fit his favorite pattern; a good teacher functions as a pointer, exposing his student’s vulnerability (and) causing him to explore both internally and finally integrating himself with his being.”
Keep it in mind that “The height of cultivation” whether cultivating awareness, flexibility or skill, “always runs to simplicity.”
So stand at the top of your mat and start by surrendering. Keep it simple.
As Bruce Lee would have advised “Be water my friend.”
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