by Eloise Smith
At some point in a yoga class it’s likely you’ve heard your teacher ask you to ‘surrender’ or ‘let go’. In more calming and introspective postures it’s an opportunity to find physical release with an emotional or mental release as well, sighing out the worries of your day and giving yourself permission to have a sense of relaxation during stressful times.
More challenging postures provide an opportunity to understand the difference between effort and striving. When we identify the feeling of strain and tension in the body we can use our breath or a meditative state to let go of struggling and simply be present to whatever is happening for us in that moment.
While advanced asanas can be a great goal to work towards they can also become a source of increased tension in both the body and mind if you become too fixated on how the shape should look. In a ‘peak pose’ yoga class there is a culture of striving to achieve what the most advanced yogis in the room can do. This approach to yoga, while not wrong, often results in pushing oneself beyond physical limitations and can also result in feelings of frustration and negative self-thoughts if the posture is inaccessible or taking ‘too long’ to master.
Now this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t set goals for your practice – by all means do. But then let them go and simply be present and accepting of where you are now. It also doesn’t mean to let go of all effort, we encourage Tapas in yoga (building heat and self-discipline) but there is a difference between effort and strain. Strain is rigid and feels heavy. It’s a form of resistance because we’re not approving or accepting where we are currently. Finding a softness in your strength is one way to practice acceptance and surrender on your mat.
When we become too attached to an outcome be it the shape of a yoga posture or how we want something to look in our lives then we are straining and striving to control it. If our reality then doesn’t meet our expectations it can result in tension and suffering. By understanding the feeling of striving and tension versus acceptance in our yoga practice we are more easily able to identify and recognise it as we live our lives away from the mat.
“Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.” -Ann Landers
Outside the yoga studio surrender and acceptance does not mean to simply do nothing or to just let life happen. Work towards your dreams and goals, but identify when effort becomes strain. Connect to the feeling in the body and mind when we are holding on too tightly to an outcome and learn when it’s time to let go and allow things to simply flow. If we are forcing or trying to control an outcome, we are straining. When we become attached to results our happiness becomes intertwined with achieving expectations.
In daily life there are opportunities to surrender in each and every moment of the day. We are constantly processing the world around us and reacting to situations that can make us happy or sad, frustrated or stressed. In each of these moments we have the choice whether to react or to simply surrender to what is. It’s natural to react to situations making judgements in the mind, coming to a conclusion that often leads to a course of action. This way of being makes us feel functional and productive like we are in control of our lives. But perhaps the challenge is to simply surrender and accept rather than forcing a solution.
Striving, fixing and perfecting is so ingrained in our culture that it’s easy to persevere when letting go may actually be the better option. Many of us have been raised to believe that if what you’re doing doesn’t work, the solution is to do it harder, to figure it out, to find a new solution, do more or do it differently.
In reality, we need to accept that we do not have control over a lot of what happens in our lives. The next time a situation arises and you automatically become frustrated or judgmental or jump into trying to fix it see if you can take a deep breath, redirect your energy into surrender and acceptance first. Any time you feel tension or stress arise in the body use your breath, present moment awareness or a sense of softness to practice acceptance the same way you would on your yoga mat.