The practice of yoga is more than just a physical activity. We know this because whatever pose (asana) we are faced with during a particular practice we will have an opinion about, an expectation. A series of movements, whether still or guided by the breath’s rhythm, is accompanied by the repetitive lesson to truly live in the present moment, which is largely preached in tandem with the concept of surrender.
We are obsessed with achievement, whether mastering a pose, project, relationship, life itself. We all know that moment during practice, when sheer will is what it takes to stand the heat in the room or the gut. It’s a vinyasa (flow) class, perhaps. We’ve just done some version of Surya Namaskar (salute the sun) and our legs are burning. In and out of planks and lunges we have flowed, and now, it is peak -pose time. We know we’ll have to feign that illustrious effortlessness, and even though everyone in class in concerned with their own appearance, the drive toward projecting internal balance is the strongest desire we know. And it hurts.
Now, here it comes. We are guided to put all our weight on the front foot, root the heel, move that front hand to the block or the floor, and just float up, they say, into half-moon pose (Ardha Chandrasana). As simple as the moon rising in the evening, we think, although seemingly against gravity. Does the moon feel this heavy tacked up there in the sky? We wonder.
“Surrender,” the instructor says, from the comfort of their seated posture. It sounds more like a command than an invitation. “Find ease,” is the suggestion that usually comes next. Suddenly, the monkey mind bounces on our shoulders, causing our fingers to twitch and jaw to clench. Sometimes we can already see ourselves falling, and pretty soon we have detached, but not in the “enlightened” way. It’s the kind of consciousness dislodge where we don’t understand our body anymore. The mind is just too busy, telling this story, wanting to achieve perfection. The harsh image of a slivered edge of a window pane crosses our mind’s eye and it causes us to feel wobbly and heavy.
Tension in the body is a sign that our connection to Ishvara (our “special” self/our inspiration) is lessening, growing more distant, has faded. We want to receive the wisdom we read about in our favorites stories but we are so caught up in the whirlwind of self-doubt and fear that we freeze, just before the embodiment of this elusive concept, connection to the divine self, takes hold. We have pushed its inherent meaning (yoga, aka to “yoke” toward yourself) behind our desire to make everything all about our failure to fly, to blame it’s absence for our stagnation.
How can we possibly hold on to our bodies when we are asked to relinquish all effort? How to we lift the body away from the earth while imagining ourselves being supported by it? Why is the teacher making me do this? The thoughts don’t stop.
We fail to dissolve the agitations of the mind. We lose the belief that we even have something to offer, let alone give it freely for the sake of letting it go without thanks or compensation. This sensation may be brief, but when it rises up it practice, it is a heavy block. It is powerful. And it is very apparent when we encounter it in our yoga practice, but off the mat it can remain a hidden hindrance to pranidhana (surrender).
We see surrender as giving up, the last resort, when our posture has become a mountain to climb, something to conquer at the edge of the Cliff of Tolerance. And this is what Hindu philosopher Pantajali (author(s) of the Yoga Sutras, among others) referred to the separation from source. That is, our connection– not to a god outside of us–but to a god within.
Bracing, a thought catches us. It is frustrating, but also reassuring:
It is an image of the moon waxing. With each inhale we imagine our body syncing with the moon, meshing with it, observing sensations. An inner call telling us to wax brighter, to inhabit the light and the space around us, and letting gravity’s pull steady us.
We can approach each breath as a brush stroke made on a digital screen that evaporates after it is drawn, or a chalk mural washed clean on a rainy day. This is mindfulness. We are alive. Up we go.
So, fly and fail. Offer your heart and mind by simply exhaling. Trust me, it’s enough. For now…