The idea of surrender can have a negative connotation in Western culture and can even be synonymous with defeat, failure, or giving up your power. Standard English dictionary definitions of the word surrender reinforce this idea by describing it as something done “by demand” and “under duress.”
Thankfully, yoga philosophy offers a more positive version of surrender, that of trusting in and being of service to something much greater than yourself.
The Light and the Shadow
Many of us are enculturated to believe that having a good life is all about being independent, self-reliant, and in control of our destiny/future. The positive aspect of this cultural perspective is that it helps us to see the opportunities we have to work hard and be our best, achieving great things in life. It can bring us a strong sense of self-determination, innovation and freedom.
There is also a shadow side to this line of thinking. It ignores our interdependence with one another and our environment. The fact is, relying on others is a natural and important part of being in a community. Blind independence and self-determination put the desires of the individual above the needs of the group and the needs of the planet we depend on for our survival.
In a yoga class, one might hear the word surrender used the most during the final relaxation pose. The whole practice has been leading to this moment where there is an energetic openness and receptivity to letting go of the ego, allowing ourselves to be guided by our higher self or a higher power. This is the time of the greatest possible transformation.
Ready to surrender?
What Does It Mean to Surrender?
Out of all the Yamas (external disciplines) and Niyamas (internal disciplines) of the Ashtanga yoga philosophy, the final one is Ishvara Pranidhana, translated as “devotion to the source.” It is also translated as “devotion to a higher power and surrender of the small self to the higher self.” The Yamas and Niyamas teach that through action and discipline we will build heat (tapas). Through observation and paying attention (svadyaya) we change what needs to be changed within ourselves. What cannot be changed, we surrender. These are the actions taken to realize Yoga. Ishvara Pranidhana is the final Niyama because it takes working with all the other teachings to create the inner stability and understanding needed to be willing and able to trust in the universe to guide you. It is an acceptance of what is, not what we think should be or shouldn’t be happening.
Put Yoga Philosophy Into Action
Consider what are you devoted to. Breaking out your journal is a good idea for helping clarify your thoughts. Write about how are you serving the world and helping others. Let your inner-teacher guide you so that every action you take is an offering to the greater good.