Today’s article might seem a bit off topic as it’s not specifically concerned with a Yoga teacher’s life or practice in a narrower sense, but rather with the idea of surrender in our Yoga practice and in life in general.

Yet I think surrender is a very important thing to contemplate on. And my recent trip to India just reminded me of it so I thought I share some thoughts about that with you.

In Yoga we talk a lot about surrender, or at least we should talk more about it. Surrender to the teacher, to the process and method we choose to follow, e.g. Ashtanga Yoga.

Patanjali even says in Sutra II.45:

“By total surrender to God/to what is, samadhi is attained.”

And it does make sense: if you completely surrender yourself, your ego, everything that separates you from everything, you become one with everything… which I assume is meant by samadhi.

Without surrendering, we cannot progress, not in asana nor on our spiritual path and in life.
If we hold on to a specific idea how things ought to be in order to be „good“, we are not open to the all the possibilities that might present themselves.

How can we then get over our boundaries and limitations and reach a new level of awareness and raise our consciousness.

Surrendering is not easy

Surrendering is not easy. We as human beings like things going our ways. We are attached to and comforted by the way we know things to be. We like things done a certain way, and after a while without even noticing, we demand things to be a certain way.

Not always out loud, but watch yourself for one day and see how often a complaining thought comes to mind, about a fellow driver cutting you off on the road while talking on the phone, a red light being red just a bit too long for your busy schedule, a colleague not greeting you in the way you „deserve“ to be greeted, or the coffee from your favorite coffee place being not as hot or as strong or as sweet as you like.

We want many things in life, and we want them instantly. We constantly demand things to go OUR ways: the train should be on time, the streets clean, the traffic fluid, the service in the restaurant prompt and the food served perfectly tasting and healthy.

And if things are not the way we want them, we start complaining, protesting, blaming other people that didn’t do their job or did it poorly.

Mental tenseness leads to physical stiffness

All this complaining and blaming on things and people that trigger us are essentially tensioning us up.

That’s the tenseness we then notice when attempting asanas. Then we want to get rid of that tightness because we want to be able to do the freaking asana. Our ego wants us to do it.

But we cannot let go of the tightness in our body and then resume our day complaining and blaming.

Actually it works the other way around:

If you start surrendering to the life around you, the things you cannot change, your body starts relaxing.

And that will in turn lead your body loosening up as well – as a reflection of your ego and mind letting go of your „need to change what is not in your power to change“. (Just to be clear, I am not suggesting we should surrender and not care what’s happening around us, loosing any wish to actively pursue our ideas and dreams. I am simply saying that complaining about the things we don’t have the power to change, as for example the weather, or our boss’s mood or the punctuality of public transportation, is making us miserable without any sense).

India gives you what you need, but tests your patience until you let go and surrender

What does all of that have to do with India?

India gives you everything you need. And in my experience everything works according to plan – in the end.

But while everything is eventually happening as needed, in the process you see a thousand reasons why things will not work out and it’s all gonna end in chaos.

India welcomes you with a big smile and the most colorful surrounding. You just have to decide to see the beauty, as there is definitely also a lot of ugly stuff happening around you. Yet there is always this feeling of joy and beauty around you, even if not always obvious.

And whatever happens, you got to surrender to it. You have a group of 7 people and a car picks you up that barely fits 5? Surrender and patiently ask for a bigger car. You travelled the whole day and are eager to finally arrive in the hotel, including “Delhi belly”, and then the car stops working, a herd of cows blocks the street and finally the Air Condition stops working. Surrender and breath. We’ll get there when we get there. India is the best teacher, it presses until you finally give in and let go of complaining.

The interesting thing in India is that it somehow makes it much easier to surrender and lean back. Not because we want to surrender and develop patience. But because the things the get into the way are just not things that justify blaming things on.

In our perfectly organized home countries (I am from Germany) if there is a traffic jam, probably some „idiot“ drove to fast… something that we can easily blame it on.
In India on the other hand, with cows, donkeys, dogs, goats, even camels and oxen carriages on the street, next to pedestrians, bikes, rickshaws, cars and trucks and no lanes, it just doesn’t seem very smart to project your anger.

And when you see people living in the simplest housing, eating on the dusty floor next to the road, washing themselves with a small bucket, owning nothing but the things they wear, it also seems kind of inappropriate to get upset for not being on time, having only a cold shower, or whatever we might get upset about. Those are what we call first world problems.

And with the constant intensity of smells, never ending noise, vast amounts of people walking around you, you pretty much have only the choice of surrender or going insane.

Even asana practice in India asks you to adjust and surrender: The floor is bumpy, your mat much dirtier, mosquitos trying to bite you as they tend to be active right around those morning hours when Yogis love to practice, people burning plastic next to the shala, or a Diesel generator working loudly as the electricity just went off again.

What can you do but surrender, let go and focus on what is actually in your power to change at that very moment.

Why would we be upset or get into a bad mood because of things we have no power to change. Let’s accept situations as they are and just do our best in any situation that we can possibly do.

And even in a situation where there is nothing to do but to wait, keeping a smile is always better than getting upset.

So next time you are upset about missing flexibility of your body in your Yoga practice, watch your mental flexibility and ability to surrender to the present moment in your daily life.

photo credit: sandra db

Tom Richter
Tom Richter

𝒾𝓂𝓅𝓇𝑜𝓋𝑒 𝓎𝑜𝓊𝓇 𝒷𝓇𝑒𝒶𝓉𝒽, 𝒾𝓂𝓅𝓇𝑜𝓋𝑒 𝓎𝑜𝓊𝓇 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 Breathing & Movement Teacher ︴Ashtanga Therapy ︴Pranayama