Friday, February 13, 2009


When I was first getting into Ashtanga yoga there were times when, during the heat of practice, a teacher would say to “surrender.” I reacted to this: never! “I will not surrender,” I thought. When a teacher said to “let go,” it had a different effect. I understood that I was holding suffering, and wanted to let that go. But the use of the word surrender confused me. I was using yoga to get sexy, strong, supple, and to feel better. I definitely didn’t want to surrender to the individual teacher: that seemed a bit much. I also didn’t want to surrender to the words I was hearing at that time. Surrendering brought up the image of a conquered enemy waving a white flag. I was not a defeated foe.

The fifth Niyama is Isvara-pranidhana, and it calls for us to surrender. My thinking around this concept has changed since I was first hearing it (without a clarifying context).

The world is bigger than me. It is bigger than the contents of my mind, and more than what I know. So there is some mystery to the world and how things work and why things happen the way they do. This mystery is what the surrendering is about. It acknowledges that there is a larger reality that we, as individuals, cannot control and cannot know. There are times to let go of the desire to control reality, and there are times to trust that things are as they are, existing with reasons that are out of the realm of ordinary understanding. So what we are being asked to surrender to is this larger realm. It is awe-inspiring to witness the beauty of a moment without words, without knowing, and not controlling.

Of course in daily life this presents a big challenge. We want and need to make sure we make enough money, live in safety, and have the freedom to express ourselves. So we strive to control the world so that it will serve our needs. This is natural.

And yet, things still happen that are out of our control. We get sick, injured, hurt, heal, succeed, prosper, age, and so on.

So, I trust the things that happen to me. Things happen that change my plans, and there is always so much to learn along the way. I surrender to the wisdom in my heart while honoring what I see reflected in the world. Perceptions of the world can show me when I’m on track or off the mark.


Yoga Korunta said...

Thank you for making the distinction between acceptance and defeat.

elderyogini said...

Brooks, I love the way you take ishvara-pranidana into a contemporary context, especially true for women trying to build and protect identity in the mass mindstream culture.

Anonymous said...

And it seems, Brooks, that you learned the surrender was in fact, to no one but yourself. :)

Scott said...

Hi Brooks. You know me from EJ as YogiOne. I just wanted to thank you for this article. I was trying to write out what the Yamas and Niyamas meant to me, but the right expression for this one wasn't coming to me. I googled Isvara-pranidhana and what should pop up but your blog. With your help, I was able to write this: Isvara pranidhana -- Surrender Acknowledgement that there are greater things in the universe than one's own self, the contents of one’s own mind and thus, things we cannot know or control. Modesty. Humility.