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Surrendering in Your Yoga Practice

When we go to the grocery store, we're not sure of what we'll be able to buy. Events we planned for months are being unceremoniously canceled. Relationships are on freeze, trips postponed, and daily routines rearranged within a matter of days. It's understandable that even the most easygoing person would be scrambling to find a sense of control amidst the chaos. As we sit in our homes, our empty offices, or perhaps tense and disorganized essential workplaces, we are tempted to grab what we can and mold it into a sense of normalcy. When control is invited into yoga, however, it interferes with the connection to the peaceful inner sanctuary that the practice looks to invoke. Let's explore how to release the metaphoric squeeze on your yoga practice, and release into the present moment. 

1. Let go of the "perfect" circumstances.

Prior to the Stay-At-Home order, you might have had a solid routine going. You'd spend an hour in the studio, with a meaningful guided practice and access to unlimited props. Perhaps you're on the opposite end of the spectrum and you're turning to the practice for maybe the first time, seeking comfort and presence. Either way, your notion of the ideal practice is being challenged. We often picture a peaceful, quiet room; rhythmic, wordless music; no distractions. Our realities might not be so ideal, and these expectations can hold us back from ever beginning a meaningful home practice. When we let go of expectations of what yoga needs to look like, we give ourselves space to actually begin the practice. You might not have a dedicated space for yoga in your home, or even a mat and that's okay! Typically, we're guided to practice with no distractions, but letting go of perfect circumstances can be freeing. If your yoga happens in front of Netflix, or for ten minutes in between conference calls, it's still the practice and it's still meaningful.

2. Notice the urge to fix your shapes

In the first few moments of an asana, self-adjustments are a good occupation of the mind. Take the time to find proper engagement and align your body to match your intentions for the shape. When these adjustments become the bulk of the practice, however, reevaluate the mindset you bring into yoga. Everyday life feels uncertain, and we tend to micromanage what we can influence. Each shape you enter has the potential to teach and heal, but with a veil of control over the pose, all you can see is judgement and frustration. Becoming a witness to the practice, instead of the conductor, creates space for acceptance and peace.  Consider an asana like Warrior I, or Virabhadrasana I. This pose asks you to root through the outer edge of your back foot, move your hips towards a squared, front facing position, bend your front knee, and extend the spine. I'm overwhelmed just typing it out! As an exercise in surrender, settle into Virabhadrasana I for 90 seconds. Spend the first five breaths adjusting and "correcting". Then take the time to notice breath and gather information from the senses. What can you hear around you? Try not to search for sound, but to let it travel to your ears without picking or choosing what you focus on. Traveling deeper into the shape, where are your muscles engaging? Lengthening? Where are you holding tension? Perhaps it’s in the clenching of the jaw, or the elevation of the shoulders towards the earlobes. The rush to eliminate tightness would be another attempt at control. Instead, can you sit with the tightness, the grip? Hold space for the tension, surrendering to even the unpleasant parts of the practice. Notice the temptation to make change. Maybe your knee should move an inch to the left, or your arms could reach higher. Can you sit with the urge to adjust, just as you sat with tension? At the end of your ninety second pose, be mindful of how it makes you feel to let go of control. For many, it can be very relaxing, but for others, it can be deeply unsettling to take their hands off the wheel. If you fall into the latter category (I often find myself there!), take it as a sign that the practice of surrender is exactly what you need. 

3. Change up your style

Branching out to a new style of yoga can invite a beginner's spirit to your practice. It's more tempting to grasp for control when you have experience. Most of us are Vinyasa practitioners, emphasizing shorter holds and breath-based movement. Perhaps you've never slowed down enough to try Yin, a form of yoga that opens connective tissue rather than lengthening muscles by holding shapes anywhere from two to ten minutes. Yin is particularly good for the act of surrender; the practice asks you to sit with discomfort and breath. If you're continuing to practice Vinyasa, changing up the style of music you flow to can give you a fresh, new perspective. If my grip is too tight on my practice, I'll flow to a playlist that I couldn't possibly take seriously. I have an eclectic mix of Elvis, Tech N9ne, The Band and Dolly Parton waiting for me for just that occasion. Add novelty where you can and feel yourself letting go. 

The art of surrender is not something I've mastered. I struggle with it under normal circumstances, so adding a global pandemic into the mix certainly hasn't made it easier for me to let go. But yoga is a sanctuary. When I find myself trying to make plans for a future that no one can predict, or reorganizing my bookshelf for a third time, I know it’s time to roll out the mat and let whatever happens happen. Surrendering doesn't mean giving up. It means letting go of the outcome you're pushing for and emphasizing the experience instead. May your practice be a vehicle for presence and ease.

-Jamie Hartman
Yoga Instructor & Front Desk Staff