For most of us, we think that if we work hard enough we can make anything happen. But there are times where we have to let go of the controls and allow things to unfold on their own time. While this may not be new thinking for many of us, I want to take that a step further and explore a unique way of looking at one of my favourite yoga concepts: Ishvara Pranidhana. Ishvara Pranidhana is considered to be surrendering to a force or energy greater than ourselves. What I want to explore is what does that actually mean and how do we move it out of some wishy-washy, new-agey, yoga speak and make it relevant and supportive in our own lives?
One of my favourite sayings that I feel brings this concept into approachable terms is from a gospel song: "Jesus take the wheel!" While the flamboyant nature of certain aspects of Christianity always makes me giggle, there is truth to that saying. Whether is it Jesus, Spirit, Allah, the Universe or whatever speaks to you as a larger force beyond our human nature, sometimes we have to throw our arms metaphorically up in the air and shout to the sky " Jesus take the wheel!" We have all been there and while sometimes it is thrust upon us such as when we are waiting for a delayed flight or hearing back about a job offer, other times we have to work a little harder at finding the where and how we need to surrender.
One of the profound lessons for me around this was during the birth of my son. It was an epic 60 hour labour and while my cervix just wouldn't open I got to experience full and near constant contractions. For most of the labour, I visualized, I breathed and put all my yogi techniques into practice to help open my body and get things moving. But what became apparent (after the fact) was that by trying to surrender, I was on some level still trying to control things. In this situation, my body and my son were on their own schedule and after a certain point I had to let go of the techniques, the breathing and visualizations and just allow it to unfold. My body knew what it was doing- not my mind, not my ego. Once I surrendered to a force greater than myself- which in this case was my body's wisdom and inherent ability to give birth- then things finally started to shift.
Surrendering means no control... Not out of control, but no control which is at the heart of the more subtle layers of Ishvara Pranidhana. This a really big lesson for so many of us, and even more so for long-time yoga practitioners. Where for so many years we are taught to control the breath, the muscles and our focus; this can become a deep pattern in our minds and makes it harder to relinquish the control over ourselves. Try it next time you are in Savasana. Typically we first focus on relaxing our muscles, which is an important stage in relaxing. But then to go deeper, to really surrender, we must even then relax the effort of relaxing. Hello! Let go of what you know about relaxing, how you have done it in the past or how you should do it. Wait, pause and allow your body to unfold. Which it always will...
And the more we can apply this surrendering in our yoga practice, specifically Savasana, the more familiar it will be to access it in various life situations. So even when we think that we are helping ourselves because we are applying the tools and techniques that are effective in other situations, sometimes we are called to stop. To wait and let go of all that we know, all that we have learned and open our hands and hearts to a greater force- one that has its own time, own schedule that moves in time beyond when it is right or convenient for us.
What parts of your life lately can you find that deeper surrender? Where you can explore that fine line between control and letting go, between doing and non-doing? By curiously exploring theses concepts, we might find ourselves being able to trust in the rich unfolding of our lives, the ebbs and flows, the surprises and the joys and enjoy the ride a little bit more.
"You surrender to a lot of things which are not worthy of you. I wish you would surrender to your radiance... your integrity... your beautiful human grace." -Yogi Bajhan
What is more of a picture of surrender than a baby sleeping? Happy letting go everyone...