Finding Balance: Effort + Surrender

“Effort and surrender are like two wings of a bird. Both are necessary for a smooth and joyful flight.”

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In our modern, fast-paced world, we have spent the majority of our lives cultivating the skill of rapidly moving from place to place, or task to task. We are taught to view stillness as laziness,  and surrender as giving up. But surrender does not mean weakness or powerlessness – instead it means meeting life where it is, without trying to change or manipulate it; accepting the moment as is. One of the best ways to learn this is by cultivating stillness of both the body and mind.

How many times have you been swept up in the drama of the past, replaying events that have already happened and cannot be changed? How many times have you found yourself filled with anxiety, short of breath, worried about future events that may never even take place? Often times it is the ego, or the sense of ‘I’ that wants to take us out of the present moment, the only place where life truly exists. We are taught from an early age for the need to control our surroundings, to control outcomes of situations, to even control one another. How wonderful would it be if we could begin to let go of this ‘need’ for control, this false idea that having control brings happiness or power? Your highest power lies in the ability to let go.

In Sanskrit there is a term, “Ishvara Pranidhana” which translates to surrendering to a higher source. For Patanjali, Ishvara pranidhana is an infallible practice for dissolving the endless agitations of the mind, and in turn a means to experiencing the ultimate unified state of yoga: samadhi. How? Because Ishvara pranidhana shifts our perspective from the obsession with the ego, with “I”—with our narrow individual concerns and perspective—that causes so much of the mind’s distraction and creates a sense of separation from our Source. Much like anything else, applying this practice is easier said than done, especially if one has never had much experience with something like this before. This sensation of surrendering your control can be experienced in simple exercises such as learning to listen internally to the sound of your breath, becoming an observer to the processes of the body rather than controlling the outcomes with the mind.

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For many people, the idea of effort is easy to accept. “No pain, no gain” is a familiar saying. But too much effort can cause implosion. Think again of the flight of a bird. How could it make its journey south for the winter without surrendering itself to the directions and the power of the wind? It would never make it. Surrender is often defined as giving up completely to the power of another. But in yoga we find the “sweet” in the surrender. It is more of a softening to the moment, a release of tension, a belief in the idea that we are truly supported and cared for, an acceptance and love of our truest selves. We can’t fly without surrender. Effort without softening is over-effort. We need to accept that we cannot control everything.

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When effort and surrender combine the result is pure ecstasy. If we approach our yoga with a playful attitude the balance of effort and surrender becomes second nature. The ego may want to perform a particular pose for show but the body or mind may not be ready. If we try to force the pose with our will, we may cause injury. It is easy to cling to physical ideals, but our bodies are all different. So instead of forcing your way into a pose, ease and explore your way into it with gentleness and compassion supported with a strong foundation of the awareness of your breath. Working from your center gives your pose its power. Playing the edges helps to rediscover your center. Yoga is dynamic. It pulses with the breath and with the beat of nature. There is always a new discovery, an awakening if you remain open to it. Bring this energy and attitude into your practice and feel your whole life blossom.

Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 1.17.26 PMMichiala Ashkenazy has been practicing yoga since 2009, and teaching since 2010. Yoga has taken her all over the world, introduced her to mindful, spiritual people that were once far from her social circle, and continues to transform her life for the better every single day. Her teaching style is inspired by the many places she has lived and visited, and she is constantly drawing new inspiration from the various styles of yoga she practices. Although travel is a great passion of hers, currently she is living and teaching in Los Angeles, California. Check out her website and blog here.