When the pandemic hit the United States and began affecting the way we live our lives, I began praying. Not primarily for my own health or that of my family because for some reason, I have (mostly) experienced a blanket of peace. My first prayers, and continued prayers, were less about our safety and more about my family not contributing to the spread or the panic. I prayed for those affected by fear, underlying conditions, loss of income, those unable to meet survival needs, those on the front lines, our government, and the lonely. I prayed particularly hard for those who thought this was all a media stunt, conspiracy theory, test of biological warfare, or “not any worse than the flu.” I prayed for our ignorance and willingness to surrender as a nation to necessary preventative measures.
We've Been Called to Surrender
Like many, social distancing is difficult for me. I miss my people--family, friends, church, students. Our children miss socialization and their teachers. I’m not one to sit still (unless a really good Netflix series captures my attention), and I have always been a problem solver. I’m not claiming I can solve the problem of a pandemic, and I can also do my part to help others. I have prayed specifically about how I am supposed to serve my family, community, the yoga students I’m used to teaching in person, and others.
For years I have felt the call to teach yoga online, share recordings of my guided meditations, and create content to help others grow physically, mentally, and spiritually. I’m not a guru, and I’m certainly not an expert. I know what I know via my experiences, and it is through that knowingness I share as authentically as possible. It’s not always pretty or perfectly planned, and it’s always shared with love.
You see, I’m late to the game since so many yoga teachers have already been online for weeks. At first, I told myself the market is tapped. I let fear stand in my way and slow my progress. I should just wait until it is all over and rest. No. I’m a builder. I am a teacher. Doing, serving, loving, and sharing resources feels like a calling, especially now. I’m “late” to the scene because I have been doing, serving, loving, and sharing with my family as we adjust to this new, and hopefully temporary, normal. I teach students to practice yielding, or surrender, but I have been avoiding the most important surrender of all—allowing God’s power to work fully through my life in fulfillment of His purposes for me.
Yoga & Surrender
For those who don’t know, yoga is more than shapes and movements we make or do with our bodies. In fact, my favorite part of yoga is the psychosomatic methodology which (theoretically) leads to self awareness and includes the ways we posture the body in order to create an internal and external environment conducive to stillness.
In this system are ethical guidelines which govern the way we interact with the world around us, ourselves, and God. The first five, Yama, are considered the virtuous self-restraints or “don’ts.” The second five, Niyama, are the virtuous habits, behaviors, and observances—the “do’s.”
The very last of the Niyamas, is the practice of Surrender (Ishvara Pranidhana). Before your mind goes to 50 Shades of Gray or human oppression, keep reading. This translates quite literally as “Surrender to God” and it can mean developing a deep and trusting relationship with any supreme being in our lives. This could be yielding to the government advice to stay home as much as possible during a pandemic.
We are called by this observance to offer the results of our actions to something bigger than ourselves. It is a call to step actively out of selfishness and recognize the interconnectedness of all things—to see the bigger picture as well as our role in making it beautiful.
Surrender in this sense is not weakness. In fact, it may be the greatest act of strength. Knowing when to yield, when to rest, when enough is enough shows awareness, respect, and allows longevity of resources (& healing) for everyone.
In our physical practices, whether it be yoga or fitness or house-holding, we are often called to find ease among our effort, seek comfort when uncomfortable, lean into our boundaries, and to stay present during difficulty when all we want to do is check out or quit.
The mind and body work to maintain a steady state, and will always seek “more of the same” as a result. It’s how we’re wired. It is physically, emotionally, and sometimes spiritually painful to yield to the tension created by living out the opposite of our perceived state of balance. There’s no shame in the grief we are feeling as a society right now.
Yoga, or any practice during which we move, breathe, and challenge boundaries in a focused way can lead to self awareness, bring healing, and show us what we’re made of during challenges. This translates off the mat, treadmill, or out of the gym into the ability to stay present when times are tough. It is a willingness to experience life as it unfolds, maybe even with a courageous curiosity about who we can become because we surrendered.
In this sense, surrender equals freedom. Not freedom from responsibility or active participation in life as it presents itself. It is a freedom to shed the disguises constructed of fear, shame, guilt, doubt, anger, malice, and lack. We can be free to honor the experiences that have made us who we are, and let them lead us to remembering who we are. When we shed all the distractions, clean the mirror, stop the running, and listen—what remains? Notice what you notice, and allow it to be. Allow yourself to feel free.
If surrender equals freedom, then freedom leads to rest.
In one of my jobs, I lead a Yoga Teacher Training for people who want to become yoga teachers. During our session in January, I offered several guided meditations, some of them being relaxations. These practices require surrender, presence, and yielding to guidance. Our socially distanced society is struggling with social distancing now that it is required, and we could probably all use some practice with active surrender and true rest.
My Gift to You
I’m going to share one of the recordings from our training in January for anyone who needs some practice setting aside that which weighs you down. It is my hope you benefit from the practice of Yoga Nidra, or “sleep with a trace of awareness” designed to help the practitioner dive deep into the realms of the subconscious mind to release muscular, emotional, and mental tensions.
I will continue to share these throughout this time of social isolation along with physical practices to help us shed some pent up energy and keep our bodies engaged with the life flowing through and around us (in a socially distanced way, of course). This is what I feel called to do, and sharing is my expression of surrender.
Yoga Nidra is best practiced while lying down, with minimal propping or support (unless your body needs it). Try to practice in a room alone, maybe with headphones in order to tune out external sounds. Don’t worry if you fall asleep as the body will give you what you need most, and the mind will still remain open to the experience. Please feel free to share your thoughts with me afterwards.
Peace = Power
Last week, on February 14, 2018, our nation watched in horror as news revealed the details of yet another school shooting. On a day celebrated annually as a day of love, our nation and the people of this Florida community witnessed an act devoid of love. They experienced anything but peace.
All over social media we see “prayers and condolences” offered to those touched by this act of violence because, for many, there are no words. As a nation, we’re in shock, and don’t truly know what to think, feel, or do first to prevent future occurrences.
As parents, we weep with those parents, and for those parents. We weep because we now fear sending our own children to school, and we don’t know how to protect them.
As educators and administrators, we weep because we can’t imagine the pain of losing beloved students, and possibly even guilt from not being able to protect them. In WV, we weep because our educators are being devalued when to some children, a teacher may be the only advocate in their life.
As therapists, clergy, counselors, and role models, we weep for the loss of peace, hope, and for the brokenness that now exists. We weep because it seems there is never enough time, enough resources, or enough of us to help each child in need of our services.
As community members we weep because the dynamics of families are forever changed when tragedy occurs. We weep because we grieve the life and hope children bring to a community, and now so many of them are gone or hurting. We weep because a school, a safe-haven in our community will now be a permanent memorial of that day. Yes, I said "our community" because we're all part of one greater community.
As a nation, we collectively weep. (I’ll refrain from inserting political comments here.)
As families we weep. We are so “connected” that we’re disconnected from what’s truly going on with our children. Gadgets outnumber family members, children are babysat by TV, and we hope they learn valuable life lessons from the backseat as we shuttle from place to place.
We weep for the loss of values, family time, and the need for mental health services because so many children are the victims of trauma – in their own homes. Our nation’s teachers have a most difficult job.
There are times it seems our nation will never find peace. It seems a very real possibility our children may grow up in a world where they feel unsafe, busyness equates success, and connections are made through Wi-fi signals.
What can we do? A number of things, and I’m really only here to talk about one: choosing peace.
I’ve learned, and I pray my children learn, that peace is more powerful than violence, anger, greed, or hatred. A hug is more powerful than a hit, as my son said in different words at age 4.
Spreading peace begins with each one of us choosing peace personally.
What am I doing?
Personally, my family is a work in progress. As a divorced mom of two, we often have times of unrest. It’s not easy, and it’s not always pretty (or peaceful). I work a day job, and I teach yoga a few nights a week. This limits my time with the kids, and we do our very best to fill our time together with as much quality as possible. I am fiercely dedicated to raising children who love God (& all that comes with that), love themselves and others, value family, and are dedicated to fulfilling their purpose in this world by actively using their skills and resources.
I’m using my skills as a yoga teacher to train others to share this discipline and practice with their future students. I’m teaching them how to apply the ethical guidelines to their own lives as well as to their teaching. I’m doing my best to teach them effective communication. I hope and pray the implementation of these tools helps them live more peacefully.
I also get the opportunity to be part of a movement in WV to train our elementary educators to share meditation, mindfulness, and movement through yogic tools with the children and families within their circle of influence. We are trying to train as many educators in the state by the end of the 2017-2018 school year as possible. These educators will gain these tools personally and put them into practice in classrooms statewide within weeks of their training. Each one will be certified to teach Kidding Around Yoga in their community.
This is how I can help. It’s all I know to do. I can make my workplace(s) a mission field for peace. I can’t reach every child, so I share from my experience and empower others to teach children how to live peaceful lives. That’s powerful.
Peace begins with me. Peace begins with you. Peace belongs to everyone. May the words and actions of my life contribute to the collective pursuit of peace. This is (one) of my prayers.
If you have questions about any of my suggestions or training programs, feel free to email me at email@example.com. I’m happy to teach anyone willing to learn.
Katie is a momma of two striving to find balance, peace, and acceptance by approaching life and work with a loving curiosity. She loves Jesus, loves her children and partner Jared, and strives to live a life that brings glory to God as often as possible. She writes (mostly for others) about the things she loves: God, family, love, yoga, food, ethical living, and reflections on life in today's world.