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.