Editor's Note: This article was originally published January 3, 2017. It was updated and republished August 24, 2020.
In yoga, I hear a lot of talk about surrender and letting go. But having been brought up to believe that happiness comes as a reward for ambition, striving and hard work, surrender can be a foreign concept. So, in a goal-orientated, success-obsessed culture, how can I learn to surrender and, frankly, why should I bother?
Yin yoga has provided me the answers to these questions by learning to surrender. When I surrender to the postures on the mat, I learn to let go to all that may be holding me back off the mat as well.
Here are four ways learning how to surrender in Yin yoga has helped me succeed in other areas of my life.
1. Overcoming Discomfort
Contrary to popular misconception, Yin yoga is not the same as Restorative yoga. One of the first things many people notice about Yin yoga is how uncomfortable it can be. And yet, despite the discomfort of some of the postures, the intention is still that you surrender and relax into the sensations.
There is a life lesson there. It’s tempting to get trapped into patterns of thinking where you believe, “I’ll relax when…” or “I’ll be happy once…,” but life isn’t like this.
There will always be difficult times, unexpected discomfort and challenging situations.
When you practice Yin yoga, you learn to sit with discomfort and accept it without resistance. And, although Yin should not be actively painful, it’s a good place to discover the truth in the saying that "Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional."
2. Releasing Expectations
So much of what we do is because we want to reach a certain level, status or position. Even in yoga, there’s a temptation to strive for a certain yoga posture or level of flexibility. You can multiply this temptation tenfold if you’re trying to look like the beautiful pictures you see on Instagram or the glossy pages of yoga magazines.
With its altogether more introspective lens, Yin yoga is different. The focus is on how it feels, not how it looks from the outside.
As Bernie Clark puts it when referring to Yin yoga, “We don’t use our body to get into a pose; we use the pose to get into our body.” And this introspection, coupled with the time spent in the posture, means I discover how little it matters where I get to.
Each day I do Yin yoga, my body will feel different, so I learn to let go of the expectation that I should be anywhere.
3. Gaining Presence of Mind
How much of your life do you actually spend being present? Not thinking about yesterday, or tomorrow or next month, but actually being present with what is? If the answer is "not a lot," then Yin yoga could be the answer.
It is one of the most powerful mindfulness practices, even if you struggle with meditation. The reason for this is that the physical sensations you experience help to anchor the mind and keep you focused. Instead of distracting yourself with what has been and what could be, you surrender to what actually is right now.
When you surrender, you allow yourself to be struggle-free and to experience the sweetness of whatever the present moment has to offer. You find what yogis call sukha, the deep happiness and pleasure that already exists without you having to strive for something.
4. Relaxing Your Body
On a physical level, the surrendering of Yin yoga lets the nervous system relax and believe it is safe to let the muscles release, thus permitting your body to open up and move deeper into the postures. Paradoxically, when it comes to increasing flexibility, you can find that by striving less, you may actually achieve more.
The same applies for anything you want to manifest. When you want something really badly, there is a temptation to chase it and pursue it. You become fixated on your desire.
In return, this dissatisfied state of wanting becomes your norm and, more often than not, your goal seems to get further away. Even if you do reach it, you have become so attached to the mindset of desire that you immediately fixate on something else.
Let's Go Let Go
Yes, it is good to know what you want, but it is also good to surrender to it. Maybe by letting go you’ll find that it comes to you, or maybe you’ll discover that it wasn’t quite right for you anyway. Either way, you’ll have found the real, genuine happiness that lies in surrender. In the words of Sonia Ricotti:
“Surrender to what is. Let go of what was. Have faith in what will be.”
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