What Does It Mean To Surrender In Yoga Or Meditation Practice?

We enjoy feeling like we have control. In the West, we’ve grown up in a culture that tells us we’ll be what we want and get what we want if we just work hard enough. We hustle, we fight, we grind, and sometimes, we come out on top. When we don’t, it can be a harsh awakening. Many of us are drawn to spiritual practices like yoga or meditation to make sense of the groundlessness we feel when things don’t go the way we planned. Yet we bring our same ego, desire for control, and war-like work ethic to our mats and our cushions. We approach yoga and meditation in the same mistaken way we approach our lives.
Head of Editorial at Insight Timer
surrender in yoga and meditation
Head of Editorial at Insight Timer

Surrender all effort, surrender into the sensation, surrender completely. It is one these phrases yoga and meditation teachers use frequently. What exactly does it mean and feel like to surrender in yoga or meditation practice? What wisdom is implied in the invitation to surrender?

Efforts During Yoga & Meditation

This will never work..

No matter how much we plan, our practice and our lives will unfold in ways we never could have accounted for. If we’re lucky, our yoga or meditation practice will break down the illusion that we’re in control. We might even intentionally give up control.

We try so hard to be good yogis and meditators!

We put in the effort. We wake up for 6 am classes, attend retreats, workshops and listen to online sessions. We gather props, clothing, teachers and information. During our practice, when discomfort or distraction arises, we fight against it. We push against tightness. We strive in spite of fatigue. We try to control our thoughts. We battle our bodies and minds.

Read more: Explore how to bring awareness to your asana practice and attain a deeper level of consciousness.

War. What is it good for?

We often (unconsciously) relate to our practice as a war. In the same vein, we associate the concept of surrender with raising the white flag.

The word “surrender” can trigger negative perceptions of quitting, giving up, or throwing in the towel.

When we’re particularly distracted in a meditation session, or when we fail to execute the peak pose offered in our yoga class, we may feel as though we’ve failed. Our egos are so adept at judging, ranking, and labeling, that we see ourselves as losers, and in the worst-case think we can’t.

I can’t do yoga. I can’t meditate.

When we reach this point, we do need to quit. Not our practice, but our expectations, the insertion of our ego, and our effort. We need to yield to a new definition of “surrender.”

Before diving into the meaning of surrender in yoga and meditation practice, you might want to listen to these guided surrender meditations by popular teachers to connect with what this word makes you feel when being invited to it:

  1. Learning To Surrender Sarah Blondin 8:08
  2. Surrender To The Silence Within davidji 16:50
  3. Morning Meditation: Surrender, Allow & Trust (S.A.T.) Vanessa Loder 11:44
  4. Surrender & Simply Be Elliott Treves 17:36
  5. Surrender and Letting Go into Love Arielle Hecht 33:30
  6. Day 1 of Surrender: 11 Minutes of Meditation Michelle Zarrin 15:44

The Meaning Of Surrender In The Yoga Sutras

Isvarapranidhana

In Master Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, the 5th of the niyamas (ethical guidelines for practice) is isvarapranidhana (YS 1.23). This Sanskrit word can be translated as the surrender of the self or complete surrender to a supreme being or higher power.

Isvara translates to the divine, God, supreme being, higher power, ultimate reality, or true self. While pranidhana is usually translated as surrender, offer, dedicate or devote.

Surrender As Turning Inward

The ego is the doer who relies on separation to operate. Forego, subject and object are distinct. The ego is outwardly focused, seeking reward in the form of praise, recognition or achievement, the getting of things.

The yogi who has completely surrendered in yoga practice is looking within. Yoga Sutra 1.25 speaks of the omniscient qualities of our master, our higher power, while 1.26 remind us that this supreme being is the highest teacher of all and that by turning inward and connecting to them, by contemplating their name and their nature, we will reach the ability to focus the mind and avoid all obstacles. (YS 1.27-1.28)

Within isvarapranidhana “surrender” is not a failure. To surrender is to let go, to yield to experience, to rest back, to witness, to go with the flow. It’s imbued with complete devotion and dedication to a higher power. It’s giving up the desires of the ego and identifying instead with a universal desire. For those who have difficulty with the concept of “God,” remember, we can translate isvara here as “ultimate reality.”

Read more: Ancient texts refer to different times of the day as beneficial meditation hours. However, the best time to meditate is the time that works best for you and that doesn’t feel forced. We explore the pros and cons of common meditation times.

Surrendering To Reality

Surrendering to ultimate reality is to accept reality in all its forms. We accept that we cannot yet touch our toes. We accept the heat of utkatasana, or chair pose. We accept the arising of thoughts in meditation. We equally accept the joy found in our practice and the ease found in the process of yielding to reality.

Speaking of chair pose. Learn about the benefits of discomfort—not just during yoga or meditation practice, but in life general—leads to personal and spiritual growth.

By no longer trying to fight against the way things are, we open to the experience of spaciousness. Inviting in spaciousness in yoga or meditation invites in possibility. When we let go of the battle against body and mind, both body and mind are offered the freedom to reveal to us the inner peace that is already present.

Free from expectations, and free from needing things to be one certain way, the barriers between subject and object begin to dissolve.

Discover hundreds of free guided acceptance meditation practices to view experiences more compassionately.

Surrendering The Ego

When we dedicate our practice to a supreme being, when we wholeheartedly rest back into ultimate reality and the way things are, we begin to move past separateness.

This surrender, dedication, or acceptance frees us from relying on ego and the thinking mind to do our work and allows us to get in touch with something deeper. We’re moved instead by the intuition of the subtle body, the divine within us.

The ego does things. Surrender does nothing. Surrender feels and opens to experience and allows. To surrender is to be free from the compulsion to act. It’s the steadiness and ease that our yoga and meditation promises. It’s the stillness and quiet of mind that we once sought to achieve. With isvarapranidhana, we arrive at this peace and freedom not through action, but cessation.

How To Surrender In Yoga Practice

Try the following suggestions to bring isvarapranidhana and surrender to your yoga or meditation practice.

  • Set an intention. Offer your practice to a higher being, make it less about you.
  • Be present.  Let go of all expectations and see what unfolds.
  • Practice equanimity. See everything that arises as equally sent by the divine to help strengthen your practice.
  • Listen. Rest when you need to rest. Move when you need to move.
  • Question. In moments of discomfort, stay and question the sensation.
  • Cease effort. Rest in spaciousness instead.
  • Dedicate. Let go of the fruits of your actions. Offer them up to someone else.

Explore thousands of free guided Yogic practices to connect to the spiritual through control of the mind, body and senses.

The results of our yoga and meditation practice are not something we get, they are something we reveal. We cannot reach these highest states of being by doing and trying. We can only reach them through surrender. Yoga Sutra 2.45 tells us that through isvarapranidhana, this devotion and willingness to let go, full integration, samadhi, is achieved.

Our yoga and meditation practice requires trust and faith that all we need is already within us. Our relationship to a higher being can help us see these qualities “outside” ourselves, and through the practice of surrender, isvarapranidhana, we ultimately recognize these qualities within, as the distinction between “within” and “without” breaks down.

Read more: There is a good reason that yoga has been used as a tool for healing for centuries. Explore how yoga therapy can individually activate self-healing powers to overcome pain, tension and anxiety.

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Always.