surrendering into a pose.

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Autumn leaves in Kansas City, Missouri

“Oh Autumn leaf, be still and yield

When the wind wants to take you away.

Do not resist, be a player in the game.

Surrender to the dancing changes.

Let yourself be broken, seized

And blown to your next home.”

– H. Hesse

‘Surrendering’ is one of the most elusive aspects of a yoga asana practice.  Teachers always say things like “Follow your breath… surrender to the pose” or “Let go of the tension in your hips…let yourself surrender”.  And I think: ‘Sure. Good idea. I’m breathing, and I’m trying to surrender to this pose, but my right hip is frozen like cement.  And also screaming so loudly that dogs are barking down the street”.  

I’d been working on the mother of all hip-openers: Eka Pada Sirsasna (also known as Good-Lord-why-is-her-leg-behind-her-head?-pose) diligently for almost one year, coaxing my right hip open after years of running and dancing related injuries.  So many days I struggled to find the discipline to practice. So many mornings I wanted to cozy up on my couch and read books or hang out in my kitchen and bake treats.  And so many mornings, I glanced at my ‘Resolve’ frame (where I write my monthly Resolutions, check it out here) and reluctantly dragged myself out the door and into the practice room.  And every day was different.  Sometimes my hips felt supple and sometimes I felt like the Tin Man. Sometimes I found myself dreading the Ashtanga Second Series postures of One-Leg-Behind-the-Head (there are a few of them…) and frustration crept in.  I added a few wrinkles to my forehead trying to yank those ankles behind my neck. (Lame. I’m too young for anything but smile-wrinkles!)

The left leg?  Easy.  The right leg?  A joke.  On an especially balmy day I kept my right leg behind my head for 4 postures in a row (ha! breakthrough! success!) and then the next day I could barely walk, let alone practice asana with ease.  This is lame, I thought. and I gave up.

Literally.  Gave Up.  I watched a few online yoga videos, looked at some Instagram photos of my friends with their legs behind their head, decided that wasn’t going to be me for a decade…and gave up. I stopped being attached to the results.  Basically, I stopped trying to achieve and I started doing yoga.

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i learned this! summer goal accomplished!

Finally, I experienced a breakthrough in July.  It worked!  It stayed!  I was so excited that I’d learned this new pose and met my summer goal that I shared it on social media.

And then I went on a epic journey to Peru (Peru travel-asana pictures can be found here) and I came home and jumped on my mat, feeling rested and excited, and… my hips were frozen in place.  My ego took a huge hit.  Then, slowly, patiently, my ankles tucked behind my head.  On a good day I would be able to find the full expression of this pose, at the expense of my shoulder and poor little neck.  Not yoga.  Just ego and effort, apparently.

So again, I gave up.  I began to surrender.  I read this poem by Herman Hesse and decided I could yield to the changing winds and the energy of the moment, adopting the philosophy of the autumn leaves now adorning my front porch.

“Oh Autumn leaf, be still and yield

When the wind wants to take you away.

Do not resist, be a player in the game.

Surrender to the dancing changes.

Let yourself be broken, seized

And blown to your next home.”

– H. Hesse

 

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yeah, that’s the left leg… but you get the idea

And, unsurprisingly, surrendering worked.  Letting go of my attachment to the result of my practice (which is the phrase from the Bhagavad Gita that I’ve been teaching in my classes recently) actually worked.  Surrendering is possible when my face is soft, my ego is checked, and my body is concentrating on breathing rather than moving.  (Practice what you preach, right?)

I mean, it’s not perfect, and I’ll probably be confronted with the same lesson again in a few months. But it’s getting there.

Most importantly, I learned to surrender: I realized I was gripping my perception of ‘success’ so tightly that my muscles could never surrender and let go.  It’s a humbling question to ask yourself:

What can you surrender?

learn to meditate. your way.

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Most often, students who are new to yoga and meditation are told to simply, “sit there and still your thoughts.”

When I first learned to meditate, my thoughts could only stay still for about 0.03 seconds. I’m a list-maker, a future-organizer, a ruminator, a worrier and a dreamer. Even if my body was still, my mind was anything but.

In my experience, my thoughts don’t completely cease, but they do slow down a little bit after a few moments of meditation. I visualize my neural pathways as cars speeding across interstate overpasses and then very gradually slowing down … consciously choosing a safer, more sustainable, less hurried pace. Still going somewhere, but taking a slower pace with time to enjoy the scenery.

I’ve learned that meditating is an integral part of a holistic yoga practice. The asanas (postures) are performed in order prepare the body for seated meditation. But here’s thing: you don’t just sit there.

Seated meditation is an active process of learning to become attuned to your thoughts with skillful attention. It is the skill of consciously slowing down your thought processes so that you can live a sustainable life and take time to enjoy the scenery along the way.

Learning to meditate doesn’t have to be daunting.

Start Here:


Focus on Your Breath.

Focusing on your breath reaffirms your mind-body connection. Typically, your mind and your body are in two different locations: your body is one place and your mind is elsewhere, trapped in rumination of the past or worries about the future. Your breath is the bridge between a focused, present, mind-body connection.

This 3-part breathing meditation works wonders for stress relief.

Complete Breath Exercise


Enjoy a Relaxing Visualization Practice.

Visualization works wonders. One of my favorite techniques is a Systematic Relaxation Exercise from Dr. Rolf Sovik of the Himalayan Institute called “61 Points of Light.” Most Guided Meditation experiences share the primary aim of total relaxation, so go ahead and lay down in a comfortable place, snuggle in and enjoy 10 stress-free minutes.

61 Points of Light


Listen to a Guided Meditation.

Don’t feel like you can make your thoughts “be still-er” on your own volition? Utilize a guided meditation audio file that you can take with you, wherever you are. Listen and remember that you are here, and this is now.

“I am here, this is now” Meditation

Head to this page on my website for more resources: Guided Meditation


Just Do it.

Don’t worry about doing it correctly or incorrectly.  Start by sitting still for 60 seconds. Appreciate your breath for one minute. Remember that meditation is YOUR practice.

You will find a way to meditate that works well for you and you will find a way that doesn’t work well for you.  If you are learning to sit in stillness, you are learning to trust your own wisdom. Listen to your own insight, and commit to a daily stillness practice.  It will change your life.

“Trust Your Inner Knowing” Meditation


Guided Meditation Teachings

Love these Resources? Consider partnering with Lisa to continue providing valuable teachings that promote hope, health and happiness here:

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2014 svadhyaya reading list (as promised!)

Here it is:  2014 reading list

The niyama svadhyaya implores yoga practitioners to seek wisdom through self-study.  This has two implications:

  1. First, svadhyaya asks you to seek wisdom in written texts.  They should be texts that are personally meaningful to you; anything that is inspiring is appropriate.  The list could include: the Yoga Sutras, texts of world religions such as the Christian Bible or the Hindu Upanishads, ancient poetry of the mystics or contemporary prose of modern poets, self-help books written by respected cultural critics, yoga practice manuals, vegetarian cook-books, or even your own journal.  Any text that inspires introspection will increase your momentum on your spiritual path.
  2. Second, svadhyaya asks you to use your asana (physical) practice as a setting for self-study.  This means that every pose on your mat is an opportunity to find and meet your physical edge, without moving beyond it.  For example, the ability to focus your eyes on your thumbs in utkatasana (chair pose) is a study of your personal will to ‘stick with it even when the going gets tough.’ The avoidance of urdhva dhanurasana (backbending) may disclose deep seated fears which you thought you had previously conquered.  Basically, every time your feet find the mat, you are engaging in self-study.

I challenge you to engage in svadhyaya in 2014 and to dedicate yourself anew to embracing your own spiritual growth.

Many of my students have asked for book recommendations.  So, here’s my 2014 svadhyaya list for you (alphabetical by author), including one favorite quote from each book:

 1.  The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga by Deepak Chopra

“Yoga encourages you to be as familiar with your inner world of thoughts, feelings, memories, desires, and imagination as you are with the outer world of time, space, and causality.  When you can move through both the inner and the outer domains of life with freedom and finesse, you fulfill the highest purpose of yoga.” (p. 97)

 2.  Meditations from the Mat by Rolf Gates

“We show up, we burn brightly in the moment, live passionately, and when the moment is over, when our work is done, we step back and let go.”  (p. 416)

3. Heart Yoga: The Sacred Marriage of Yoga and Mysticism by Andrew Harvey and Karuna Erickson

“The foundation of yoga rests in non-violence (ahimsa) and truth (satya).  Honor yourself by being fully present with compassion and joy, and this will prepare you to enter the deep meditative and transformative states that the practices are designed to engender.  Compassion is the beginning, the means, and the end of heart Yoga…” (p. 18)

 4.  The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

“When [the mind] can rest steady and undistracted in contemplation of the True Self Within, you will be enlightened and completely united in love with the Divine.  This is where yoga reaches its culmination: the merging of individual consciousness in Cosmic Consciousness.  This is nothing less than the goal of life!” (p. 23)

 5. A Life Worth Breathing by Max Strom

“Your spirituality, however you define it, can be infused into your body so that you radiate who you are from your soul—and what you stand for in this world… I am referring to your life purpose, the vision of your soul’s desire.  Once you do this, your mind will begin to see the world in a way that supports that vision.” (p. 28).  

Have another recommendation? I’d love to hear from you!  (My bookcases are pretty full, but I’ve got Christmas gift cards ready to be put to good use.)  Your thoughts are always welcome.

~lisa