Posted by: Bruce Black | October 1, 2017

Surrendering to a pose

What does it mean to surrender to a pose? In most cases, the word suggests defeat, giving up, giving in, and holds negative connotations. Before I heard the word surrender used in yoga classes, I’d never thought of surrendering as an option. Just the opposite: never surrender! That was what I’d learned in school from studying history. No American general or soldier wanted to surrender. John Paul Jones refused to surrender. Once captured as a spy, Nathan Hale remained defiant, refusing to surrender his spirit, even if his body was in British hands.

But on our yoga mats we’re encouraged to surrender to a pose. What does it mean to surrender yet not feel defeated? How can anyone surrender to a pose? Is the pose the enemy? Does yoga try to “conquer” us, vanquish us? Is it only a matter of time before we’re overwhelmed and can’t help surrendering? If surrendering is such a good thing, such a positive force in our lives, then why do most of us learn just the opposite: avoid surrendering at all costs?

The implication isn’t just that if you surrender, you’ll suffer the embarrassment and indignity of defeat. You’ll lose the power you possess to exert your will and make choices. You’ll lose your power, in other words, to control your own destiny. It’s as if in the act of surrender, you surrender your future and have to accept the decisions and choices of the victor. No longer are you the one to create or choose the rules by which you will live.

But in a yoga pose such as Downward Dog, there is no victor, no vanquished, only the pose in that moment, the mat, and your palms and toes pressing into the mat, trying to move deeper into the pose. You may encounter resistance to going deeper. A calf muscle may tighten, an Achilles’ tendon may scream in pain, a shoulder may throb. These physical sensations may serve as impediments, obstacles that may defeat you, or, rather, may keep you from moving more completely into the full expression of the pose.

How can you move past these obstacles? How can you become one—body, mind, and soul—on the mat so that you can explore the pose more deeply? If you fight back against pain or throbbing muscles or tight ligaments, you will cause only more pain, more tightness, more throbbing. Resistance in this instance is futile. But surrendering to the pain, the tightness, the throbbing, allows you to soften in the pose. Resistance melts away once you stop resisting. If you accept where you are in the moment, with or without pain, with or without tightness or throbbing, you can begin to see past the pain and tightness to the pose itself.

When we surrender to the pose, we are not defeated. Surrendering lets us feel ourselves in the flow of an energy source so much more powerful than our own, linked to ours, and at the same time helping us reach beyond our own.

In the end, we aren’t surrendering to an opponent. We are learning how to surrender to our deepest self.

Journal Practice: Can you think of surrendering not as relinquishing power but rather as a way of tapping into a more powerful source of energy? What if surrendering is like letting yourself fall into a river and feeling the current carry you downstream? Can you let the pose carry you downstream instead of trying to swim against it? What if you give into the current flowing through your life? Can you let go and surrender to the way life unfolds beyond your control? Can you learn in surrendering how to accept what happens in the flow instead of protesting or complaining or grumbling or griping? Instead of being upset that life never lives up to your expectations, perhaps you can re-examine your expectations and decide how closely the expectations reflect reality or distort it? Are you able to you surrender to the flow of life beneath your expectations? Can you feel the flow of energy? Can you let yourself surrender to it? Write: 10 min.



  1. A great reminder. Thanks, Bruce.

    • Thanks, Lyn. So glad you found it worthwhile.

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