When I was teaching yoga regularly, the classes often began with an invitation to surrender. I would encourage the students to leave their cares and concerns outside of the room with their shoes. As we gathered on the mats, we were “to let go of our worries with each exhale.”
It seemed so easy — until I became a student again.
I spent this past Tuesday on a monthly Pastor’s Prayer Retreat, a day when I seclude myself in order to pray for both personal needs and requests submitted by parishioners. The six hours spent in prayer were enlivening yet challenging, and I was grateful for the Spirit’s guidance in this time away. The day concluded by attending a community yoga class, a time for me to unwind.
But there was one concern that I just couldn’t shake. There was one person I couldn’t “leave outside the room” or “let go with an exhale.” Why couldn’t I just surrender? I started silently singing the hymn, “I Surrender All,” and quickly discovered that ALL is a heavy three-letter word. I could give up almost all — but not all. I found myself frustrated as I moved into the practice. As soon as I would settle into a pose, the need would resurface in the forefront of my mind.
There is great struggle in surrender. The five verses of Judson Van Deventer’s well-loved hymn may be melodic, but the lyrics are not a hand-holding humming of “Kum Bah Yah.” These words come from a heart desperate to trust. The song was born from Van Deventer’s own struggle to choose his vocation, and most of us who sing it have some part of “all” with which we’re in conflict. It’s easy to preach, “let go and let God.” But it’s hard actually to do so. Some part of “all” crawls on the yoga mats of life with us.
And the good news is: it’s okay. It’s okay if we don’t surrender “all” by the time we get to the last verse of the hymn. It’s okay if we are slow to loosen our grip. It’s okay if the burdens linger. Perhaps there is a lesson to learn in slow surrender, as I experienced on the yoga mat.
In one particular pose, I was comfortable yet challenged with my hands lifted overhead. The concern returned to my mind. Instead of getting frustrated, I looked up at my hands, raised as if holding an offering.
“I surrender this person to you,” I whispered. My breath deepened. I relaxed.
We moved into the next pose that called for us to turn our hearts upward.
“I surrender this person to you,” I prayed again. More relaxation.
I repeated this prayer, relaxing more each time, until we did handstands. Then my petition suddenly became, “Lord, don’t let me fall on my head!” Yoga had become a visual prayer that enabled me to practice what I preach. Surrender was possible, but it took time, effort, and intentional release.
By the end of class, the concern was still on my mind, but I had begun letting go. I had begun surrendering. I was trusting more than I did before. And sometimes that’s all we can do.
Read more from Darian Duckworth at her blog.