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My Tip for a Sane, Happy Life: Breathe. Surrender. Repeat.

What does surrender look like to you? Do you have a snapshot in your head from a moment of surrender that you’ve recently experienced?

I have one from a family trip to London recently. Now, my story is going to be from the mom perspective. But I think this little foray into yoga philosophy can be helpful to anyone living in our modern media-driven world.

In April, Sofia and I joined Jason while he did the first of three teacher trainings this year at triyoga. This meant three-weeks of full-time Mom duty with a jet-lagged two-and-a-half year old. There were so many amazing firsts on this trip and moments I hope I’ll never forget. Then….there were some mother-daughter moments I wish I could permanently delete from the cache.

Like everyone, I find parenting challenging. One of the most difficult aspects is not having any control over how my days will go. Will she be sweet and happy? Or will she suddenly throw herself screaming onto the ground in the Tube because her princess sunglasses “make it too dark in here” and I didn’t take them off fast enough?

Then there’s the issue of not getting “done” what I used to get done. I spent a decade working at a magazine where deadlines and calendars were planned a year in advance. I laugh so hard when I think back to the days I got to tick things off of my to-do list with satisfaction. I often feel like there is a major backlog in my brain…There are days when I feel like my to-do list is literally eating my brain, people!

But when I’m being the type of parent I hope to be, I’m present and creative and attuned to her needs. I’m guiding this little being whose brain and body and emotional skills are developing a mile a minute. I have to be resourceful and model emotional control because she doesn’t have it yet (nor should she). The only way for me to tap into those qualities is the willingness surrender my agenda.

While we were in London, when I started obsessing about getting to the museum early enough to beat the crowds or how I hadn’t done yoga in 10 days or when she stood up in the stroller and promptly fell out, I tapped into my yoga superpower: ‘Breathe in. Breathe out. Surrender,’ I’d say over and over to myself. (I’ll admit, it was not unlike Costanza shouting “Serenity now!” Which made me laugh. And laughing is always good.)


So, let’s talk a little bit about what surrender means in yoga. Before I did yoga, the word surrender had a negative connotation – it meant to give up. To quit. To submit. But yoga subverts the whole concept. According to Yoga Sutra I.12, surrender is a requirement of a balanced practice and a calm mind. In The Essence of Yoga, Bernard Bouanchaud transliterates this sutra as follows:

Control over the mind’s fluctuations comes from persevering practice and nonattachment.”

To unpack that a bit, we persevere and make great efforts in our physical yoga practice to help hone our focus, which calms the mind. But incorporating surrender (Bouanchaud uses the words “dispassion” and nonattachment), is equally as important. It creates freedom, he says.

I have to agree. To me, surrender doesn’t mean to give up; it means to allow. When I surrender, I allow things to be as they are. And when I do that, everything happens more easily, more naturally, and with a whole lot less mental chatter.

Years ago, I edited a piece about surrender for Yoga Journal by one of my all-time favorite teachers and writers Richard Rosen. Here’s part of his interpretation of the sutra:

“Abhyasa [effort] and vairagya [surrender] are often compared to the wings of a bird, and every yoga practice must include equal measures of these two elements to keep it aloft: the persistent effort to realize the goal, which is always self-understanding, and a corresponding surrender of worldly attachments that stand in the way.

Again, you need both wings to be working equally to keep the bird aloft. Surrender isn’t about giving up at all; it’s an active way to keep your practice alive. Without it, you can’t fly.

Similarly, with my daughter, surrender isn’t giving up or letting her have her way. It’s a tool to help me be more present. The word is a cue for me to pause and listen without joining in the fray. Instead of resisting the situation that she’s presented me with, surrender helps me tune in and try to understand her before pushing on with my agenda. Then, I can make a decision about how to respond from a calm place, not a crazy place. This is key for me in terms of mothering the way I hope to. (And believe me, I don’t always get it right, but that’s another story.)

Of course, surrender is exponentially more difficult when I am trying to accomplish something or get us somewhere. When I have an expectation or a need for things to move in a linear way—and let’s face it, from time to time we do have to get somewhere on time or get a task accomplished – surrender is so hard. But, no one ever said that incorporating ancient spiritual concepts into your daily life was easy – am I right?

And when I can tune into toddler, non-linear, imaginative time and space really and truly surrender, I have the most magical times with her. Life becomes so vivid, so full. Yes, my pre-kid life was much more achievement-oriented, and now I don’t know what’s going to happen from the beginning to the end of one day. And yet. I picture it in my mind like this: My pre-kid life was a straight city street where I walked past grey buildings with my head down from point A to point B. My life with Sofia is like a windy path through a canopy of trees and we try to stop and see every leaf.

What does surrender look like to you? Do you have a snapshot in your head of a moment where, perhaps, you used all of those years of yoga practice to transform time and space into something utterly sublime instead of heading down a path to disaster? I would really love to know, so add a comment if this post reminded you of one.

This is what surrender looks like to me:

London Surrender Collage


  1. Insightful and beautifully written as always. You will get a lot of practice surrendering your agenda! Twenty years on and two children in my life and I am still surrendering my agenda. Still haven’t aced it – a life-long practice

  2. Thanks for putting into words and giving a perspective on what so many of us experience. Twelve + hour flights and jet lagged little ones are sooo hard on us parents. I make no plans for the first 2 days (Euro/US) jetlag and try to get the bubba back on schedule. It seems to work mostly well after that. We spent the entire way to the US (from France) last time trying and failing to get the little one to sleep like he normally does. Nightmare. The way back, we gave in and gave up and played with him for 10 hours and it was so much more fun for all of us.

    1. The long flights are tough. And, yes, I get her new toys and promise as much ice cream as she wants to get through it! No shame 🙂

  3. Hi Andrea! First, I want to tell you how much I am enjoying and getting out of your posts. Great, real-life insights on the important lessons of our yoga practice. As for surrender, sometimes mine looks like a 20 minute yoga practice. I’m a student and teacher, so I spend a lot of time in the yoga world. At times I get caught up in the complexities of the practice – the physical demand, the nuances, being a thoughtful and purposeful teacher. But what I really love about yoga is that the most simple things I’ve learned have been the most transformative. A couple of weeks ago I had a long day, couldn’t fit in my usual practice and was on yogaglo looking for a class for the next day. Happened upon a 20 minute “afternoon pick me up” class by Jason and decided to do it. I surrendered my need for a practice to be a certain way, did it with the only intention of feeling better and was honestly amazed at how I felt after. Transformed. It’s something I might tell a student, a little bit of yoga can do great things, but I don’t often take that advice myself. I’m grateful to have teachers who know the value in teaching simple but impactful lessons. And am surprised at how often I need reminding of them:) Thanks again for your great posts.

  4. Hi Kate! I love it! Thanks so much for sharing your moment of surrender. A great reminder to me to value the days when my practice is short.

  5. Ohh.. Thanks Andrea for put into words so many sensations. I love the analogy with the bird wings!I am still in pre-kids life, so my world is highly related to professional achievements and agenda. Two main important surrender moments: The first was to cope with the fact that not everything is in my hands to make everything works. The second to liberate more the agenda and find the time to do things that I really love like running, yoga or papercrafts. Now, I really enjoy to discover the shape of every three leaf in my way. Thanks!!

    1. I loooove that analogy, too. It has always stayed with me. Thanks for sharing thoughts from your life with me, too!

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