Found in Translation: Surrender

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Osaka, Japan. More than one month down, less than one month to go.

Being in Japan, wandering the streets, unable to access the overabundance of information, which translates into–for a foreigner like myself, anyway–white noise, reminds me of Bill Murray in Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation.” How he navigates Tokyo with a charming sort of disconnect.

Despite the language barrier, teaching here, reminds me how universal the language of yoga is. And thank goodness, because my embarrassingly rudimentary Japanese just barely includes instructions on breath and straightening knees.

My moments of Lost In Translation, well, they’re not too bad. If anything, they’ve been great opportunities for greater understanding .

Two weeks ago, during Satsang, we looked at the word “surrender”–quite possibly one of the most overused and often misunderstood words that pours forth from the mouths of yoga teachers. I admit, I am a fan of this word! It works so well at capturing the spirit of letting go, of relaxing into the moment.

In Japan, however, the word doesn’t translate so well.

Telling a Japanese student to surrender can be a little confusing, especially when it translates to “kofuku” or “to give up fighting.” Translated thus, surrendering seems like a strange suggestion. Give up?! But why?!

Another word, I’ve been told, that fits better is “yutaneru,” which means “to let it go.” In the yoga context it is the letting go of our tension and of our expectations and attachments; it is allowing for flow.

In Satsang that Friday, I explained that surrendering is letting go of the ideas and the patterns that do not serve us–that we give up, not a fight, but all the things that limit us, that keep us from expanding.

Truth: understanding surrender isn’t easy for any culture, for any person. We all have our holding patterns. It hasn’t been easy for me personally either. Surrendering is a constant challenge; and learning it has been at the core of my own yoga practice and life journey. Maybe that’s why student/teachers like myself keep going back to it. We know that’s what needs to be done, we also know that it’s pretty damn hard to really do it. We are all just learning.

I always remind myself that surrendering (like yoga) is a process. It’s not about achieving an end goal, but just allowing ourselves to embody the action, allowing ourselves to let go little by little and to flow more and more. Like Guruji said, “Practice, practice all is coming.”


Grateful for the lessons in surrender here in Japan. Thank you to teacher and fab assistant Tomomi Takeuchi for sharing her spot-on translation of “surrender” in Japanese. 

PHOTO: Gion Matsuri, Kyoto, Japan.

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Sky Is the Limit

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Often, we look at practice as a physical form. We are in the body. We perceive ourselves in both our expanding abilities and our physical limits.

We get stuck, more often than not, in the asana and we identify with the boundaries of our body. We frustrate ourselves. And that “stuckness” spreads into our mind and into our hearts.

We forget that the real challenge is not within the body but to go beyond the body. That true expansion comes through self-compassion, love and acceptance, by learning that the so-called limits of the body are lessons for the soul and the spirit. That going deep within is as much a journey of expanding outside ourselves, breaking down all the walls of separation. 

Like the photo above, the practice is seeing beyond the limits. It is seeing the sky that goes on and on and on…and being struck by the wonder and miracle of it as it transforms dramatically moment to moment.

PHOTO: Sunsets, a beautiful metaphor of the unending cycle that is life and practice, always amazes me. Kyoto, Japan. 

Blooming Lotus

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When we look at a lotus in bloom, we see its beauty, its color in full flush, its petals open, flowering out of a sea of green, so serene, so quietly majestic.

We forget sometimes that it has had its own journey. That it was once a seed in the mud, obscured from our vision. How it has traveled and grown in murky water, how it has sought out sunlight, which called it from shadowy depths, until it peeked out into the surface and breathed its first full breath. How it emerged, a tight bulb, before it unfurled its petals, and shone its light into the world.

Perhaps a lotus does not know the meaning of struggle, that it knows and is fully in harmony with its nature and the nature of the world it lives in, that it accepts itself in every stage.

We humans are not so. We are both keenly aware of life’s journey and caught up in our ideas of an end goal. We look towards how things “should be” rather than embracing how things are. And in that space, we create tension.

Sometimes, we want to perform postures, asanas, as if we were a lotus in full bloom, forgetting that practice, like life, is a process. And when it doesn’t look as it should, we get disappointed.

There are many stages in the life of a lotus. Regardless of whether it is a seedling in the mud, a bud in the murky water, a flower in its fullness or at its decaying end, it’s essence is the same. Everything comes in stages, the cycle of life and death is inevitable.

The question is not how do we blossom into fullness but rather how do we embrace the fullness in each every stage?–in our lives as well as in our practice.

PHOTO: An image can say so many things. I’ve already used this photo–just yesterday–to illustrate the Yama “Satya” for Lara Land’s All Eight Limbs project on Instagram. Looking at it this morning, it conveyed new message. Happy to receive. Happy to share. Lotus blooming at Tenryu-Ji Zen Buddhist Temple in Kyoto, Japan.