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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Letting Go

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I am walking down from one of the short walks (Camino de San Miguel) right off the monastery in Montserrat, at the top of which is a crucifix overlooking the Basilica and Monastery, when I see the embellished trash bin. It makes me smile, this bit of graffiti.

Practice is like this. We all have our crosses. We bear these things, carrying it laboriously up the mountain. And then we mount them, making them into monuments of our suffering, reminders of our sacrifice–which is, to a point, fine, when it’s all part of a process.

Because we must eventually come down from these peaks and return to where we and others live. And when we do, we must ask ourselves, is there more to leave behind, what subtle energy or feeling is piggyback riding its way down with me?

Up or down, this road of surrender is not easy, but it is also littered with opportunities to let go, to throw away that which is no longer necessary, and to lighten the load on the long walk home.

The Energetic Room

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There are different factors that make up the energy of a mysore space: the attitude of the students, the number of practitioners, the architecture of the room, the artwork and accoutrements. Even the other uses for the space outside of class hours can contribute to the feel of a room, what vibe it gives. Then, there’s the teacher.

Over the last few years, I’ve spent a good chunk of time practicing in a too-crowded room so hot that steam collects on the windows and ceiling. I love it, practicing alongside die-hard ashtangis, beginner or advanced practitioners, devoted enough to take time out of their lives to travel to a small city in India to practice with one teacher.

The shala in Mysore has history. The students that go bring a lot into the mix. But it’s teacher Sharath Jois who is the lynchpin, it is his energy that directs the practice and facilitates these mental and physical shifts. Sharath, grandson of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and director of KPJAYI, holds the space–quietly, powerfully, and beautifully.

Even in a smaller scale, this is true. These months, traveling and teaching, stepping into other teachers’ existing mysore programs and spaces has been very interesting in that respect.

Each teacher imparts a certain quality to their students’ practice. Everyone has a unique teaching style, varied experience and their own vast wealth of knowledge. Each teacher has a distinct personality that feed into first their personal practice then their teaching. The teacher’s hand is visible in the practices of their students.

And then when a visiting teacher, like myself, comes into the mix, I notice it brings a shift too. New ideas get introduced and there is a different focus on techniques and methodologies. A new teacher comes with a fresh set of eyes, and a whole different way of seeing things. But even more important than the details that come with teaching, it’s the new energy in the room that propels the practice. It is a total sum of yoga and life experiences (one’s yoga journey, consistency of self practice, life style/life choices, struggles and victories, love for the practice itself, etc…) that holds the space, that directs the efforts and energies in the room.

It’s exciting, the things, the events, the people that move the practice. I know that when I go and when Iman “Amy” Elsherbiny returns to her students after months of deep and soulful studying in Mysore, she too will have a renewed and vibrant energy to share with her students.

It is so subtle and surprising this relationship between teachers and students. There’s a lot of magic between transmission of teaching.

I feel particularly blessed teaching now because I recognize that the relationship is a two way street, as I am equally nourished by the effort, dedication and love that students put into their practice. Their movements, their internal and external shifts, inform my own understanding of ashtanga yoga.

Photo: Start of evening mysore at Ashtanga Yoga Cairo in Zamalek.