A word we hear a lot in yoga is “surrender.” I’m fairly type-A: very driven, often ambitious, hard-working, frequently stubborn, and of the firm believe that if I work at it enough, I can have it all. Needless to say, “surrendering” is not an easy concept for me. But there are two sides to this dilemma, because there is a very fine line between surrendering what you cannot control and becoming complacent.

My background is in Ashtanga (one of the more physically intense forms of yoga, it was invented in Mysore to get raucous schoolboys to calm down) and the only type of “surrendering” we really do is at the end of a practice after we’ve expended all of our energy, and perhaps in a few downward dogs in between. In the past few months, I’ve been studying with a wider variety of teachers and experiencing different styles. I’ve also been reading a lot more Eastern philosophy. For some reason, the word “surrender” keeps coming back to me.

Cease resistance to an enemy or opponent and submit to their authority.

By definition, this is not an attractive word (I don’t know about you, but I would rather be triumphant or victorious) – but hearing it spoken in the right concept makes it sound graceful. At the end of a yoga class, “surrendering” to what you cannot control is certainly a noble goal. But I think it takes a lot of struggle to be able to appreciate this type of surrender without becoming complacent.

Yoga should never hurt – but shouldn’t there be a challenge? Restorative classes are certainly valuable, but if we spent all day lying on bolsters we wouldn’t really get anywhere. At the same time, just doing the Ashtanga series day in and day out probably wouldn’t put us in a great place either. If we’re constantly in a state of surrender and never strive to advance, it becomes complacency – but if we’re constantly moving, we can never really find peace. Like anything else, surrendering is about balance.

And what about life in general – do you just let it be and deal with it, or do you fight until you get your way? To me, that depends whether the cause of your unhappiness is something beyond your control. If you’re grieving over a loss, fighting probably won’t solve anything. But if you’re stuck in a job, relationship, or even just have a habit you don’t like, is surrendering really the best option? The way I see it, surrender is really a shift in perception rather than an act. When dealing with a loss, don’t surrender to depression and angst – but surrender to the fact that a major shift has occurred, and then you can move on. If there’s something in your life that doesn’t make you happy and you can’t make yourself enjoy it no matter what – don’t surrender to misery by subjecting yourself to it, but surrender that something needs to change and then take action.

Surrendering does mean “ceasing resistance,” but it does not mean that it is the end – it’s just a shift in perception that allows us to release what no longer serves us so we can see more clearly into the future.