Letting go is often referred to as the ultimate journey for any spiritual, awakening and conscious endeavour – yoga practice in all its forms definitely included. But what does it actually mean to let go, what are we letting go of and once we let go, what is left behind?
Most eastern philosophies are concerned with the state of emptiness and therefore their associated practices are to help the student find the liberation (nirvana, moksha) we can experience when we let go of all of that mind stuff. This is why so many people escape to a yoga class today. So much of our lives are dedicated towards doing, that the chance to let go and turn our focus towards our bodies and our breath is a sane port in a storm. But we do run the risk of taking the buzz of our lives into our practice. When the conditioning of our minds has been to keep doing, evaluating and just about hold on, suddenly meeting space can be daunting. Rather than allowing it to seep in and helping us let go, we can resist the vulnerability that space creates. We can hang on to feeling protected by the familiarity of the constant brain chatter.
We are conditioned to think, rather than feel our way through life and it’s no wonder our minds fill up much faster than they are emptying out. As a simple equation we can see that can equate to feeling overwhelmed, even clogged up and at the mercy of the rising tide of mind-hum, brain chatter and that feeling that we’re our own internal narrator. When this seems like a normal state, a connected yoga practice can help us feel and listen to our need for more space and calm in our lives.
A physical yoga practice is designed to create the body awareness – embodiment – that helps us notice our whole body responses to these open or contract intuitive decisions. Our practice is an opportunity to expand and let that body awareness help us simply let go of anything not happening right in that very moment. Feeling full sensation through the body can ground us by simply not needing to latch on to any mind stuff that isn’t about being connected mind and body.
Taking this to class
If you’re going to a yoga class simply for the exercise aspect, consider how your entire health and fitness relies on recovery and bringing down stress levels. Once we open up to meeting our bodies for the full experience, we also release muscle tension and create strength with more ease, as we’re not pushing against and adding to tension. When we arrive at a class, often in a flurry or straight from business mode, this is the setting we bring with us – at that point we have a choice, whether our practice adds to this frenzy or is fully absorbing and allows us to release the tension-forming stuff throughout our lives.
- When you arrive at a class, lie down rather than starting to do. Simply lie down with knees bent, soles of the feet on the floor and hands on your belly to tune in to what you bring with you. Being held by the ground immediately helps promote the safety and calm that can bring you into the present and connecting with your breath lets go know ‘what is’ right now – a great foundation for your practice.
- Resist the urge to get into a practice or solve anything you assess needs to be fixed. Your teacher has a story to lead you through and you will get to the ‘doing’. I’m always most happy to see those students who lie down and prepare to surrender to the practice and the possibilities of what might unfold for them today.
- Pay attention to your out-breath – it’s not more important than the in-breath, but stress does tend to make us inhalation dominant as the more excitory tone of the breath cycle. Balancing out energising with full release on the exhalation is an important emphasis in a modern class. Watch for signs that you breathe in over the end of the out-breath and allow it to go right to its end conclusion, without force.
- Notice what is arising and what is naturally ready to leave. You don’t need to try and let go of anything in particular, we are releasing and letting go naturally on each exhalation, it’s just that our brain frenzy can get in the way. Getting ourselves out of the way means the process can evolve. We often fill space not to feel this as we make be asked to look at difficult stuff, but we can be reassured that all things are moving through and meeting them is part of the process. As Rumi said in his poem The Guest House, “meet them at the door laughing, they may be clearing us out for some new delight.”
- Notice how we move towards sensations we like or deem pleasant (eg poses we are good at or feel easy) and move away from the opposite, more unwanted experiences. To let go is to release anything that arises, the nice and the not so – as soon as we attach to a feeling or thought, it has already passed. Open-mindedness means letting go of the past to be able to be in the present moment and not needing to judge whether any experience is ‘good or bad’.
- Find classes where you have the room and space to feel these opportunities to let go. Advancing in yoga is not becoming bendier, but letting go of the striving and the need to get anywhere at all.