What does it mean to let go? It can be physical or it can be emotional. It can be a broad generalization or it can be something specific. It can be easy or it can be extremely difficult. It can happen in a moment or it can take a lifetime. But the space created when we let go of something that does not serve us, whether it is mind, body or spirit, is the gift. That space becomes opportunity.
The ability to let go begins with the recognition of what you can and can’t control. This takes me back to the concept of surrendering to chaos in a sense. Whether it is tension in the body that can be overcome with the breath, a preoccupation in the mind, a fear to deepen a pose for risk of physical pain or injury, or ridding your life of a toxic relationship, yoga continues to teach me daily not only how important it is to let go, but also how available it is if we are in tune and aware.
Often cued in classes I teach, as well as take, is the phrase “breathe into any areas of tightness.” A good example for me personally is during any forward bend in the early part of class. I have tight hamstrings, which can make these postures excruciating some days. Ganga White in “Yoga Beyond Belief,” cites this power with the following: “You will find that directing the breath to a location actually works to relax and release it. Using your attention to literally send and feel healing energy and prana move to the place in need relaxes and releases tensions there. This concept is not just a metaphor but a fact, even physically. Oxygen, which is part of the breath, reaches every part of the body. You actually can breathe into your toes.” (p. 66) Another of my favorite cues is a follow up to this idea, and that is the more we relax into a pose, the easier it will become. By focusing, using my breath in this fashion, I’ve found greater softening and lengthening in my hamstrings.
As a completely random side note, but further evidence how yoga has enhanced my life off the mat, I re-acquired the hobby of knitting about six months ago, after being away from it for several years. A bi-product of my consistent yoga practice, mindful breathing enables me to identify tension in my shoulders or awareness that I am knitting too tightly, and the ability to quickly correct and release that tension.
The tension released in my physical body led me to release tensions in the heart, mind and spirit. Another group of yoga postures that grant me the gift of letting go are back bending, heart-opening poses. They have become my favorites as my spinal flexibility improves, the backbends deepen, and as a result tensions and burdens in my heart center are released. Deeply inhaling to identify a source of tightness or tension in the body, to be rewarded on the exhale by feeling that area relax even if just a little, taught me to let go of that which does not serve my life.
I’m not suggesting that letting go of something is an easy exercise. As I brainstormed my ideas for this post I realized there is far too much territory to cover at once. A good place to start is with the physical body and how that can transfer to life off the mat. Utilize that concentration and intentional breath work to allow flexibility in the body to lead to flexibility in the mind. Recognize this may not be a linear path, physically or emotionally, and you are on your way.