"Let go" is a commonly repeated phrase in many yoga classes. It may be uttered when the teacher settles us down for relaxation, or when we're in the hardest posture we can imagine...
Expressions of this phrase are often vague, with little or no guidance on what this 'letting go' means or how to do it. This can allow us to open up to the moment and feel for ourselves what is. But how do we do this?
The struggle with letting go
Over the last year I've experienced varying levels of anxiety. Sometimes the anxiety has allowed me to live normally but at other times it’s been more difficult. At certain points, if someone had said to me "let go", I can pretty much guarantee it would have done anything but calm me down. When someone says it to you and you’re in a heightened emotion (like anxiety) you may feel misunderstood, as if your feelings are being simplified. Everything can feel so complex in the midst of anxiety that it’s almost an insult to hear someone say it.
However, through this year-long battle, I’ve learnt that letting go isn’t said to insult anyone. It isn't meant to cause resistance. It’s important to be mindful, stay calm and remember that there's no rush to let go. There’s no 'standard' amount of time that it takes; each person is different and will get there at their own pace.
Let go in your own time
Letting go isn't meant to be easy. It’s a long process that can be accomplished through dedicated yoga practice. The more we practise, the more the mind becomes still. So when it explodes with something like anxiety, we are better able to cope with it. We might have a hectic mind but a steady practice will allow it to become quieter more quickly. I have found it useful to take my time and be patient with it. When in Savasana I will lay there for as long as it takes for my mind to slow down. We shouldn’t view letting go as something that happens instantly. Part of letting go is the process we take to get there.
We shouldn’t view letting go as something that happens instantly. Part of letting go is the process we take to get there.
Hear past the phrase to understand it deeply
It’s fundamentally just two words. But these two words can mean something different to me than they do to you. In its basic form 'let go' could mean relax the entire body, allowing the mind to do as it pleases while you try and focus on your breath. In this case, the desire may be to have a mind that is focused on only one thing. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali one of the first verses (verse 1.2) is “Yogas citta vritti nirodhah” meaning “Yoga is the restriction of the fluctuations of consciousness." The more often we practise this skill, the quicker we can quiet the mind and bring it to the one pointed focus that helps to keep us calm. As with all skills, though, it takes time and can’t be forced.
Sometimes ‘letting go’ doesn’t mean 'relax'; sometimes it means 'experience your emotion or thought in full'. It can be about being completely present with your uncomfortable thoughts or it could mean diving so deeply into them, that it scares you stiff.
With that presence, you’ve learnt to let go in entirely the opposite way from how people imagine you can. For example, with my anxiety I can use the process of relaxation to feel free from it or sometimes what I really need to do is feel the physiological response of my body, watch my thought pattern and notice how I feel in that moment. With this, a realisation can happen that what I’m experiencing is temporary and usually linked to something insignificant. As soon as I realise this, that sense of release happens in exactly the same way it would have if I’d practiced a relaxation technique like Savasana which is designed to calm the parasympathetic nervous system.
Your thoughts don't define you
Yoga is about realising we are part of something much bigger than skin, bones, senses and desires. We are all one and the same. We are made of star stuff. Whether you have a religious or spiritual side to your practice or not, that fact is amazing. There is no denying we are connected deeply to the universe we live in.
Yoga is about realising we are part of something much bigger than skin, bones, senses and desires. We are all one and the same. We are made of star stuff.
So, if yoga is about realising we are bigger than our body, surely we can come to realise that our thoughts do not define us. We aren’t as simple as that. We all have a soul in search of higher things. Those thoughts that stop us in our tracks and produce a massive physiological response are not us, but a small part of us. They are not the real 'Us'. When we understand this, we can become more aware of ourselves and our thought processes. We can ‘let go’ more easily, knowing that clinging to things we think define us isn't healthy. We could be focusing on the bigger part of ourselves.
For me, having completely empty mind is not the aim of ’letting go’. Sometimes we can ‘let go’ but still have thoughts running through our heads. However, if we’re in a state of physical relaxation, it brings us one step closer towards a clearer mind. And if the body is relaxed, the mind will soon follow.
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About the author:
Kat Bayly is a yoga teacher based in Frome, Somerset, UK. She completed her yoga teacher training in Goa, India, with the Yogaprema School of Yoga. She runs weekly classes in Frome, is a guest teacher for Yogaprema and enjoys writing about all things yoga on her blog.