In three separate classes recently I noticed a collective chuckle that rippled through the room when I mentioned letting go of 2017 to make way for a new and fabulous 2018. This chuckle (of course, ‘yogic-ly’ released on an exhale) was so full of meaning: what a turbulent year for so many – both personally and globally. This chuckle was a titter, a snicker, a sound of release filled with, “heck yeah”, “oh lord”, “you ain’t kidding”, and “please, can we?”. After acknowledging the depth of the desire to let go of the crazy ride 2017 revealed itself to be – with all its societal, political and environmental upheavals – I revisited the need for letting go with a few practical yogic tools and techniques.
What does it mean to ‘let go’?
In ‘The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching’, Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.”
To cling to anything, to not let go out of fear of the unknown, encourages inevitable pain and suffering. When we cling to an old emotion, an old pattern, or an old relationship, we encourage a deep-rooted sense of possessiveness, breeding the experience of isolation and separateness (which is the complete opposite of yoga’s sacred essence of union). In our clinging, our grasping of old, unnecessary and essentially dead experiences, we are not allowing ourselves the space and the freedom to experience something new, fresh and ALIVE.
4 Letting go practices
Is it possible to actually let go of old and unnecessary emotions, feelings, habits and people? And if so, how? Here are four practices to invite into your life if you are holding onto to someone or something that no longer serves you.
In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali we have a word to describe the practice of non-clinging: Aparigraha. This fifth yama (five moral restraints for daily life) is defined as “non-attachment”, “non-grasping”, “non-coveting”, and “non-hoarding”. Most often this yama is discussed and practised as pertaining to non-attachment or non-hoarding of physical/material objects. Aparigraha can also be the practice of non-attachment to feelings, behaviors, patterns and people. It is the practice of letting go of both physical and non-physical things that are old, unnecessary, and standing in our way of us experiencing deep freedom and profound peace.
2. Replacement therapy: Positive thoughts for negative thoughts
In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras there is another practical tool for letting go: replacement therapy! In the second chapter (yoga sutra 2.33) Patanjali writes, “Vitarka-badhane pratipaksha-bhavanam” (When disturbed by negative thoughts, cultivate the opposite mental attitude).
Replacing negative thoughts and feelings with positive thoughts and feelings…brilliant! Of course, easier said than done but with diligent practise…totally doable! When you find yourself spinning around some old negative thought pattern (feelings of anger, resentment, disappointment, etc.) simply shift gears and think about something positive, happy, refreshing, and peaceful.
Mantra works wonders for this practice of cultivating the opposite. In my life I have been called to work with two different mantras. When I am out and about in my daily life, the Sanskrit mantra from Tibetan Buddhism “Om Mani Padme Hum” serves me well. This healing mantra helps me out of an inherently analytical and judgmental mind of separateness into a unifying heart-mind of compassion and peace. At night, while in the process of falling asleep, the mantra “So Hum” (inhaling “so” which means I AM and exhale “hum” which means THAT) is so very beneficial, especially during those nights when I am caught up in a cyclical pattern of thinking, planning or worrying. Both of these mantras have been incredibly helpful in replacing negative thought patterns and emotions with positive ones.
- Wisdom Mantra class – try this grounding class with Tashi Dawa to invite a smooth mind space using an age-old Buddhist mantra Om Mani Padme Hum.
3. Drop it like a hot potato
Upon reading the article “The Art of Letting Go” on Bernie Clarke’s yin yoga website I found a sentence that I immediately fell in love with: “One cannot try to let go; one needs only to let go”. This reminds me of my very good friend and mentor Vidya Heisel’s advice, “Drop it like a hot potato”. In essence, that which you are holding on to, that old story that is holding you back from living in your fullest truth and most profound peace, simply drop it like a hot potato and be here now – in all your radiant glory. It’s as easy as that. Decide. Let it go.
I shared this ‘drop it like a hot potato’ concept today in class with an asana-inspired exercise. I had my students hold a block between their knees in Supported Bridge (a second block underneath the sacrum with feet on the floor). While squeezing the block between their knees I had them pick an old feeling they are still holding onto (an unpleasant experience that they just can’t seem to let go of). I had them squeeze and really feel that negative thought or emotion. And then, when they felt they were ready, I told them to drop it like a hot potato (and drop the block between the knees). It was so wonderful to hear that chuckle of relief ripple through the room.
4. Idam Na Mama: “This is not mine”
Agnihotra is a sweet and simple healing fire from the ancient system of Ayurveda. Lit in the morning and in the evening, and with the addition of mantra, it helps to purify all that is not ours. Recently I have been adding the intention of Agnihotra to my morning meditation and morning Sun Salutations. I begin by lighting a candle and sitting with the small candle fire, listening to and reciting the following healing mantra:
The meaning of this mantra is, “To the sun I offer this offering. This is not mine, this is yours.”
After I sit awhile with the mantra I then practise 6 to 12 Sun Salutations holding this same letting go intention in my heart’s mind. I let go of what is not mine, that which never was to cling to as my own. Powerful stuff! It is with so much gratitude I feel I have let go of a lifetime of accumulated disappointment, resentment and anger with the help of these letting go practices. I am excited to head into my new year light, happy and FREE!!!
Love and all best wishes for 2018