Owner, Cascade Yoga Studio
“Wherever you are attached, there you will go.” Kirpal Singh
One of my dear friends is extremely devoted to her Lenten practice. Every year she puts serious consideration into what she will sacrifice or add to her life. One year she drank nothing but water; no caffeine, no pop, no alcohol. Over the years she has worked with many habits, lifestyles and longings in order to deepen her faith.
As yogi’s, a big part of our practice is the cultivation of letting go. In order to surrender parts of ourselves, which could be stunting our spiritual growth, it is necessary to investigate what we are attached to. In yogic philosophy non-attachment is one of the 5 Yama’s (restraints) called aparigraha, and it translates as non-possessiveness, or non-clinging. These attachments which bind us, could be material objects, experiences, excessive yin, excessive yang, agenda’s, roles, judgments, toxic thoughts, values, people, identifications, sensory stimulation, the stories we tell ourselves, expectations, emotions, food, work, alcohol, drugs…..the list is of course, endless.
Some claim that ashima or non-violence is the primary yama, while others make the case that cravings or attachments are at the root of all other yama’s. “ Rolf Sovik, PsyD, president of the Himalayan Institute in Buffalo, NY says, “Craving—imbalanced desire—is the great challenge in life. Its symptoms are the willingness to harm, to lie, to steal, to over-indulge, and to mistakenly possess. It is not that the Yama’s are commandments, but that they are clues to recognizing craving, as well as the antidote to it in its various forms. If I am lying, I must be attached to something. But what? And what will life be without that attachment?”
My father, who has a major in philosophy, went to great lengths to make sure that his children and grandchildren were grateful for their blessings and not become overly desirous of things. While the tactics may have been unorthodox and sometimes strange, his intentions were good. When my kids were little, he would take them to Toys-R-Us and march them up and down the aisles, just so that he could say “No, you can’t have that.” They left the store empty handed and my father “bequeathed” to his heirs, this little lesson of “non-attachment”.
Tias Little, yoga and meditation teacher from Santa Fe, speaks often of the attachments to moments. We preference certain moments over others. We desire the pleasant ones and avert the unpleasant ones. We tend to lose our anchoring to the present moment because we may be eager for the next one.
This disconnect could happen because something unpleasant may be arising in this moment and so we disassociate. The training of our yoga and sitting practice allows difficult emotions or thought patterns to arise and be ok with them. Rumi wrote that the wound is the place where light enters.
It is challenging when things from our personal history are unearthed, and the recognition that life is in a constant state of flux, can offer support. When we can deeply understand that change is occurring in our natural world as well as our interior landscape, then it becomes easier to loosen our grip on what will inherently ebb and flow.
We can take comfort that the “struggle” is simply a changing phenomenon, which will not last.
Turning our attention inward through meditation or a contemplative yoga practice will enable us to require fewer things from our external environment. Of course yoga, while super effective in this task, it is not the only method of inner work. That too could be an attachment. Dream work, counseling, fasting, journaling, rituals, or other means of self-awareness may also untangle our attachments. Initially, there may be some crusty bits to break through and if the means does not have this element, it is likely not deep enough to be effective or sustaining.
Eventually, we begin to sense the boundless riches, which can only be found inside. Carl Jung expresses this idea: “Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.” Connecting to ourselves with intimacy will start to fill our cup, so the pull of external needs will fade away.
As we become committed to this inner work, it is useful to remember that it is a lifetime journey. Little by little we chisel away at what doesn’t belong. Being compassionate with ourselves will go a long way. Rilke wrote: “Be patient with all that is unresolved within your heart. Try and love the questions themselves.”
In regards to our physiology, there are organs in the body for detoxing like skin and the liver. While yoga supports this detoxification process or “letting go of toxins”, as yogi’s, two physiologic functions are of particular interest; the exhalation phase of the breath and the health of the colon. There are numerous pranayama (breathing), practices to lengthen the exhalation and as yogi’s we do actually contemplate our bowel movements! But that is a whole other blog.
In our physical asana (postures) twists, forward folds and prostrations, will serve to promote letting go in the body. The quintessential practice of savasana is one of the best ways to practice surrender. In this posture of rest where we are not distracted by sound or movement, we can become aware of secret pockets of holding or tension within the body. At first it is helpful to think of the weight of the bones dropping into the earth. Over time you might feel like you are the earth, soft and receptive like soaking up a spring rain.
Many years ago during teacher training, there was a meditation teacher who shared a parable, which illustrates the beauty of letting go. The parable of the marble steps and the marble statue. One day, the marble steps said to the marble statue, “Life’s not fair. People walk and stomp on me all day long, while they come to admirer and worship you!” The marble statue said to the marble steps, “When the artist came to form us, you hardened and resisted so that all he could do was form you into steps. When the artist created me, I softened and allowed the creator to mold me into this magnificent statue.”
May we all use our yoga practice to learn the art of letting go, and be formed into our magnificent true selves.