What times! Our culture and economy seem to be going through large shifts right now, hopefully breaking up with some old toxic patterns. Locally, many people in my various circles are going through their changes as well: moving, business and relationship shifts, studio closures, and the like. These are fairly turbulent times, and chances are that some things will look fairly different on the other side. This can be a major source of anxiety for people, not knowing whether we’ll lose some of what’s precious to us in the process.
This is where yoga comes in, both in practice, and in the philosophy we’re putting to practice. One of the lesser spoken yamas, aparigraha, translates as “non-clinging,” the practice of letting go. The practice of allowing the past to be in the past.
I often embody aparigraha as an open hand, palm up, letting go of what I was holding on to, while simultaneously welcoming any gifts, and also available creative manifestation, in a way a closed hand would not be. The clenched hand can be useful: grabbing a rung on a ladder will help you ascend. At some point we must let it go to keep climbing, otherwise we keep ourselves held where we were. Hold on was helpful when we started, but there comes a time to let go of what got us where we are. It doesn’t mean we need to resent the past that brought us here, or discard it roughly, but simply thank it for its service, and move forward.
Even the most precious aspects of our past can outlive their usefulness. So as we navigate this shift, not knowing what will remain and what will dissolve, I’m finding it important not to cling in fear to the imperfect past, but simply savor the moment as I let it go.
Practically, with yoga studios closing, one option I didn’t take was to cling to the past and thrash around in fear at the idea of losing the source of my prosperity. Another option I avoided was to throw away the whole past, and seek an entirely different career. The savoring looks like appreciating what worked about it, enjoying the space before they moved out, connecting with the people whose relationships I’ve cherished, while letting go of the parts that were harder, the lack of control of my schedule, the commuting, and other parts that didn’t work as well for me. I am free to create a business that has the potential to help me thrive even more fully.
Turning our attention to the physical practice, this teaching becomes incredibly useful when facing our bodily tension, which is always about holding on for safety. Some of the tension we face is historical, like the way we can feel tight after almost being hit by a car, even after we know the car missed us. Some of it is future based, like when we are tense because we are afraid we’ll lose our job, or we are afraid we’ll hurt ourselves by pushing ourselves too hard, and some of it is present, like if we relax our arms in a handstand we can fall on our head.
Yoga normally has us facing our physical edges, defined as the places beyond which we will hurt ourselves. Stretching too far can tear tissue in our body. Falling out of a pose can have us break a bone. There are real physical limitations, and, there are imagined limitations: our minds have a useful but somewhat inaccurate map of where our edges are. Our practice helps us update the map.
Especially when we savor.
We go to the edge of our flexibility, and we pause there to appreciate what is. It works pretty well. Good enough to get us on our mat under our own power. We attempt a posture, and find where our limit is. There, we can stop pushing ourselves, and just breathe and savor the moment, feeling everything that’s not getting injured, thanks to the body’s innate ability to keep us from going too far. As we savor the experience of not injuring ourselves, we start to relax, and allow some of the unnecessarily tight muscles to release their contraction and lengthen. This additional length in the belly of the muscle releases the pressure tugging on the connective tissue, which eases the joint pain, and again we find ourselves even more flexible than we knew.
Sometimes we go to the edge of our strength. We try to stay in a warrior pose, but our muscles are burning or shaking. For a moment we clench our jaws and our thighs, trying to steady the shaking, hoping they don’t give out, but that extra work burns the energy twice as fast. At some point, we remember to savor the sensations, feel what it’s like to have so much energy running through our system. We can sink into gratitude for being strong enough to have stayed in as long as we already have. Our jaws often relax first. Our breath softens, we have shifted our state, and suddenly we are burning a lot less energy, and easily find the reserves to stay in the pose for the last few breaths.
We get to keep all the strength and flexibility we are willing to feel.
Keep practicing, on and off the mat.