Have you ever entered into a yoga practice with a lot on your mind? When you stepped on your mat, did thoughts about finances, relationships or your desire to achieve a certain posture fill your thoughts? Sometimes, when the mind is cloudy or racing in this way, our asana hardly feels like yoga at all. Rather than embracing our “union with the Divine,” we find ourselves just going through the motions while distracted, stressed and unfocused.
This is where the beautifully simple, yet abstract and often elusive act of “letting go” comes in. Yoga teachers use this phrase frequently, and for many of us, hearing the words “let it all go,” may be our primary reason for attending regular yoga classes. Most of us have had teachers prompt us to “let your worries wash away with every exhale,” or “let go and release into the posture.” In this case, “letting go” means to release any thoughts, worries or fears that keep us from receiving the gift of total relaxation and rejuvenation.
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These comforting and supportive words are commonly heard in gentle yoga classes as well as restorative styles of yoga. But truth be known, most of us hear about “letting go” during physically challenging asanas as well. In these poses, we need more than brute strength and exertion to evolve our practice. Ever struggle with a pose like Salamba Sirsasana (Headstand) over and over again? When we finally “get there”—that is, access a pose that requires strength, balance, and steadiness—it is often because we’ve learned to see the exploration aspect of asana as equally valuable to the goal itself. We’ve let go of the need to “achieve” and surrendered to the process.
Letting go takes courage. It takes faith. It takes trusting in something that we often only see glimpses of. In the Yoga Sutras, this simple phrase is given a depth of meaning, as many passages are offered to explain what “letting go” really entails.
In the translation by Sri Swami Satchidananda, Sutra 1.29 states, “From this practice, all the obstacles disappear and simultaneously dawns knowledge of the inner Self.” During yoga, consciously moving towards “letting go” creates space for becoming more engaged and connected with our inner wisdom and truth. We are no longer held back by limiting beliefs, repetitive thoughts (for example, thoughts about groceries, work or to-do lists) and desires for our practice to look a certain way. We transcend limitations of the mind and body and step into a deeper knowing. And even though doing so can be hard to do, it is only when we “let go” that the real yoga begins.
Yoga means “to yoke” or “to connect” with our higher selves, our true wisdom and Divine nature. Therefore, in order to do so, we must necessarily release the worries of the smaller self, if only for our practice. We can think of “letting go” as happening simultaneously or just before stepping forward into a higher awareness. Sometimes, this feels like release. Sometimes it feels more like acceptance. Sometimes it’s more active, like moving forward to pursue higher knowing. Some days, letting go means celebration, while others it feels like surrender.
However it feels to you, it is important to remember that this practice, though subtle and mostly undetected by others, requires a strength that is to be commended. We must not think of letting go as giving up or, worse, “settling.” Rather, a deep trustful surrender is an act of wisdom. It is the courageous choice to relax into your potential greatness (often inconceivable to our limited thinking minds) instead of striving for what the ego-self thinks is best. It is trusting that the shape you take in the world at the moment of surrender is greater than you might even realize. When we practice this way, we are often amazed at what unfolds next.
We’d love to hear stories about what has unfolded for you while playing with letting go. What does letting go feel like to you?