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The Art of Letting Go

When I first started practicing yoga I was so busy learning the asanas (postures) and trying not to look like a beginner that I did not feel the connection between yoga and my life. I was in the process of healing a severe back injury for many years, and yoga felt like just another way for me to open the body and become more flexible. As I fell under the spell of yoga, my practice became regular and a very different picture began to materialize. I realized that one of the techniques I use every day in my work as a Spiral ReleaseT practitioner would benefit my yoga practice and help me release on deeper levels.

The struggle that most of us feel in everyday life is reflected in our practice and our bodies. If you could reduce this struggle, even release it completely, would you be willing? By incorporating this technique into your yoga practice you will be able to deepen your practice: deeper stretch; deeper concentration; deeper detachment. This is not something new or even difficult, and some of you may be practicing it already instinctively.

When we move into an asana there are many changes taking place throughout our body and mind. We begin to feel certain areas which we never felt before. We may feel openness in one place and resistance in another. There may be a sensation of discomfort or even pain. Do we go deeper or back off? What is the appropriate thing to do? Are we thinking about what we need to get done after class or an argument we had earlier in the day? There are thousands of possible actions, thoughts, and sensations that can occur. What we experience depends on where we are in our practice and life. Sounds daunting to keep our awareness on releasing, doesn't it?

Yoga is not meant to be a struggle. By taking things one step at a time, keeping the ego in check and being in the moment, we can elevate our practice to new places. Using this technique can help you with all this and more. So let's get to it.

Once you move into your asana, begin by scanning the body for any place that you can relax far from the area that has the most tension or discomfort. For example, if you are in Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III Pose), you might be feeling pressure or tension in the hip area of the standing leg.

As you start to scan your body, you realize that your arms and shoulders are tense and that they can be relaxed even though you are extending them. You may also notice some tension in your big toe of the standing leg that you can let go of. As you scan the body over and over again and let go of tension, your attention moves away from the standing leg hip and you are able to drop deeper into the asana. The tension in the hip begins to ease up, maybe it disappears; ah yes, it's gone.

You may have done this before without consciously thinking about it. Once you begin to work consciously with this technique you will be able to go deeper and deeper. Pain, tension, and struggle will decrease and in some cases disappear. Just as you bring your awareness back to your breath over and over again, do the same with scanning the body and releasing its tension.

How can you apply this to everyday life? Where can you let go? If you are sitting at the computer do your shoulders become tight, rising up towards your ears? Can you relax this area of your body while typing or only after you stop? Are you even aware that the shoulders are tight? If you are late for an appointment and stuck in traffic, where can you let go? This practice is not only during yoga class; it can be used everyday and in every moment. Living and thriving in life is about letting go of everything that keeps us from being and living in the moment. Once you start letting go in your yoga practice and elsewhere, your life will begin to change in ways you did not anticipate. Become aware, develop a clear intention of letting go, and see what happens. Awareness is the key to releasing. We must become aware of what is resisting and observe where this resistance occurs in our actions before we can let go and change the patterns. Taking steps towards living this way will allow you to practice the art of letting go.

Over the years I've learned to view my injuries as opportunities. Having experienced a severe back injury at a young age and being told I would never recover could have been a devastating event, especially for the alcoholic that I was. But living in pain for the rest of my life was not an option. I refused to believe what I was told and was guided to my healing, as we all are every day. I learned from my injury and alcoholism that if you use what is presented to you in your life to grow and change then you can embrace the gift of healing on all levels. Pain and fear are the embodiment of our limitations in conscious form. These limitations are an illusion. We can choose to see this truth and step outside of this illusion. Once the choice is made we will be guided to our healing.

What is your first thought when you sustain an injury during practice? Maybe it's, "oh no not again?" Or did you blame the teacher for taking an adjustment too far? For most of us our first thought is based on fear, which supports the limiting or lower energies of the injury. Fear leads to anxiety, which causes further tension and holding around the injury. This can take us out of our regular practice and lengthen recovery time.

Can you think of an event in your life that you thought was devastating or insurmountable? When you look back do you see how much change and growth resulted from that experience? You may be saying to yourself, sure that has happened on an emotional level, but not with an injury. When you're hurt it's a bad thing and your body is never the same again. Is that really a true statement? Is that your reality?

My back injury is one of the best things that ever happened to me, second only to my alcoholism. I've experienced more personal growth and change in my life from these two gifts than anything else in my life. They gave me my livelihood. How many of you got involved with yoga because of an injury? Would you have found yoga without it? When you are able to see injuries as opportunities you can heal more quickly and experience less pain.

Holding in the body is a reflection of events and experiences from our past. Most of us live our lives and practice our yoga from this place. In each moment we have the opportunity to choose to let go of this past and change the way we move and live. If we are able to actually meet and face what we experience in each moment, we learn that we create more suffering in avoidance, and that most of what we fear is an illusion, not reality. If we were truly living in the present moment there would be little or no pain, lack of flexibility, suffering or struggle in our lives or bodies. If you read this last statement and believe it to be true or even think it might be possible then you have created a beginning. We've all heard that thoughts create, but how many of us pay close attention to our thoughts? If you cannot begin to believe this to be true, you will have a thought that creates a block from this becoming your reality. I offer this to you as something to contemplate. Maybe it's true and maybe not, what do YOU think?

Our ego plays a huge role in our lives, sometimes beneficial and at other times, negative. When you compare yourself to others in a class or want to get to a certain place with your practice, it's a sure thing that the ego has stepped in and slowed your growth. It can also lead to injuries that may end your practice. I once heard that EGO was an acronym for Edging God Out. Practice from ego and you are doing the very opposite of letting go.

Change your perception and your thoughts will follow. Change your thoughts and your experience will change. Change your experience and your life will change. When we feel pain most of us react out of fear. This fear is based on what we think might happen; it is not based in truth or reality. By not reacting to the fear we can make a more rational decision about our next step. Instead of reacting in the moment you can take a step back and ask yourself what you can learn from the experience. What is the next step?

Perception, attitude, and intention play a key role in yoga and life. Change any one of these and you WILL change your life. Change them all and look out, you may begin living the life you've always dreamed. Becoming artful at letting go will lead to infinite possibilities.

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