Stepping onto a yoga mat for the first time, you quickly learn that if you are going to master this artistic activity, you are going to have to let go – of preconceived notions, the physical limits you set on yourself, the mental limits that keep you from reaching further, and the emotions that you hide or hide behind. Quickly, you learn that you will have to remind yourself to let go every single time you return to your mat.
You might come into yoga shy about your body or intimidated by some of the bodies around you. You might find that you are comparing yourself to other students in the room and feeling less than. Sooner or later, you learn that it feels better to let go of comparing yourself to anyone else in the room.
Every single body has a different story to tell and no one is judging you for yours, except maybe you.
The rest of the class is focused on what’s happening on their own mats, making sure they don’t fall over and crash into their neighbors. They don’t see that your shirt has ridden up and your belly fat is exposed. Negative body image syndrome is rampant in our culture and it is debilitating. If you’re so wrapped up in holding tightly to your negative body image, you will struggle to take chances, weaken yourself, and miss the full experience of doing yoga.
You have to let go of your mental limitations when you’re on your mat. Do you want that bind? That crow pose? Release yourself from the fear-based mindset that asks in doubt, ‘can I?’ and allow yourself the space and confidence of ‘I can’ to flow in. Seemingly impossible tasks can be handled one step at a time. The real reason you cannot bind may just be that you have tightness in your shoulders and upper back which first need to be opened. The truth of why the arm balances are so impossible might be that your core needs strengthening in all of your poses, arm balances just make that point clearer. The bigger the hurdle, the more there is to learn. Each apparent roadblock is actually a gateway towards learning something we need, but we first have to let go of the thought processes that prevent us from recognizing these simpler first steps.
Letting go emotionally is one of the most therapeutic pieces of yoga. As many of you know, yoga played a pivotal role in recapturing my joy following the sudden violent death of my son. When you are feeling grief, sadness, or depression, your mat is one of the safest places to go to release these negative emotions. The intense focus required to balance on one leg in a standing pose or on your hands in an arm balance frees your mind from the ‘chitta vritti’, the unrelenting chatter, for even a moment. You can let go of the negative emotion that seems to shroud your heart and mind, and just be okay for one breath; on your mat, where it is safe, warm, quiet, and where your spirit is nurtured. In the midst of intense emotional pain, you will find your body expressing itself and letting go of what your heart is trying to hold on to so tightly. You would not be the first person to release the tears of emotional grief while lying in savasana; no one around you knows and your instructor will most assuredly understand.
The human body holds onto so much throughout its lifespan. Your muscles have a memory. Cells will hold on to toxins. The mind stores everything. The heart feels pain – and has the capacity for tremendous love. In my many years in yoga, and through my closest relationships, I have learned that it’s possible to let go of that which holds me back from being open to love and joy— the feeling states that humans seek most. I hope you can find a way to let go of whatever is holding you back and open yourself to more love and joy.
You deserve it.