Aparigraha: Let It Go and Have it All
“By the observance of aparigraha, the yogi makes his life as simple as possible and trains his mind not to feel the loss or the lack of anything. Then everything he really needs will come to him by itself at the proper time.” –B.K.S. Iyengar
Now we come to the final yama, aparigraha, non-hoarding or non-collecting. Like asteya, non-stealing, aparigraha begins with the trust that we will get our needs met. From that trust is born the confidence to let go of what no longer serves us, knowing that if we need it again later, it will come back to us. The practice of aparigraha can be as simple as breath awareness. When we exhale completely, allowing ourselves to be empty for a moment, we are affirming our trust that on the other side of the breath, there is a whole ocean of air just waiting to rush into our lungs and fill us with life force. When we inhale completely, we are proclaiming our worthiness to be fully alive, to experience that aliveness, to savor it for a moment and–when it is time–to let it go. We do this over and over again in our yoga practice–retaining exquisite awareness of our life-giving breath, and we feel fulfilled, complete on the very cellular level. The tense places in the body begin to loosen as we move and breathe mindfully, and we directly experience what it means to let go of what is no longer useful so that we have the space to welcome something else–something fresh, and lovely, and wonderful.
This week in our asana practice I asked students to go within and identify something that they could let go of in their lives to make room for a new experience. It could be old clothes occupying space in our closets, thoughts cluttering our minds, relationships that have outlived their meaningfulness, moldy cheese in the fridge–anything that could be released to make some precious space to experience our own creative potential. If nothing came to mind, I asked them to devote their practice to discovering what they can let go of. In my experience, there is always something to be released, even if it’s just this one breath. We took a moment at the beginning of class to set an intention for our practice, to breathe into that intention and energize it with our focused attention. Then we began to move.
I invited students to start with the exhalation, to allow themselves to be empty, and to remember over and over again that this letting go is what makes space for the next moment, the next experience–the realization of our authentic self beyond the world of form.
When we let go of something that we are holding on to, be it a decades old t-shirt or a self-limiting belief, we are able to reclaim our creative power. It is in the silence that inner music can be detected, it is on the blank canvas that the new painting can appear, it is in the absence of habitual thought that inspiration can manifest.
But space can be scary, really scary. When confronted with all of our power, we might feel the impulse to run away screaming. I know that I have collected clothes, music, books, people, and experiences as an antidote to simply being with myself. When I take a good look at all of this stuff I have accumulated, it feels insanely overwhelming. I’d rather cover my head with a pillow and fall into a several day hibernation instead of take a good look at why I’ve been holding on to that t-shirt my former boyfriend gave me nearly a decade ago.
This is where our practice comes in. We practice for courage. We breathe. We attempt the pose that has been intimidating us, and maybe we falter, but we know we can try again when we’re ready. And so we develop strength, and tenacity, and we hold our vision and send energy toward it, moving into more expansive, healthier, happier, balanced selves with each aware breath.
I admit it. I have plenty of clutter in my closet, in my basement, and in my brain. I really want to let go of it all, but it’s really hard for me. Studying aparigraha this time around has given me a big dose of humility and the drive to be even more awake regarding the objects, thoughts, people, and experiences I choose to bring into my life today. Because goodness knows that the things I bring in have a tendency to stay awhile.
Do you know what’s profoundly reassuring in all of this? Like the other yamas, aparigraha isn’t something that we grasp on the mental level one moment, and then put down in the next. We don’t have to flick a switch and miraculously morph into a paragon of simple, uncluttered living. It’s something that we can keep practicing until one day it becomes second nature. Maybe today we let go of that chunk of moldy cheese that has been lurking in our fridge, and maybe tomorrow we take one old t-shirt to Goodwill. Maybe a month from now we have the courage to examine a self-deprecating thought that has been running around in our brains for the better part of our lives. Maybe we have a friend who has repeatedly hurt us with careless remarks, inconsistent behaviors, destructive choices–and one day we have the courage to say “No more!” We can move at a pace that feels comfortable, and whittle away at the mountain of clutter, until one day we notice we are free.
So keep practicing, my friends. Keep breathing, beginning with a big exhalation that says, “I am willing to let go!” Waiting for you on the other side is a whole ocean of life force ready to rush into you as you allow yourself to receive. May your breaths be full, and deep, and joyful–a celebration of the life you have right now.
This concludes our exploration of the first limb of yoga (at least for now!). Coming up next are the niyamas, the second limb. Please stay tuned in the coming weeks as we explore the five observances we employ to relate to life inside and out in healthy and balanced ways. I invite you to leave any questions or comments in the space below–I’d love to hear from you!
What can you let go of in your life to make more room for your own creative potential? Who would you be with more space in your home, your body, your mind, your life? What would you create in that space?