Letting-go is a familiar concept for everyone practising yoga on a regular basis. While we move through the flow of poses, our teacher will often remind us to breath and gently let go of muscle tensions. During her yoga sessions, mindfulness expert Marisa Garau also applies the spiritual equivalent of letting-go, which is one of the main principles of the mindfulness philosophy, as it makes her feel even more relaxed and emotionally recharged. In this post she shares her approach to apply letting-go so that you can develop this healthy habit within your yoga practice.
I’m not as flexible as I’d like to be. Needless to say that those poses in which we stretch the muscles of our legs and spine are not among my favourite ones :-) And so, before mindfulness became an integral part of my everyday life, my weekly yoga session used to stress me out quite a bit. I often felt the odd one out and was embarrassed about my visual rigidness. After a few months I would give up on my yoga sessions as they more often than not gave me grief instead of joy.
But ever since mindfulness came into my life and changed my mindset for the better, encouraging me to be mindful in everything I do (yes, from driving the car to writing emails and everything in between) yoga also made a remarkable reappearance and boy, does it feel good! Now I experience yoga as a beautiful body meditation which allows me to connect with my higher self by being fully present in my body.
And all this while physically nothing has changed. My body is still as inflexible as ever :-) But when I mindfully let go during the yoga session, I go home far more relaxed and with a clear mind. This is my three-step approach:
1. Let go of prestige
As I find it hard to stretch, I know very well what to expect during each yoga session which always include the unforgiving standing forward bend (ai!) and the horrific down-facing dog (umph!). But having turned the act of observing my thoughts into a daily habit, I now know that my ego will stress out and play his predictable, sorry tune:
‘Okay, here we go again, of course I’m the only one who won’t be able to do this.’
‘I’m making a complete fool of myself, see?’
‘What on earth is wrong with me???’
‘Why does this never get any easier?’
To prevent falling into the trap of this senseless chatter, I prepare myself before the session starts. I pay full attention to this tendency to strive for the best and ask myself what my reason is for practising yoga.
Do I do it to impress the teacher and the other participants?
Do I do it to be a model student whose example everyone else should be following?
Do I do it to earn respect and appreciation from my fellow yogis?
As soon as I ask myself these questions, I smile. No, of course not! I do it to stay fit and sane. There is nothing more to it. I do it purely for my own wellbeing. Are things allowed to go wrong? Absolutely!
And so I allow myself to look awfully awkward while going through these poses, as long as I enjoy what I’d doing.
It’s with this mindset that I enter the class, and it helps me to fully focus on my body and its movements, rather than being absorbed by my ego’s suffocating sense of prestige and status.
2. Let go of pressure
As soon as we move to the first stretch pose, I reason with myself once more. I remind myself that I don’t have to win first price for doing this pose perfectly. And yes… when we start the standing forward bend, my hands hardly reach my knees.
When the teacher softly encourages us to let go, I don’t only let go of tensions in the muscles of my back and legs. I also let go of the idea that I must do this simply because it’s part of every yoga session. I understand that I’m being invited to take part of this journey. While I breathe in deeply, I realise that yoga is not about striving for perfection and that no-one expects me to be some super yogi talent.
And so I allow myself not to be the best yoga student ever. I don’t even pressure myself to do well. I allow myself to be this class’ biggest screw-up. And guess what? It works. Time and time again. Suddenly my fingers almost touch the mat and I feel light and relieved.
3. Let go of fear
The third phase of letting go mindfully while doing a yoga session is letting go of fear. Before mindfulness I used to get quite stressed because I actually was afraid. Afraid that I would never improve and would always remain a yoga wannabe. Afraid that I would never enjoy any results. Afraid to feel pain. Afraid to damage something in my body.
But thanks to mindfulness I can now let go of these fears quickly. If my ego produces a thought such as ‘Look at me, it’s pathetic, I can’t do this at all’, I now actively accept this thought. Because it’s what the brain does anyway, whether I stress about it or not. I no longer identify with such a thought, but instead observe and acknowledge it from a healthy distance, free of emotion and personal projections. Like a lab employee would observe such a thought through a microscope.
By accepting a thought charged with social anxiety — without getting dragged into its muddy content — the negative energy in that thought is instantly set free. All thoughts, no matter how negative and upsetting, are allowed to say whatever they want when I’m working through a painful pose.
When I’m able to let go and no longer choose to hold on to the ‘truth’ of random thoughts, these troubling thoughts evaporate without doing any real harm. They come up like threatening thunder clouds, but float away just as quickly when I see this frightening fretting as a passing occurrence, rather than a set-in-stone truth.
Reinvigorated and focussed
Letting go has giving me back my yoga joy. Since I developed the habit of letting go in a mindful way, I can focus much better on the poses and movements while doing yoga. As I no longer get stuck in the senseless worrying of my mind, I experience a deep relaxation and feel reinvigorated and focussed after each session.
Practise letting go — the mindful way
This week, observe which thoughts and prejudices ramble around in your mind when you’re doing your yoga session. You could write these thoughts down to gain more insight into their (often silly) stories. Maybe these thoughts are changed with prestige, fear of failure, frustration, or boredom. When you have mapped these thoughts, let go of them following the three phases of my approach. Observe how you feel during your sessions when applying mindful letting-go. Does it feel good, or suffocating? Does your body feel softer, or do you detect resistance? Don’t judge your feelings; allow every thought and emotion that arises during your sessions to be fully present. Try to practise this for a while, and see how it works for you. Happy practising!
If you’d like to know more about the power of mindfulness, feel free to check this in-depth article about my down-to-earth approach to practising mindfulness.
For ten years Marisa Garau (51) ran her ad agency in Amsterdam, working as both a copywriter and a journalist. With her husband she moved to Mangawhai where she authors internationally published bestsellers on mindfulness. Together the couple started their own olive oil brand, and run Growing Mindfulness online platform. Next year they will launch MindSpa, an in-office mindfulness solution to help employers reduce stress on the work floor, boost creativity and nurture holistic leadership.