Letting Go

It’s lunch time and I snuck out of lab to attend my favorite vinyasa yoga class. The teacher instructs us to flow into down dog. We have three breaths here to settle into the pose.

Inhale – I let my head hang loose between my arms, nodding yes, then no.

Exhale – I pedal out my feet.

Inhale – I come up on my toes and sink my knees toward the mat.

Exhale –  I lift my hips into the air, push my thighs back, and drop my heels toward the ground. Get long. Stay soft.

The instructor drifts by my mat.

“Take a deep breath, and with your exhale let go of anything that does not serve your practice.” 

Yoga teachers say this all the time. It can be physical: let go of tension in your neck that could cause an injury. It can be mental: let go of that work thing you are worrying about. It can be emotional: let go of fears that are holding you back.

Yoga teachers say this all the time. But this time it stuck.

I left class wondering, How do we decide if something does not serve us? And, having made that decision, how do we let go? Why is it so hard? Because I think I’ve got some serious stuff to let go of, and so far I haven’t had the guts to do it.

How do I know if I should let go?

For me, this is a combination of instinct and personal values. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t right. If it regularly makes you feel sad, frustrated, upset, unhealthy, unworthy, or otherwise uncomfortable, you should let it go. But sometimes our gut fails to provide clear instructions. This is where it helps to have well-defined values. If you know what’s important to you (family, cherished friends, physical health, personal fulfillment, professional success, among other possibilities), then you can ask yourself, does this thing, whatever it may be, align with my stated values?

Why am I afraid?

When you’re deeply invested in something, letting go sounds about as pleasant as pulling an arrow out of a closed wound The hooks are in you, and it’s going to hurt like a motherfucker on the way out. First, there is the fear of change. Even if something’s not great, at least it’s familiar. Then there is the fear of loss. This – whatever it is – came in to your life at some point because it added value. What will replace it? What if it can’t be replaced? And let’s not forget the fear of missing out. What if someone else takes it/does it/has it/(insert appropriate verb here) and everything is great? Then you’ll feel even worse, right?

How do I let go?

Despite the confusion (Should I let go?) and the fear (I’m not sure I can do this…), sometimes you just know what you need to do. You have to let go.

So how do you actually do it?

The short answer: Fuck if I know, mate. If I had any clue, I’d already have done it.

The slightly longer answer: Accept that letting go is a process – it won’t happen all at once. Focus on non-judgment – just because something isn’t right for you, doesn’t mean it’s inherently bad/wrong/flawed/evil. Most importantly, trust that you will be okay – if you have a hard time believing that things will turn out fine, get a big hug from someone who loves you. Let their faith carry you for a little bit.

If you’re wondering why the photo for this post is a flower – I had an elaborate metaphor planned out about a rose losing its petals. Then I thought, “This is exactly the kind of shit that would make my 16-year-old self want to stab me.” So we can add “Avoid being florid. No one likes a bad poet” to the list of advice from my younger self. – xoxo, A


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