Have you ever been in a yoga class and the teacher suggested to “let go”? Or “release”? Maybe “surrender”? Perhaps you were in a pose where you tend not to feel like there is any letting go that could be done? The art of letting go can be focused on your physical body as well as the mental, emotional or spiritual self. It can be something like a thought or idea, or a memory (muscle or mind).

A physical body example; you get into a pose and subconsciously certain areas of the body might tense up. Take Warrior 1 for instance.  We, without even realizing it, tend to pull tension into the shoulders and neck as we reach the finger tips to the ceiling.  Then our instructor guides us by saying “relax the shoulders away from your ears” and suddenly we realize we are practically wearing our shoulders as earrings! A mental example could be something that may be holding you back from fully expressing yourself into a posture.

Maybe the need to “let go” comes from not paying attention to how the instructor or other students look in a pose and figuring out a way to be in that pose that works best for your body. So maybe using a block or strap or even bringing your body in to a different variation of that pose in order to achieve the desired sensations. Perhaps it can be something internal that projects into your practice. Maybe you have injured your ankle in the past, therefore anytime you attempt a standing balancing pose, you hold back out of fear that you may injure yourself again. Or maybe your body just tenses up as a defence mechanism and goes into a protection mode, and you may have to tell your body/teach it to relax,…let go.

I was told a story once about “letting go”.  I’ll do my best to portray the story as it was done for me…

Once upon a time (don’t all stories start with that?), a lonely man from Africa wanted to catch a monkey to befriend. So the man put peanuts inside a jar with a thin neck and set up a net above to release once the monkey focused on the jar. The man waited patiently and finally a monkey came to inspect the jar of peanuts. The monkey placed his hand inside the jar and reached to the bottom where the tasty peanuts were awaiting retrieval. The monkey took a handful in his fist and attempted to pull his arm out. The monkey was frustrated as the narrow neck of the jar was preventing him from keeping the peanuts in his hand. The man continued to watch from behind the trees as the monkey struggled instead of releasing the net on to the monkey. Finally the man started to feel horrible and guilty, How could he be so shallow as to trap a living being for his own gains? So the man approached the monkey and asked him, “why don’t you try to get the peanuts out using a different method?” The monkey replied, “I once saw my brother get peanuts out of a jar and therefore this is the way I am thought I should too.” The man offered to help the monkey, asking him to open his hand and let go of the peanuts. The monkey was hesitant at first as he did not want to miss out on the idea of a fistful of peanuts. The monkey did not realize that his method would not be successful in obtaining all of the peanuts but alas, he finally he gave in to the man’s assistance. The monkey opened his hand and pulled his arm out of the jar, feeling somewhat defeated. The man then took the jar, asked the monkey to put his hand out and tipped the jar pouring the peanuts into the monkeys hand. The man and monkey shared pleasantries and both went on their way.

The monkey learned from this man that he can achieve the same result, if he just lets go of any preconceived ideas or what he thinks should be done. And the man learned to let go of the idea of trapping something, as that did not serve him well.

We are all very much like both characters in this story. We are technically free but for some reason we continue to hold on to things, beliefs, events, feelings, people, emotions; and we remain stuck.

We all want to feel free, happy, be free from suffering and pain. We all want to experience joy and peace. So how do we achieve this? Well, the first step is to learn, self study our bodies and thoughts to identify what it is in different moments, as they arise; then bring your awareness and focus to that specific attachment. From there we must realize that “letting go” is not an action, it is the decision of no longer acting to retain the attachment. There is the decision to open the hand and there is the action to release the fist. Finally we must observe what is left, the situation as it is, not how we think it should be; and then accepting it in that moment, your reality as it actually is.

When we don’t let go we can not experience full presence, the present moment. And that is where we truly experience joy and happiness. Not in the past, as it is just a memory. Not in the future as it has not yet arrived. It is easy to say “open your heart and just let go”. But it actually takes inner work, awareness and reflection. If you are willing, your struggles and worries and anxieties can all come to an end.

Can you choose to look inward and consider what these things are for you, that you continue to hold on to, the things that hold you back, the things that are making you feel stuck? Perhaps, there is something you refuse to let go of, but if you did, you could become unstuck, you could be truly free.