what does yoga teach us about letting go?

The eight limbs of raja yoga include the yamas- or restraints. Among these five is aparigraha – or non attachment. As yoga is an ancient wisdom and practice I am comfortable saying that attachment has been a problem for ages. We, modern people, have this affliction as much as did the ancients. Yoga provides us with strategies and teachings to guide us in letting go. Here are some steps we can follow in order to begin to release death grip onto things that cause us to suffer.

First thing is to identify what we are holding on to. 

What do we hold on to? Why would we need to release our grip? Is it the holding on that is causing the pain or is it the action or activity itself? Is it both? Bear in mind that this grip can be at the emotional, intellectual or even physical level – sometimes at all three. We need to know what are we grasping to before we can follow a path to release.

  1. Is it an idea such as a limitation? (“I can’t do this or that.”, “They mustn’t do this or that.”, “we should… they should…” and so on.)


  2. Is it an activity like being online, checking and rechecking communication feeds to verify connections? Is it shopping and buying – looking for “something else” that will suit us, making us complete or giving us the emotional lift that a purchase can provide?


  3. Could it be a behavior like exerting control over another dictating and directing their actions and activities?


  4. Could it be a substance in which the over indulgence is causing internal conflict or disassociation like food where companionship is really being sought, where loneliness has set in? Or do you use intoxicants polluting your mind, body and spirit?


  5. It is unhealthy companionship where self care would be more affirming? Is boundary-less love and enmeshment what you cleave to rather than healthy balanced relationships?

If you are like most you may have several areas in which holding on is causing problems. Some areas may be more problematic that others. It is where the discord between holding and letting go have come to an impasse where the suffering is felt and where the work may best be focused.

How do I let go? 

What is the work and how do I do it? Yoga is a practice. It has several components nestled in the limbs of the royal path.

The other yamas, restraints, offer some guidance: non-harming, non lying, non- stealing as well as chastity or non-excess. Viewing the attachment through the lens of the yamas one can step through these ethics and apply them verily to each. If I take the ethic of non-harming I can evaluate what I am thinking, feeling, saying, doing considering the attribute of non-harming.

That gives me an idea about the scope of the problem. If I am buying a lot of things- I evaluate;

  1. Am I doing my self, my family, my savings, and my financial security harm by purchasing yet another pair of black yoga pants, decorative item, lawn ornament, piece of jewelry or other item?


  2. Am I harming the environment by actively accumulating more stuff? (What is the provenance of the goods, harm to environment in creation, harm to people in the fabrication, harm to all in transport and distribution?)


  3. What aspect of myself am I avoiding by looking at by buying another pair?


  4. Am I ignoring feelings of inadequacy or other sense of lack?


  5. Am I trying to be like another person, look like another person; thereby harming my own self image with disdain?


Using the niyama of self study, or svadhaya, one can investigate the process. The fact that “buying” has been self identified as an issue speaks to the truth that it is not a healthy activity in this case. Finding moderation will be key. (Note: Other attachments such as drug addiction, can only be addressed with full abstinence and other healing programs or modalities.)

Once the attachment is examined using non-harming, we can move to the next yama to gain more understanding. And so on. The lesson is learned at all levels; physical, emotional and spiritual, for the lesson to be fully absorbed. It may require re-learning from time to time. Such is the nature of being human.

The work is self investigation.

What do I do? 

Just as the poses on the mat call for balance and investigation, so too do our behaviors. Some poses hurt us. Our anatomy is not geared for that particular pose; perhaps only for a time, perhaps for always. We practice the poses that lead to this one, we do modifications, we practice it mindfully or we pay the consequences with injury. With the guidance of our teachers, interpreted by the sensations in the body, we adapt and grow.

So, too, we practice letting go of activities, harmful mind sets, and behaviors. We practice. We breath, we look inside, we consult the divinity within and ask for the support of teachers, others who may have already passed this way. We accept what IS and work from there, we set our intention to change, perhaps invoking the help of our spiritual guides or higher power. We try, we readjust and try again. There is no magic – only practice, knowing that “practice is another work for magic.” Yoga gives us guidepost and utilizing us we manifest change.



Kyczy Hawk E-RYT200 is Author of “Yoga and the Twelve Step Path” and creator of the S.O.A.R. ™ Teacher Certification program: empowering yoga teachers to bring the healing powers of yoga to people in jails, institutions, recovery programs, and to yoga studios everywhere.

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