The Art of Letting Go

An excerpt from Meditations from the Mat: Daily Reflections on the Path of Yoga

Do everything with a mind that has let go.
—John Chan

I rarely teach a class that doesn’t include at least one student who is brand-new to yoga. Working with beginners affords me an excellent opportunity to observe just what it is we bring to our mats. Despite wide age, gender, socioeconomic, cultural, and physical differences, we all carry some of the same baggage. Whether you are a dancer, a housewife, a grad student, a retired police officer, or an aerobics dropout, you will no doubt confront the same roadblocks to learning that I see students encounter every day: pride and fear.

If you are new to yoga, chances are you are wrestling not only with the postures but also with the judgments you pronounce on your efforts. But if you can make a commitment to be a little easier on yourself, I am certain you will enjoy your practice more. If not, you may soon find yourself making all sorts of excuses to avoid practicing altogether—it will become just too painful.

When we opt out of experiences that challenge us, it’s usually because our pride is in the way. And “pride” is really another word for fear—the fear of not being enough. Marlon Brando delivers this truth magnificently in Apocalypse Now when, sweating in a nadir of spiritual bankruptcy, he tells his executioner, “It is our judgment that defeats us.” We become our own executioners when we sit in judgment of our efforts. Only when we act without judgment can we truly flourish in our lives. Yoga means becoming one. As long as we stand apart in judgment, we sabotage the opportunity for connection and integration that is yoga. So I encourage you: get into that canoe and ride with the river. Commit and don’t look back. Before our bodies can open, they must first let go; the clenched and guarded muscles must relax. But the mind must let go first.

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Rolf Gates, author of Daily Reflections on Addiction, Yoga, and Getting Well; Meditations from the Mat; and Meditations on Intention and Being, is the Director of the Kripalu School of Yoga and a leading voice in contemporary yoga.

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