Monday, November 17, 2014

Let Go to Grow

Over the past two weeks, my life and yoga practice have revolved around letting go, loosening my grip and releasing certain ideas, beliefs, places, people, physical and mental habits I have been holding onto assiduously.

Because I couldn't let go of certain ideas, people, and even the need to frequently work and practice in a particular studio, that studio owner who is also my teacher terminated my employment there. At first very shocked by this turn of events in spite of how hard I had worked there (too hard, teaching three regular classes without fail, subbing at every opportunity, devoting extra unpaid time) and how much I loved the idea of teaching there (too much), I now understand that my attachment was imbalanced. It was for me as if my life depended on how well I was doing in those classes and whether I not I "belonged" with that group of teachers and practitioners. Seeing this, and not arriving at any kind of easy solution for it, my mentor simply decided to fire me. In the grand scheme of my path as a yoga practitioner and teacher, it was the best gift I could have received at the time.

In Yoga philosophy, the concept of vairagya is given in the Yoga Sutras and the direct translation of that word is usually "non-attachment," which implies something a little different from letting go. Non-attachment implies the equanimity and wisdom inherent in not grabbing on tightly to things in the first place. Detachment is letting go of something you've already grasped or held onto. Since I am still learning a lot about vairagya, I have to start with detaching before I can learn non-attachment.

Fortunately, since beginning earnestly on the path of yoga I have had some honest and humble teachers I've been able to watch as they modeled both detachment and non-attachment. Just as it is helpful to see a yoga teacher model a posture for the class, it is also helpful to witness a teacher model the application of yoga philosophy.

The teacher who fired me has been instructing his staff and students in the ways of letting go of cherished beliefs about what Yoga is and how it should be practiced and taught. A lot of this instruction is based on a solid knowledge of anatomy, sports biomechanics, functional movement and a studied approach to the history of Yoga and how it has been adapted and taught in the West. In keeping with this instruction, I signed up for an anatomy workshop for yoga teachers that I attended this past weekend, with some of my current and former yoga teachers. Everyone who participated in the workshop had to let go of some formerly held beliefs and habits to make room for valuable, new information on how to more skillfully cue and give hands-on assists to yoga students. There was a lot of cringing, jaw-dropping, head shaking, and even some face palms!

Yoga teaching is rapidly evolving as an occupation and the number of teachers graduating from training programs is growing exponentially. The anatomy teacher who conducted our workshop spoke positively about trends toward peer review for articles written about yoga. He spoke of himself and those of us present as teachers as trailblazers who are taking responsibility for evolving the yoga teaching profession to make it safer, more skillful and more credible.

Several years ago I regularly attended the classes of two of the teachers taking the training; I trusted them completely and their classes were a true refuge for me. One of them inspired me to learn to teach so I could attempt to share the gifts she imparted to me. This past weekend, my teachers' example of openness, humility and willingness to let go of what they have taught over the course of their career, (things I heard them say many times, cues I followed, assists I received) set the perfect example I need in my life and practice right now. I was touched very deeply by their example of non-attachment. I need to learn to humbly and graciously let go of ideas, attitudes, things, people and places I held onto tightly.

Not being able to let go is a serious mental and physical handicap. When we let go we open ourselves up to receive continual blessings, knowledge, information and nourishment. Gripping, grasping, hanging on for dear life, these behaviors prevent us from relaxing, receiving and renewing. They halt our progress. They keep us stuck. A concrete example from the weekend workshop is that isometric contraction of a muscle prevents blood flow into the muscle, so that circulation of oxygen and nutrients to the muscle are temporarily cut off. When we grip with our muscles, we are contracting them. When we grip with our attitudes and behaviors, we are also contracting our selves rather than expanding them; hanging on for dear life prevents the flow of life and energy.

When we hold on, we're held back. When we let go, we grow.

What can you let go of to allow yourself to grow? Sometimes we can let go on our own and other times we're forced to let go. Either way, try to see it as a good thing.

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