In the process of letting go, you will lose many things from the past, but you will find yourself. Deepak Chopra
Aparigraha is the virtue of non-possessiveness, non-grasping or non-greediness. It teaches us to take only what is necessary, and not take advantage of a situation. It basically means to let go.
During our lockdown, we will have all been hitting big and small waves of emotions. Some of them overwhelming, some of them just little niggling annoyances. Yoga teaches us, with all emotions, to practice non-attachment. To watch these feelings like spiritual drones over our own bodies – hovering there, buzzing away, but not directly affecting us.
In Buddhism, they talk about holding onto things with an open palm not a closed fist. You can only lose what you cling to, Buddha. The idea is we should allow thoughts, emotions and possessions to come and go without clinging to them too fiercely. It’s easy to see how this is helpful at the moment when we think about all the things we have lost – the holidays we’d planned, the freedoms we once took for granted.
Change is inevitable. It’s the one thing we can rely on. And clinging to moments won’t bring us peace. If you cling too much to the good times, what happens when they disappear? Crushing disappointment. A lesson we've all learnt recently.
But Aprigraha is just as important to remember with negative emotions. Are you clinging to your guilt, your anger, your fear? Can you take a breath, rise above it and see it from a different perspective? Can you, as hard as it may be, let it go? Sometimes we feel our fears and guilt and anger are justified. And maybe they are! But are they serving you or are they making you miserable? Does your resentment make you sleep better at night? I’d wager not.
When we learn to let go, that’s when we grow. Everything, good and bad, changes and what we are trying to do with our yoga practice is become steadfast, grounded and unshakeable, come what may. Knowing that when the good times are rolling, we have the emotional resilience to withstand it when the carpet is whipped out from under us.
During the pandemic, when we have lost so much, it might be tempting to protect what we do still have, to cling to it. Becoming hoarders. Yoga teaches us to be open hearted and expansive. No matter what you've lost, you still have so much to give – kindness, empathy, positive energy, support, even just a friendly smile. When we give, everyone benefits, especially ourselves.
So how do we practice aprigraha on the mat? Physically, you may be holding back from some poses out of fear or a sense of self-protection. This can deprive you of potential positive change. Ask yourself if you are hoarding your energy, and to what end? Energy is a renewable source as long as you allow yourself time for rest – so use it! Equally, can you surrender to the poses, and also work at finding santosha or contentment in the present moment. Let go of worrying what you think you “should” be able to do by now or what others can do.
Focusing on your breath through your practice will also bring awareness and mindfulness. This can lead to insight into the nature of the mind which in turn leads to freedom from suffering. Let me be clear: this isn’t the same as freedom from pain. Pain and loss will always be there. Suffering, however, is what we do with the pain. Are we clinging to it? Do we keep repeating it in the mind, creating stories and in so doing feeling the pain over and over again, or can we just feel the pain as a sensation in the moment, without stories, and then gently but with much relief let it go?
Ultimately, it always comes back to balance. Happiness and peace are important emotions to feel but so are sadness and anger. It is all part of the texture and tapestry of life. In order to appreciate the good times, we have to go through the bad times. Darkness and light, winter and summer, effort and ease, yin and yang.
When we can learn to let the moment be what it is – good or bad - without either trying to cling to it, or to push it away, we can really say we’re living in that moment. That’s what being mindful and present is all about. And that’s how we will find true contentment.