The Beatles swept the world by storm 50 years ago when they appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. In their first set, they played “All My Loving” and “She Loves You,” and Paul sang “‘Til There Was You.”
Ed Sullivan read a telegram on the air from Elvis Presley congratulating them on their American debut.
Six years later, they recorded a new song written by Paul McCartney, “Let It Be.”
This song holds deep meaning for me. It seems to come into my consciousness at times when I need comforting. It’s helped me as I’ve come to terms with pain in my life and learned to let it go.
In his book Light on Life, Mr. Iyengar interprets Isvara Pranidhana as “Surrender; letting it be whatever it is.”
In yoga, this is considered an active practice like Tapas (Applying your self) and Svadhyaya (Investigating your own experience).
I’ve always struggled with the concept of letting go. Holding on tightly seems to come more naturally to me. I became aware of my need to let go a long time before I was capable of actually doing it.
At that time I thought to myself, “I can’t let go. But I am willing to be willing to let go.”
That was the best I could do. Sometimes it still is.
Here are some ideas you might use if you are considering letting things be:
Visualize something that represents the concept of letting go. Conjure up your own image in your mind that feels like surrender or letting go to you. Sometimes I visualize water flowing freely in a river, a sailboat floating on the water, or a blue sky with fluffy clouds. This works for me. Experiment to find your own image that facilitates the thought of surrender. If I get stuck, sometimes I look online for images or find something in a magazine or book.
Focus on your exhalation. When you breathe out, you are literally letting go of your breath. And you don’t even have to try and do it. Your body has an intelligence all its own that makes this happen! Close your eyes and watch your exhalation just happen. With each out-breath, let go of your breath (and anything else) you no longer need.
Clean out a drawer or pocket. This is a practical step for the pragmatic people out there. If imagery feels a little woo-woo to you, then this is something you can do. Find a place where there is too much clutter, and clean it out.
Cleaning out my purse helps me clean out my mind. If I’m not paying attention, my bag becomes a bottomless pit of receipts, old Starbucks sugar packages, pennies, bobby pins, used tissues, yikes!
If I’m in a dither over something that I can’t control or fix or change, sometimes the best I can do is organize a small area of my life like my pocketbook or wallet. There is something about being able to affect change on a physical level. You can see a before & after, and realize that you have power to create change, however small. So maybe you can’t whip every problem into shape, but there are things you can do to shift your experience.
It is important to know that there is no obstacle, emotion or inner state that is beyond the influence of “letting it be whatever it is.” Whether you are performing a straightforward job like cleaning your house or facing the daunting task of a tough conversation, you can listen to your true intuition and connect to your higher self.
It may not be comfortable or perfect. In fact, it probably won’t be either of these things.
But, Iyengar says that when one practices Isvara Pranidhana (letting it be whatever it is) that “grace pours down upon [him] like a torrential rain.”
And I vote for grace every time.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
If the wings of yoga are persistent practice (abhyasa) and letting go (vairagya), we must investigate what it means to really practice.
I think there’s a reason why the practice wing is always mentioned first. We have to create a practice before we can let go of the fruits of our practice.
BKS Iyengar often mentions his meaning of abhyasa as persistent practice that involves a methodology and effort. He says that this kind of practice builds confidence and refines a person’s consciousness.
He writes that vairagya is the elimination of whatever hinders progress and refinement.
My practice is strong sometimes, yet some weeks I rarely get down on my mat. It depends on what is going on in my life.
It is hard to find the time to do an asana (postures) practice when I am overscheduled and busy. Ironically, it is during these frantic times that I need to practice yoga the most.
Several months ago, I visited my biological father and his wife in Florida. At 80, he has had to slow down quite a bit.
I have never spent much time with my father. He divorced my mom when I was 9, and moved to another state. As a kid, I saw him about a half-dozen times after that.
My sister encouraged me to visit him, and she even traveled with me for the visit.
I packed my yoga pants, and planned to practice while I was there. I knew doing some yoga poses would help mitigate some of my nervousness and sadness about being there.
I never made it to the poses.
When the dinner conversation brought up some strong political viewpoints that run counter to my own, my stomach gripped into a knot. How to respond to this?
I chose to practice my yoga right there at the table!
I practiced the yama of ahimsa (non-violence or non-harming) and satya (truthfulness). These are the 2 principles Gandhi based his whole teaching on.
I chose to listen without commenting. This was my way of practicing the yamas. To me, being a listener in this situation was about practicing non-harming and truthfulness.
By not arguing my point of view, I feel as if I chose peace. By not speaking out against someone else’s ideas, I practiced being steady within myself and what I think of as truth.
It was a moment-by-moment decision to sit in on the politically charged conversation. In the heat of the moment, I considered leaving the table and heading to the rest room or getting my iphone out to check my messages.
But ultimately I stayed present.
I practiced no asanas that week. But I definitely practiced my yoga — the yamas (respect of others) and the niyamas (personal restraints).
However, I want to be sure you know that I am no yoga saint. Sometimes I try, and fail. And then there are those times when I fail to try.
Looking back on the trip, I am pleased with my effort. Not in a pat-myself-on-the-back kind of way, but in a vairagya (letting go, surrendering) sort of way.
I choose to practice vairagya by giving up the idea that the visit should have been any different than it was — the meal, the trip, the father, the part it has all played in my becoming who I am.
And when I wake up tomorrow I will do my asana practice, and appreciate the sense of contentment of being home with my chosen family – my husband, the kids I helped raise, and the grand-daughter I am blessed to nurture.
Abhyasa in your practice can mean working hard in your poses. It can also mean your continued effort to live an examined life through the methodology of yoga.
At the end of the day we are living a big life – not just contorting ourselves in asana.
Of the yamas and the niyamas, which ones do you gravitate toward?
Here’s a list of them to get you started – nonharming, truthfulness, non-stealing, moderation, greedlessness, purity, contentment, self-study, zeal, surrendering the results of your practice.