Aparigraha, setting the intention to let go

Aparigraha is the principle of non-grasping and is the fifth Yama (principles to live by according to the sage Patanjali). It’s something that we work hard to cultivate in our practice at SSY. It’s so easy to get drawn into ideas of how we should be in a pose, what shape we should be making, how accomplished we should be in our practice, what we look like, but this is not what the journey of yoga is about.

The journey to any pose can be a long one and it’s what we learn about ourselves on the way that helps us unfold into deeper layers of understanding and compassion for ourselves and others.

I’ve been working on handstand on and off for a long time. At first I tried to work on it regularly but just within my practice, then there were times that I worked on specific drills and upper body strengthening. I’ve been through periods of handstanding everyday, convinced that devoting time/energy in such a concentrated way would yield some big result, I was definitely grasping! But it just made my shoulders tired all the time and so I found it hard just to get upside down at all some days – and perhaps of most notice, other parts of my practice were often neglected. There was no balance to my practice in these times and in one period last year, it seemed that battling my way into a handstand was all that mattered!

It became obvious to me that I needed to step back to get on with a more rounded approach to my practice, I wanted handstands to be more fun and just something that I tilted at just now and then, I’d actually started dreading my handstand practice! So I found myself softening towards the pose and in that cultivation of aparigraha, I realised of how little importance it really was to me to be able to handstand. I bought myself back to the focus of everyday practice, a healthier approach to body and mind and a letting go of the desire to be in the pose. Focusing on what I was really cultivating, enabled me to entirely let go of the idea of being able to handstand and in that place the magic started!

Now it really is a slow journey but I enjoy it! The pictures here are taken about 18 months apart. I can see I’ve made slow & steady progress without trying – we aim to shorten the front body and not be in a banana shape to be able to hold the pose in balance. What you can’t see from these pics is how out of breath I was on the left, how many attempts it took to get up and how I was only in the pose for a split second. On the right, just a couple of days ago, I kicked up first time and held the pose for about 3 seconds before I came down, my back and front bodies are much straighter, and I held the pose against the wall for several seconds before I pushed away from it, when I came down by breath was pretty normal…it doesn’t matter to me now that I haven’t ‘got’ handstand yet, I’m actually so delighted that I haven’t been working on it and I’m just having fun!

For all of us, progress in our asana (postures) should be slow and steady, not trying too hard to get toward any particular place. Having a direction of travel yes, but having fun with it, not taking ourselves too seriously and accepting that what will show up, will show up. We don’t need to grasp at it, that grasping will most likely take us further away from where we want to be…and that is ultimately why we cultivate aparigraha, if we hold onto something too tight, we just can’t see the bigger picture, by letting go we can be in the more expansive space on every level.

And with all of our practice, what we learn about ourselves on the mat and in the relationship we cultivate within ourselves as we move and breathe, is the wisdom that we then take into that bigger practice, the rest of the 23 hours a day off the mat! Aparigraha can serve us so well as it’s the literal antidote to everything we’re encouraged to do in our culture - to be getting more, faster, quicker. We don’t need to renounce the world, far from it, in Tantra (the yoga philosophy that guides us here at SSY) we celebrate it! But slowing down to enjoy it all, not needing all the things, all the time, this can really help us notice all we already have. This is a far more satisfying place to be than feeling in a state of lack, and ultimately a far healthier place for us to be mind and body.

So whether it’s in your yoga postures, in your relationships, in your shopping habits, I encourage you to see if you can just soften a bit around the desire to pull it all towards you. Sometimes when we just sit back and relax, the most amazing things happen with seemingly very little effort at all…