Letting Go of What Does Not Serve You (Aparigraha)

In October, my classes have been incorporating learnings on the 5th yama, Aparigraha, which is the last of the yamas.

Aparigraha is all about letting go of what is no longer useful to us. It reminds us that life is constantly changing, moving and evolving…and when we try to keep things the way they’ve always been, we end up suffering. When we can release what is no longer useful to us, we open ourselves to new ideas, new relationships, and ways of living and being that are more harmonious to who we are.

I have to admit that I was super excited for this to be the focus for my classes in October! There are so many things going on in my life right now, as many of you who know me personally are aware of. For example:

  • Things have been going downhill quickly for my mom, who has Parkinson’s Disease and Dementia. She’s been in a memory care facility since April, and was placed on palliative care last week. It’s been a struggle for me to lose her more and more each day.
  • My youngest daughter is now out on her own, so my husband and I are true empty nesters now. For the past 26 years, my life has revolved around what I need to do for my daughters, and I find myself suddenly very sad and not knowing where I fit in.

There are other things, to be sure, but the above two are my biggest struggles at the moment. I don’t WANT things to change, dammit! I want my mom back! And I’m not ready to be an empty nester…what am I supposed to do with myself, now that my life no longer revolves around my daughters?

Why do things have to CHANGE?!

Maybe you have situations going on in your own life where you have similar feelings. Maybe you just want things to go back to the way they were, or to stay as they are.

If you’re like me and you need some help in better dealing with the changes in your life — with letting go — then Autumn is a great time to start working on that.

The Autumn season is a time for letting go and clearing (kind of the like leaves letting go and falling from a tree). It is a time for transformaton and is associated with the Metal element in Traditional Chinese Medicine (we’ll delve more deeply into the metal element in a future post). It is during this time that trees drop their leaves, flowers wither, and all of these plant byproducts that drop to the ground are absorbed by the earth to become minerals and nutrients that will be used for future growth. For us humans, this is the time for letting go of what is no longer essential, slowing down, drawing awareness inward and storing up what is needed for the future. This time of contemplation allows us to renew and restore emotional balance in our lives.

You’ll know you need to work on Aparigraha if you find you have trouble letting go of things. The more “stuff” you have, the more things you have to take care of, which requires more of your time and energy. That “stuff” might be things like:

  • An overabundance (hoarding) of clothes, shoes, books, etc.
  • Overeating
  • Seeking attention
  • Possessiveness in your relationships
  • Being obsessed with how many ‘likes’ and followers you have on social media

There are physical and emotional symptoms you may experience that could also indicate you need to work on Aparigraha:

  • Shallow breathing
  • Respiratory issues
  • Slumped shoulders
  • Hopelessness
  • Prolonged grief
  • Pessimism

If you read the above and thought to yourself, “Oh my goodness! That’s totally me…I’m totally out of balance here!”, don’t despair. There are so many things you can do to help bring the balance back into your life, making it easier for you to deal with change and let go of the things that no longer provide value to you. Some things that can help if you are looking to work on Aparigraha, are:

  • Go to bed early. Rest and relaxation are essential during this time of the year. When we are well rested, we are better able to conserve our energy and our spirit, which can help us deal with the changes we face.

    “When the mind is allowed tro relax, inspiration often follows.” – Phil Jackson
  • Recognize when it’s time to move on. What are you holding on to in your life that might be holding you back in any way?

    For me, I am longing to have my mom back most of all. The conversations we used to have, being able to go shopping together, hearing her tell her stories to an audience…I can’t stop thinking about those times. However, I’m never going to get those things back, as the mom I once knew is no longer here. We are dealing with late stage Dementia and Parkinson’s, and me thinking about the way things used to be is keeping me from being able to fully be there for her the way she now needs me to. Also, continuing to think about what WAS is making me feel miserable and hopeless…and that does NO ONE any good, especially me.

    “You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms too full to embrace the present.” — Jan Oldewell
  • Go outside and enjoy nature. In Autumn, when the leaves start to let go of their branches, you can see how beautiful and effortless it can be to let go. Remind yourself that the leaves themselves create nourishment for the soil so that the flowers and plants can bloom again in the spring. Observing this helps us to understand the constant flow of letting go and rebirth, which may make it easier for us to move through our own changes.

    For myself, I am lucky enough to live in an area of the country where we have lots of greenway trails for me to hike or bike. I love going early in the morning, or later in the afternoon, when there aren’t as many people around…it’s so peaceful when I get the chance to hear the breeze and the wildlife. I find I do some of my best thinking when I get out there in nature.

    “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” — Albert Einstein

If you’re a yogi, try working on Aparigraha in class (or in your home practice), and try to notice how what you learn can be put to use in your life off the mat. Some things you can try are:

  • Move on the mat for the sheer love of it. When you come to your mat without setting expectations to reach a certain variation of a pose or hitting a certain goal, simply allowing yourself to move in a more organic way, you may notice that your perspective shifts.
  • Practice letting go of perfection in your poses. Simply do your best and know that it’s enough.
  • Observe your breath, noticing how it comes and goes. Notice how, when you don’t let go of the breath, you’re unable to receive fresh oxygen from your next inhale. We have to let go before we can receive a new breath.
  • Include poses that help open the lungs. The lungs are the organ associated with the Metal element, and when we are out of balance with this element, the respiratory system can suffer. As mentioned above, one of the physical symptoms that indicates you might need to work on Aparigraha is respiratory issues. Poses like the following can help:
    • Revolved (twisting) poses may help purge the body of impurities while infusing the body with radiance. Revolved postures can help circulate and increase prana (energy) in the lungs, which are associated with the metal element. Try incorporating your favorite supine twist in each practice and notice how the breath gravitates into the lungs as you do so.
    • Include heart openers and focus on spreading the ribcage, as they also help lubricate and open up the lungs. One of my favorite heart openers to do is Supported Fish Pose.
    • Include side body openers, like Banana Pose, as they are wonderful for helping to make more space for the lungs.

“When one is steadfast in non-possessiveness or non-grasping with the senses (aparigraha), there arises knowledge of the why and wherefore of past and future incarnations.”

Yoga Sutra 2.39

Namaste and Have a Sparkling Day!


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