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If you "Wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down"--Toni Morrison

The last of the Yamas, Aparigraha, invites me not to grasp for or try to hold on to anything. Basically this precept covers everything and doesn't need that much explanation: the more we try to hold on to things (people, our past, our image, our plans and expectations, feelings, objects, etc.), the more miserable we make ourselves. We are held back, captives of our own inability to let go of these things or to look out for what's coming for us next.

As Adele says, "Aparigraha invites us to enjoy life to the fullest and yet always be able to drop everything and run into the waiting arms of the Divine" (and there it is again--God). Aparigraha also represents not coveting things, not being greedy, not clinging. Knowing how to and being willing to "let go" is to master this last Yama. The only guarantee in life is that things will change, and the more we fight against it, the tougher life will be on us. It is not that we are to hold people and experiences at arm's length; we are to engage fully, but be able to move on.

I've been consciously practicing non-attachment for several years now, and even wrote about it when I first started studying yoga on a blog that is today, thankfully, untraceable. (I hope) But it is a never-ending study and practice and I needed this month's challenges to remind me that I am so much better and happier when I can let go of things.

Here's how I did it:

Week 1 had me pay attention to my breath and let the simple act of inhaling and exhaling teach me about the "fullness of breathing in life without the need to hold on to it".

I wound up working with my breath in various ways all month and really enjoyed it! I generally don't like and avoid practicing pranayama (yogic breath work) because it's uncomfortable to manipulate the natural breath by speeding it up, slowing it down, or holding it in. And I haven't delved deeply enough into the study of its merits to fully buy into it. A couple of my favorite yoga teachers always have to include a kabalabhati or bastriki session in their classes and I hate it. If I was bolder I'd inquire after class as to their direct purpose for including it when they do, because I find that it's often tossed in without being taught, and at times (in certain poses) that don't seem to coordinate with the biological process (like doing kabalabhati in wheel or squat). It seems to have become almost arbitrarily thrown into an advanced class at a time that it would be extra hard to execute it.

Anyway, serious breath work aside, I tapped into and used my own breath all month long in easy ways that homed my attention and brought great results:

  • I consciously took 10 or 20 slow, deep breaths when I felt my anxiety or irritation rise

  • I did the same when struggling to fall asleep or drop into a meditation or savasana

  • I worked slow, conscious breaths into my yoga classes, keeping my students focused and challenged in an accessible way (holding poses for longer or slowing down transitions like chaturanga according to the breath)

  • I tapped into my breath while running at times when I felt tired and ready to take a break: instead of breaking right when the desire hit, I took 10 deep, slow breaths, slowed down my pace and allowed a little recovery to my lungs and legs without stopping. The effect was just as intended: once I got to breath 10, I no longer needed to walk or rest.

Breathing deeply into the belly and exhaling completely has been scientifically proven (no, I do not have a citation for this) to change the chemistry in the body, tapping into the nervous system and quieting it down; flipping the switch from fight-or-flight (sympathetic nervous system) to rest-and-digest (parasympathetic nervous system). I'm not an expert on these concepts, but I have tons of anecdotal evidence that it works. And I've loved being forced to remember and practice using my breath to my advantage through this challenge.

Week 2 had me look at my physical surroundings and all the objects in it, asking whether or not the things make me feel free and light or weighted down; I am to experience the the difference between enjoyment of and attachment to material objects.

I am very well practiced in purging my space of things that are crowding it and no longer sparking joy (thanks, Marie Kondo). I started examining and moving more towards minimalism years ago. This switch was brought on by a few factors not entirely in my control: First, I moved to NYC, initially into a studio apartment that I shared with my now husband and two not-small dogs. It was a much easier transition from having a whole house (including my own bedroom) to a studio than I anticipated. I thoroughly enjoyed purging my belongings for the move and we both felt a relief in having less stuff. Our apartments have gotten incrementally larger, but the amount of shit we're cramming into our still-small space has grown like a mold. I give most of the blame for that to my husband, who has a penchant for mild hoarding and a definite enthusiasm for buying things. So the second impetus of my moving towards minimalism was to counter the suffocation I was feeling with the accumulation of my husband's stuff. I couldn't make space by throwing out his things (though I try), but I could clear up free space, physically and mentally, of my own.

I was inspired by The Minimalists (highly recommend their first book), especially their "minimalist game", which goes like this:

  • Over the course of one month, you get rid of objects every day to correspond the number of the date. So on the 1st, you get rid of one thing; on the 2nd, two things; on the 22nd, twenty-two objects must go, etc. It's really fun, really addictive, and not that easy as you get towards the end of the month. The first time I played was July 2014, and I loved it so much I kept going, keeping a running tally for the rest of the year and beyond.

At the beginning of this year, I also started a running tally of monthly purging, aiming to get to 30 objects per month and I'm doing fairly well: my current count is averaging 25 objects per month. I get the hugest hit of dopamine when I get rid of stuff--it's SO freeing to finally let go of regrettable purchases, ill-fitting clothes, junk I don't use or never wanted, etc. So although I didn't really need Adele's challenge this week, it made me feel great to reflect on the work I've done over the past few years in its spirit.


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