There is a lot of talk about ‘letting go’ in yoga. It is something that is really hard to describe until you’ve managed to do it – not great when you’re a yoga teacher!
I find it is easier to start with helping people to let go physically.
One of the easiest ways to demonstrate this is in something like a seated forward bend. I had real issues mentally with this posture because, it turns out, my body is really not built to do this. Sometimes, I barely move forwards at all.
In this picture, I had just taken part in a 90-minute class so had warm muscles, I was relaxed and this is the result of a further 10 minutes of using my exhalation to let go of self-imposed tension in my legs, shoulders and quads.
So, how do you let go?
It starts with awareness, I literally check-in with each part of my body starting at the feet and really analyse if I’m holding on to tension there. And once you start to really focus, you realise you are often creating tension unnecessarily – it’s almost as though your mind is falsely protecting you from harm. So then, I just inhale and focus on that area and as I exhale, I really sigh out and see if I can release that tension. It can take practice but it does help.
Another technique you can use is to intentionally create tension, e.g. in this forward fold, I might tense up all the muscles in my legs as I inhale, hold my breath as I hold the tension and then exhale and relax the muscles.
The third way people see a big difference, is to pull back. We live in a world where we are always striving, we push to get further, we work hard to get where we want to be. When I first went into this posture, my hands were somewhere around my knees. At this point, I inhaled, unfolded a little to release the muscles and then exhaled as I folded forward again. Exhale by exhale and mm by mm, the tension gave way to elasticity. This final technique enabled me to release tension in my thighs and jaw.
Invariably students see how their tension is holding them back.
What about the mind?
These can be harder knots to unravel but it is possible.
The first switch that needs to flick in your head is letting go of the idea that there is a particular way of ‘doing’ a yoga posture. It isn’t helped by all the Instagram or glossy magazine shoots with photos of someone doing a head stand on a clifftop at sunrise or doing a one-arm balance with perfect hair and sculpted body on a deserted beach.
I prefer to think of us ‘being’ in a posture and any good yoga teacher will help you try different approaches, adaptations and props so that you can access the posture in a way that is right for you. So my first tip is to think of your mat as an island and not to compare yourself to the person on the next mat. And to try everything out and see what suits you – and remember that might not be the same thing on another day.
The other tip is to recognise that our bodies are not identical – our skeleton, muscle groups and mental make up are completely unique. As I mentioned above, forward folds are really not my thing without a lot of gentle work to open up the back of my body. But bring on the hip openers, because I can sit in Baddha Konasana for ages! My body simply lies more naturally and comfortably in that position.
The other thing is to think about why you want to do that particular posture. Perhaps you could achieve the same effect by doing a different posture that is more suited to you. So, I am much more comfortable in a standing forward fold… I am still folding the front of my torso towards the front of my legs, so arguably the same posture but I’m standing as opposed to sitting. Anatomically, I have gravity to help and my pelvis is able to rotate more freely. Plus I get the added bonus of an inversion at the same time, which suits my body and my Ayurvedic dosha. But that is just what is right for me.
If we can let go of what is ‘right’ and encourage an acceptance of what is right for us at any given moment, knowing that it will change, we can gain more out of yogic postures. And we can start to explore what yoga is really about, because postures (asanas) are 1/8 of yoga, one ‘limb’ out of a total of eight. And for me several of the other limbs are where the tools lie to letting go of mental restraints.
If you would like to try some mindful yoga postures, focussed breathing practices and nourishing relaxation, then why not join in a class? Simply head to the Classes page and fill in the health questionnaire. I’ll then email you everything you need to know.