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Release: the art of letting go
Dragon pose! Mysan asks, “What can you let go of?”
I do a scan of my body and I discover parts of me not directly involved in doing the pose. They are operating in ways that are not exactly useful. My right arm and shoulder are aching, that makes sense as it’s holding me up, but I follow across my collar bone and discover my other shoulder, neck and jaw are all involved too. I breathe into them and relax. Tracking down there’s a tangle of sensation around my hips, buttocks and thighs and my ankles feel a bit shaky too. But what’s really announcing itself is the pain under my left shoulder.
Of course when considering letting go, my first challenge is choosing what to let go of.
What immediately presents itself is the story, the frantic voice of supposed reason yabbering away.
Past- present -future
Hold only to what is actually present. And what is present can be distinguished from what is past and what is future by the nature quality of the experience. The present announces itself by way of immediate sensation, without the colouring of attachment, desire or fear. Un mediated
The past however presents itself as a story. Or to use Donald’s colourful language “alternative facts”.
Thinking about my past for some reason I’m reminded of the phenomena of amputees’ experience of phantom limbs; where the brain constructs sensations for a body part that’s no longer actually there.
In my Yin practice I frequently experience emotions somehow attached to the sensations and often they come as a package deal with events from my past. “This is how it felt that day riding my bike past the Carlton Cemetery, she’d left me and I felt her betrayal like a blow, like a knife in the back. Huh funny, I was going to my first ever yoga class that day. “I’ve been carrying this one around for 37 years, triggering the sensations brings back this same old story. I’d love to let it go now. It’s hardly all that relevant to me now.
Or is it? How has this story conditioned my behaviour over the years, how have perceptions of the world around me been shaped by that event and the underlying somatic structure that caused me to react the way that I did 37 years ago? How does it generate my stance in life and my approach to relationships? Do guardedness and distrust reflect themselves in my attitudes towards others? Is this the cause of my cynicism and social behaviour…hmmm? It’s not just the story that needs to be let go of, maybe it’s the meaning I’ve attached to the story.
What would my life be like without that story and the meaning I’ve attached to it?…. And thus the speculation and fantasy begins… rehearsing conversations with people not actually present, imagined scenarios that never happened, with ghosts of people who aren’t a part of my life anymore, suddenly I’m thnking of a shopping list of things for a meal later that day and to do lists for work.
Coming back to myself I realise that I basically have two genres of story; autobiography and fantasy. This imagined world is coloured just as much by my attachments as the fabulous construct I call my past.
And there is nothing as distracting as my potential futures: my obsessions and preferences, my fears and hopes all come out to play in this game.
I’m breathing into the pain and wondering how long I can hang out in dragon, will I have to come out before Mysan announces rebound, how embarrassing would that be! My “grin and bear it” activation turns on and suddenly I see that this is how I’ve learnt to deal with challenges. This is how I deal with emotional challenging situations with any hint of pain or suffering, by holding on like grim death, all self impressed by my own saint like nobility.
So that’s how all those muscles not actually involved in the pose get activated. So I shall call this dynamic my martyr complex ( with some self compassion and forgiveness) And oh joy! I’ve still got to do the other side. Another opportunity to push through my limits of endurance
When faced with a challenge, our mind sends us subliminal (usually unconscious directives activated by the samskaras or our energetic habits. This activation fires up the sympathetic nervous system or fight flight response. When we deliberately create challenges, such as during our yoga or meditation practices, we get a chance to notice these patterns and thus rewire the unconscious mind, to reprogram our habits with new and more appropriate responses (ie to activate the parasympathetic nervous system; the rest and digest response). Thich Nhat Hanh calls these samskaras “weeds,” which we tend to water mindlessly. We water weeds when we could be watering beautiful flowers.”
So, there’s this sensation under my shoulder blade and the opposite side somehow tensed and folded around the sensation in reaction to it and there I store the story and emotional ‘blah, blah, blah’ as Mysan describes it and there are the energetic habits or samskaras underpinning that, so that I habitually respond to challenges I encounter in my life in a particular way.
Having gone a bit deeper into identifying what might be good to let go of, I now face the question of how do I do that?
Awareness, Acceptance, Action.
In the pose, in the fire of the dragon pose, I get to practice awareness and acceptance and in rebound I get to experience a taste of the action of release.
With acceptance comes the detachment, that sense of disengagement from the drama and the emotional colouring of my experience. With acceptance comes forgiveness, for myself and for others. Moving beyond forgiveness, we may even come to feel gratitude for the gift found in these experiences. Gratitude and forgiveness are found in the experience of rebound.
In archery the release of the arrow is just as critical as the aim; anything that deflects the string can alter the arrow’s course. It is the release (that is the way you remove your fingers from the bow string) which delivers energy to the system comprising the archer, the bow and the arrow.
So release is a crucial part of the practice.
Yoga Nidra is one technique to reach a state of consciousness that is extremely helpful in this context.
It is a aspect of my over all yoga practice in which I can develop an ‘attitude of witness’ towards the physical and mental action, discriminating distinct or discrete energies moving through areas of my body. This act of stimulating various parts of the brain by focusing the awareness on the corresponding parts of the body is a necessary preliminary awareness of samskaras. This is not to say you might not need to do a more thorough ‘excavation’ of the associated emotions and stories.
Sally’s Yoga Nidra on Sunday’s afternoon is a treat. After considering what it is about her delivery her guidance on these occasions, I realised it is the musicality of her voice diction and vocal delivery. Yoga Nidra invites you to surrender yourself to spoken instruction, in a way that is almost hypnotic. What’s going on here is that this (together with diaphragm breathing in pranayama) is one the most effect ways for us to begin to develop voluntary control over the autonomic nervous system and the sympathetic and parasympathetic responses.
As Sally points out however it is in fact the hypnogogic state. In these borderlands between wakefulness and sleep is a strange and fascinating state of consciousness characterized by dream-like visions and strange sensory occurrences. Many artists use hypnagogia, the state between sleep and wakefulness, to tap into their deepest creativity. and out of body experience are also related to this state. Of particular interest in the context of my exploration of release here is Lucid Dreaming. Lucid dreaming is most usually associated with the experience of dreaming while knowing one is asleep this is of particular value in as much as in this state one can learn to direct the dream as if one was directing a film or conducting an orchestra.
Much music is designed specifically to build tension and then release it. The change of key in Paul McCartney’s Wings song ‘Letting Go’ is a fine old school example of this. It was this facility with change of key and emotional overtones that make so many Lennon and McCartney songs popular favourites over 50 years after they were written.
So, this week’s blog comes with a play list because next to yoga, music is my personal favourite way to experience release.
Ah, she tastes like wine!
Such a human being so divine
Oh she feels like sun
Mother nature look at what you’ve done
Oh I feel like letting go
Oh I feel like letting go.
Sarah McLachlan’s song Full of Grace captures the sense of the process of letting go and arriving at a changed state. This state of Grace in yoga captures where darshana (vision) comes into play. When we create a vision for our new pattern, we must give it a life force more vital than the old one. This is why at the commencement of Yoga Nidra Sally emphasises the calling to mind of the Sankalpa, an intention for the practice. It is, as Jungian analyst Joseph Campbell called it, a call to awakening.
We need to convince ourselves that it is real. We use our senses and emotions to bring it to life: What does it look, smell, or feel like? The more we visualize (and experience) the new pattern, the more real and compelling it becomes.
By making space in the body during yoga, we generate freedom in the mind; this freedom can spark our creativity, helping us find an unlimited choice of healthier patterns.
In Savasana, Mysan invites us to recollect “a happy place”, a sense of something distinctly different from the unhelpful samskaras that activate in us when we are challenged. To create a memory of freedom and space in previously tight mental, emotional, and physical places, for me this memory is holding my nine month old grandson aptly named Felix. This memory is a blueprint for the freedom and expansive vision that lie at the heart of transforming my samskara, he (and his mother Danya) who are in my life the gift I received from the betrayal I experienced so long ago.
Oh darkness I feel like letting go
If all of the strength and all of the courage
Come and lift me from this place
I know I could love you much better than this
Full of grace
The recent Disney hit Frozen featuring “Let it go” is a modern fable of how decisions made in childhood or early in life can come haunt us and bend our lives out of shape.
Let it go, let it go
I am one with the wind and sky
Let it go, let it go
You’ll never see me cry
Here I stand
And here I’ll stay
Let the storm rage on
My power flurries through the air into the ground
My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around
And one thought crystallizes like an icy blast
I’m never going back, the past is in the past
Let it go, let it go
And I’ll rise like the break of dawn
While not usually a fan of Disney princesses, this is the Demi Lovato’s version https://youtu.be/kHue-HaXXzg
A personal favourite of mine ( music to let go to) is Sweet Surrender by Tim Buckey (Jeff’s Dad); again more due to the musical structure than the associated lyrics. This song reminds me of the power of release to move us. Music so often has the power to move and we express that and we can come into that through singing and dancing; the state of grace is not passive or inert, often release is like dancing and singing in which we become one with the energy of movement.
“If we could just surrender to Love… if we could “
How fortunate we are to practice this way, together.