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What Are You Holding on To?

One of the more commonly heard phrases I come across — from yoga studios to exercise apparel to Pinterest and beyond — is “Let it go.” As a yoga teacher, I find myself suggesting this short burst of words from time to time, mostly without thinking, as a default script. It’s not like I was trained to regurgitate cheesy one-liners, but when teachers hear it and read it everywhere, it becomes all too easy to parrot the cliche.

And yet when I stop to consider what these words actually mean, I wonder if letting go is really all that easy. Two short answers come to mind: One, it’s complicated, and two, most likely not — otherwise we wouldn’t need the constant reminder.

Popularized by the theme song from Disney’s 2013 animated musical Frozen, the ambiguous concept of “Let It Go” has infiltrated pop culture. The song has garnered approximately 180 million views on YouTube, won Best Original Song at the 86th Academy Awards, and was the first song from a Disney animated musical to reach the Top Ten of the Billboard Hot 100 since 1995.

Beyond that, the theme has dominated athletic apparel. You’ve probably seen “Let It Go” hand-lettered millennial style across countless tank tops, or at least some variation of it — Let it Flow, Let That Shit Go, you get the idea. You may even own one. No judgement here, I probably have the same one.

As a mental break from the looming holidays, I recently explored a three-hour workshop dedicated to “the art of letting go”, lead by Adam Whiting (eRYT-500, YACEP, 1 Giant Mind Certified Meditation Teacher) and hosted by VIBE5 Fitness & Yoga in SouthPark. Whiting has practiced and trained in various styles of yoga, including tantra, Ashtanga, Anusara and Vinyasa. In doing my research on Whiting, I repeatedly read about his infectious laugh. More laughter in my life couldn’t hurt, so naturally this character description piqued my interest.

With a balance between modern science and ancient wisdom, the workshop description seemed tailored to tapping into my letting-go skills, with the goal being to release dead weight that may be holding me back. From what, I wasn’t quite sure, but I booked the class anyway. I checked in with eyes wide, hoping to learn how to break free from the gravitational pull of my past. I’ve learned that I am willling to pay any amount of money to help me stop thinking about the past. Sometimes I feel like a whipped dog, beaten by thoughts of regret, what I could have done better or differently. All things I can’t change but keep coming back to for more. Shame is literally killing my vibe.

Once settled into the space and onto my mat, Adam greeted us warmly. He even made himself giggle, a lot. I now understand why the initial review I read mentioned this trait. My presence felt as welcomed and appreciated as a childhood friend. It was quite endearing, actually.

To open the discussion, prana was the first topic. In short, prana is the spark of animation that fuels each and every cell in the body. Pranayama, or breath control, is the key to maximizing our energy and is a large component of yoga; it’s the fourth limb of spiritual advancement as laid out in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. According to Whiting, we are all “leaky vessels”. Curious to learn more, I pursued further reading on this leaky vessel theory. According to Yoga for Transformation: Ancient Teachings and Practices for Healing the Body, Mind,and Heart by Gary Kraftsow, “The leaky vessel is unable to hold whatever is put into it. It symbolizes those who are unable to sustain practice and to build energy in their systems. This condition may be the result of an unstable mind, too many distractions, and/or an unhealthy lifestyle.”

Too many distractions, you say? This anecdote ties perfectly into Whiteside’s comment about us losing most of our prana through our eyes, vis-à-vis our phones. Now let’s go a step further and marry this concept with a study by global tech company Asurion, which found that the average person struggles to go barely 10 minutes without checking their phones. I’ve never claimed to be a prana mathematician but damn, that’s a lot of energy wasted on empty calorie distractions that just don’t matter.

Next on the nebulous topic forum before a brief flow and meditation: dharma. According to Tibetan Buddhist scholar Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche, “The Dharma is whatever leads us toward happiness and away from suffering … Only by renouncing the causes of suffering, such as attachment … can we truly liberate ourselves.”

While attachment causes suffering, non-attachment doesn’t necessarily mean indifference, which has taken me years to understand. To me, it means moving through life fluidly. Not allowing objects, people or their judgements to sway my decisions. If to effectively detach means “let it go”, I now understand the semantics of labeling it as an art form. It takes a lifetime to master.

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