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In yoga class, we often hear the expression “to let go”. Besides all of the blissful images of yogic perfection that it may bring (floating down rivers, melting deeper into Hanumanasana), this is a concept that is really not as easy as yogis make it out to be. Then, to make it more confusing, you will also hear cues through class to “bring the mind back to the breath”, “regulate the inhalations and exhalations”, “use your abdominals to control your descent”, etcetera, etcetera. This brings a dilemma to the practicing yogi: is it control that I want over my mind and body, or freedom from control?

It is obvious that most people like to feel “in control” at most times. The expression “out of control” brings to mind disorganized flurries of deadlines and paperwork, traffic jams, impromptu and unexpected phone calls that keep us from our agendas, stress, and sometimes illness. Yet, it isn’t uncommon that the perceptually free and easy life of someone who just “goes with the flow” attracts most of us at some time. Who hasn’t wanted to pick up and follow their heart’s true desire at some point in life? To “let the river of life take us where we are destined”? As romantic as this concept appears to be, control is actually a very necessary and life-sustaining concept in our lives, whether we like it or not.

How does yoga help us to understand this dichotomy, this inner battle between our need to control (ourselves, our environment, ‘sometimes’ our closest friends and family) and our longing to be free? We know that control in yoga practice, just as in life, is also necessary. Sometimes, our inner control freak may even convince us that there may not even be a yoga practice if we just gave up control completely (I believe that we should give our selves more credit). Control keeps us safe in life and on the mat: it is the muscular energy that keeps our limbs integrated into their joint sockets, the slow movement that keeps us stable and present coming out of headstand. Yet, we also know that without surrender to flow (aka succumbing to the out of control aspects from time to time) there is no spontaneity, no surprises, and, in some cases, no progress. We have also all had at least one experience of “struggling upstream” for the longest time… and it wasn’t until we “let go” of our end vision a little (or our ego, our narrow minded view, our hard intentions) that we finally find what we’re looking for. On the mat, as in life, we learn (sometimes the hard way) that life is inherently out of control at the best of times. It is the flexibility and surrender that we practice by softening to the possibilities of each asana, each movement on our mat, that helps us to develop a softer attitude when faced with something we cannot control.

In our yoga practice, it is the merging of these two concepts (control and non-control) that launches us into our own optimized state of functioning. We open our minds and our hearts to the possibilities of our practice, we yield to the “limitations” of today’s body, we immerse ourselves into the flow. At the same time, we contain ourselves and stay safe by harnessing our strength, drawing inwards, and resisting temptation to wander off (in body, breath, and mind). And this, just as in all our other yogic lessons, can be extended to include our practice of life off the mat as well.

Remember this inner conversation, especially during this holiday season – a time during which chaos seems to prevail – and find a balance. Draw on your resources, your strengths, and your to-do lists for structure… but if a friend asks you out for an impromptu hot chocolate amidst the craziness, it won’t hurt to yield a little.

P.S. I apologize for the long wait between posts. I will be trying to update as frequently as possible, both about yogic thoughts and about asana, even though I have currently taken a break from teaching. (If you’re curious to know what I do with most of my time, see my other blog here for some explanation.)

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