The One Activity That (Finally!) Taught Me How to Let Go

You know how some people can be extroverted-introverts? They’re fun, loud, and confident in social settings, but this can only last so long without having time for themselves to recharge.

In a similar way, I think I’m one of the most laid-back perfectionists you’ll ever meet. Seriously – I’ve always had a way of putting more pressure on myself than necessary, and I’m constantly working on this tendency of setting big expectations for everything. I tend to go into situations with my own idea of what will make it “just right”. From planning a date night to a weekend away to what I want to make for dinner, life teaches me over and over again to just go with the flow; to release my expectations and just be. This was a weird realization to notice at first, but over the years, I’ve gotten much better at putting my own pressures aside and enjoying the present moment. I’ve learned to be flexible, open-minded, and more relaxed overall, to let go.

This didn’t happen by chance, though, and it’s definitely still a work in progress (as most things in life are). But, there is one thing that has made my laid-back side easier to encourage – yoga.

I really think establishing a regular yoga practice is one of the best things a person can do for themselves. Some people enter this world for the workout or the mobility benefits, others become intrigued by the mental clarity and enhanced awareness many yogis talk about. Whatever the reason that gets you on the mat, the richness of the practice starts to unfold itself more and more, in every way. The thing that has stood out the most for me, though, is the concept of being able to “sit with” the world around me and the emotions within me.

Traffic doesn’t piss me off anymore. It’s easier to brush off a stranger’s rude comment or to see where someone I disagree with is coming from. Most of all, my inner dialogue has become healthier. I don’t put as much pressure on myself to be hard-working, or a good partner, or a better person; I just let myself gravitate to the things that will make such realities happen. It’s not like my life is flowers and rainbows, but, yoga does have a way of making life’s good stuff more enjoyable and the bad stuff more bearable.

Here are a few reasons why yoga has the profound effect it does.

Yoga Makes You Sweat Things Out

Before I found yoga, I was all about weightlifting. Weights are great tools to help people meet their fitness goals, when used correctly. I had the right form down, but my approach was way too extreme. I always wanted to lift heavier and to do more, sometimes at the expense of the integrity of my movements (which compromise the results available). Still, the main reason I loved weight training was because the gym kind of became my place of therapy. Training time was my hour of the day to step back from my to-do list and anxieties and just tune into my body. Yoga allows for the same thing without all the pressure attached to lifting heavier or doing more reps. My mat is my place to go when I am happy and energized as well as when I need a pick-me-up to get out of my head. It’s mental medicine available through mindful movement. It’s a release – both in the physical toxins sweat takes from the body, as well as the emotional clarity yoga offers. Not to mention, thanks to the lessons from the mat in patience and timing, my weight training has gotten better too!

Yoga Shows You Where Your Focus Really Is

Part of the reason I can be so aware of my body on my mat and in the gym is because of drishti. Drishti is the yoga term for focusing your gaze on a certain point in order to maintain strength and balance. This mostly goes for holding poses on the mat, but it also applies to navigating daily life. When you fall out of a pose, it’s partially because you’re focusing on something else. Instead of tuning into your body, you’re thinking about what you’re going to have for dinner or worried about a work deadline. Your mind is elsewhere. Drishti brings your focus back to the present moment. It’s available during the asana part of the yoga practice, as well as in everyday life to help you stay in the present – not dwelling on the past or anticipating the future.

Yoga Teaches You How to Meditate

Sometimes, yoga teachers calling out poses for their students will joke with them and say “Savasana” in the middle of class. They are referring to the rest most students are thinking of as the teacher gives them a challenging sequence. In all seriousness, though, Savasana really is all about relaxation and meditation. It’s the final resting pose, the moment to release any final tensions or thoughts and sink into the breath and body. There are classes entirely focused on this part of the practice, like Yoga Nidra and Yin Yoga, and there are students who start to embrace meditation in their daily life. They make the time to sit down and clear their thoughts at various parts of their day in addition to their physical yoga practice. This is the other side of “doing yoga”- not doing anything at all except for focusing on the breath in a comfortable seated position. Meditation offers a mental clarity that carries a person throughout their day, long after their 5, 10, or 30-minute session has ended. It helps boost focus, enhance your self-awareness, and even offers health benefits like emotional stability and better sleep (more info here).

Yoga doesn’t solve all your problems. It can’t take care of your finances for you or battle your mental health alone. But, it does make it easier to navigate life’s obstacles, to enjoy the present moment, and to just let go. When things don’t “go my way” or when I have no choice but to be flexible, I turn to the lessons from my practice to keep me in check. Plus, my body has gotten a little more flexible too, and I guess that’s pretty cool.

Try a week or two of yoga for yourself. Find a studio or develop a home practice. The mental and physical benefits are always available. Practice, and all is coming.

Featured Photo by John Salvino on Unsplash