During yoga teacher training, my instructor imparted the following principles for well-living. In yoga, they are the three basic steps to release physical tension. However, I found them so transformative for letting go of emotions, thoughts, beliefs or expectations, that I have since put them into practice in my everyday life. May they serve you well in releasing whatever is holding you back from feeling better and living fully.
In the first and most active step, become the observer or witness of your compulsive emotional reaction and thinking. Imagine you’re at a movie theater, sitting in the audience where your only job is to sit back and watch the film without reacting to everything that is happening on the screen. As we begin to watch our own movie, we are able to sustain a state of non-judgmental, non-comparative and more neutral stance. For me, looking at my plants or going for a walk in the park without kids or pets makes me more aware of my thoughts and behaviors.
Next, accept what you observe. Make a conscious effort to not reject or judge the thought, emotion or experience. Zen master and author Thich Nhat Hanh suggests that even when dealing with a difficult feeling, we should witness and pick it up as if it were a crying newborn. Most of us would instinctively hold them close and whisper it’s okay. When you treat your own observations the same way, without judgment or denial, you allow for love, compassion, and forgiveness to flow in. I think of how I would support my best friend if she were going through a tough time and try to offer myself that same care.
We need to cultivate the courage to be uncomfortable and to teach the people around us how to accept discomfort as a part of growth. –Brene Brown
3. LET GO
Finally, surrender the situation. It’s not easy to let go of something painful, especially consciously. But when you make an effort to observe and accept, the letting go happens on its own. In yoga philosophy, the first two steps are active—we must constantly work on them—but letting go is the grace that follows. It helps me to remember that just as water naturally becomes steam when boiled, continuous acceptance allows thoughts and emotions to evaporate or at least dissipate. When we experience difficult feelings such as grief or sadness, most of us skip the first two steps; we want to get rid of the emotions altogether. Unfortunately, trying to do so will only create more resistance and long-term emotional and physical suffering, heaviness and feeling stuck.
Applying this yogic framework can transform the way we experience life and help us feel better. Be gentle with yourself as you practice each step, and know that you can always begin again.