Yoga Off the Mat: Fifth Yama – Aparigraha (Non-Attachment)
We have almost fully made our way through the yamas in this Yoga Off the Mat Series! This post finishes out the first limb of yoga with the wisdom of the fifth yama – aparigraha or non-attachment. This is also often translated as non-possessiveness.
The Buddha is quoted as saying, “The root of all suffering is attachment.” Most of the work we focus on in yoga is learning to be less attached, making way for being more purely present in each moment. The yogis believed practice is to prepare us to be in the most optimal state of being for the ultimate letting go – death. And while this might seem a grim aim, there is much to be learned and gained from releasing ourselves from more of the things, thoughts and situations that do us more harm than good in life.
I’ve had 2 situations in my life that really stand out as lessons in non-attachment or otherwise put, letting go. The first was my divorce. Coming from a divorced family, one of my big hopes was to have a happy marriage that lasted a lifetime (clearly I thought I was going to be on the favorable side of the statistics). I did not want my children to grow up in a single-parent household and on top of that, having to split up a business my ex-husband and I co-owned was an unfathomable idea. I tried hard to keep it together, exercising every bit of control and willpower I could muster and pretending to be as happy as a clam despite the serious unraveling behind the scenes. When the pain of staying in it finally got greater than the pain of leaving, I was able to find the courage to walk away.
The second situation is likely one all of you can relate to in some way. 2019 was a solid year for GoYoga. It felt like we had finally hit our stride. We had big goals for 2020 and were well poised to achieve them. Then March of 2020 rolled around. The year we had anticipated all of a sudden was thrown out the window; the powers that be had very different plans for us all. We could have hung onto all of those glamourous goals we set, but that would have led to a lot of disappointment and frustration. Instead, we had to quickly release all of our expectations we had for the year and shift our focus to embracing and working with the circumstances before us, trusting that there were other bigger and better plans ahead that we couldn’t yet see.
I once heard Gabrielle Bernstein wonderfully put these concepts of holding on and letting into perspective. She said it’s very much like water skiing and holding onto the rope long after the skis have fallen out from underneath of you. Eventually you’ll realize if you keep holding on, you are going to get rope burn. Non-attaching is much like this, enjoy the moment, the thing, the person, the opportunity, but don’t hold on so tight that you eventually cause yourself more pain than pleasure.
I’ve shared some of the bigger letting go stories, but there are many small ways in day to day life where you can practice being a little less attached. After all, this is a practice and the more you can do it with the minor things, the easier it might be with some of the bigger, life altering things.
Inspiration & Practices:
1. “Trade your expectation for appreciation and the world changes instantly.” -Tony Robbins
One thing I’ve found can rob us and others around us of joy and happiness is our expectations. I’ve worked hard over the years to lighten my own load of expectations (still VERY much working on this one!). We can weigh ourselves down with expectations of ourselves, others, situations, life. The truth is there is more that we can’t control than we can control and despite our very best efforts, people and situations are not always going to turn out as we had hoped.
I invite you to try for a whole day to drop your expectations and instead, greet everyone and everything with appreciation. Just one day of being gracious for everyone and everything versus imparting your judgments, criticisms, complaints and need to control. If one day seems a stretch, then simply try this during your next yoga class. Can you for one class have zero expectations of yourself, the teacher, the people around you, the class itself and simply enjoy each moment as it unfolds?
2. “If you want to fly, you have to give up the things that weigh you down.” -Toni Morrison
Take a few quiet moments this week to take inventory of your life. What in your life is causing you more pain than pleasure? What feels like more work or maintenance than reward? What is stealing from your tank of joy and not reciprocating? What baggage are you carrying around unnecessarily? Developing an awareness of these things is the first step to making shifts that can lead you to finding and feeling a greater sense of health and happiness in all of life. Ensure you drop any expectations that some of these things (especially the bigger ones) are going to change overnight. There is often great (yet valuable) work involved in letting go of what is no longer working and this work sometimes has to be done one small step at a time.
3. “It’s not impermanence that makes us suffer. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they are not.” -Thich Nhat Hanh
Remind yourself regularly that everything changes. Nothing stays the same. On one hand this is reassuring. It gives us hope knowing that the undesirable pieces and parts of our current circumstances are only a temporary part of our experience. I certainly used the “this too shall pass” thinking during our Covid shut down and slow reopening and regrowing process to help me keep my head up.
On the flip side, this universal law of change can also cause us suffering when we hold on too tightly to wanting things to stay the same. This could be a relationship status, a job status, an identity, not wanting our kids to grow up, etc. As I age, I find this one really comes up with appearances. Aging and it’s natural processes are a part of life and can be a beautiful part of our evolution if we allow them to be so.
In the chapter on aparigraha in Deborah Adele’s fabulous book The Yamas & Niyamas, she guides us to ask ourselves the question: “How many suitcases full of expectations, tasks, plans, resentments, and unforgiven moments am I toting around with me every day?” There might be a lot to unpack there, but just like you eat an elephant one bite at a time, you can release your unhealthy attachments one small thing at a time.
Thank you for taking this journey through the yamas with me and I look forward to continuing on and sharing the next of the 8 limbs of yoga – the niyamas.
May you strengthen your letting go muscle and learn to live a little lighter throughout this next phase in life!
If you want to explore the yamas deeper, check out my online Embodying Yoga Philosophy Series where you’ll be guided through 5 full length practices centered around each of the 5 yamas. Enroll here.
Alissa Rodgers, eRYT500, is a Columbus, OH based yoga and meditation teacher and the founder and co-owner of GoYoga. She’s been practicing yoga for over 17 years and within the past 6 years, has shifted the majority of her practice toward exploring the philosophy and mindfulness aspects of yoga on a deeper level. This has positively impacted her life in many ways and it’s a true gift to get to share these powerful tools of yoga with others! Catch the GoYoga in person and live stream class schedules here.