8 limbs of yoga for modern life: Aparigraha

This post is the third in this series (read the first one here and the second one here), where I unpack the 8 limbs of yoga and try to make sense of them in the world in 2019. How do we take these traditional teachings & apply them to modern life?

If you are signed up to receive my newsletter then you’ll know that I have an announcement: next month my husband and I are leaving Brussels and relocating to Tel Aviv, Israel due to his work. I'll be saying goodbye to two wonderful and transformative years in this city and embarking on a new adventure in the sunshine! It is hard to say goodbye to such wonderful students, teachers, friends and colleagues here, and I want to thank you all for your continued support!

What I have learned over the last few months and weeks that this has been in the making is this: CHANGE IS HARD

That's right! For a type-A personality like me, change and uncertainty can really get me down, and I know I'm not the only one. While I like to think of myself as generally laid-back, flexible & open to opportunity, I also like order, to-do lists and knowing my next steps. It's times when life won't let you take control that really test your yoga practice; forget that handstand, can you come back to your practice when you really need it? i.e. IN REAL LIFE?!

I've been trying (and not always succeeding!) to call on the 5th yama in the 8 limbs of yoga: Aparigraha, or simply; letting go.

Whats does Aparigraha mean?

In traditional teachings, Aparigraha translates as ‘non-possessiveness’ or ‘non-greed’. It refers mainly to physical objects or material wealth. Those living a yogi lifestyle are taught that attachments to such ‘earthly’ items are a hindrance to reaching ‘Samadhi'‘; the state of transcendental bliss & universal knowledge otherwise known as Enlightenment.

However for me, this practice extends far beyond material things. It’s about letting go of attachment to ANY ONE OUTCOME; any one goal, specific yoga posture or fixed idea and allowing yourself to be open to opportunity, acceptance and change.

Today there is a huge amount of discussion in the media and specifically on Instagram and Twitter around trying to make the world see that there is no one fixed definition of beauty, love, gender, health, work-life balance etc. The message is this: do not close your eyes to something, do not judge something, and do not reject something just because it is different to how you think it should be.

We see this all the time in our yoga practice: we try a posture which we find difficult, it doesn’t look or feel the way we want it to, we get frustrated, we give up with that posture. I have even seen it go further with my newer students who haven’t quite grasped this idea yet: they don’t just give up on the posture, but the practice all together. “I’m not bendy/strong/flexible/mobile/fit/calm/patient enough for yoga”.

Aparigraha teaches us to let go of our attachments to how our yoga practice, or one particular posture should be, or look like. Everyone’s practice, bodies, abilities, weaknesses, difficulties, upbringings, ideas, mental states…they are all different. And for many people their own practice can vary from day to day. Just because it doesn’t look like Instagram, doesn’t mean it’s not yoga.

How Can We Practice Aparigraha In 2019?

Well for me, it’s about releasing my grasp of control. This is something I find difficult, and I try and practice every day, even if it’s just not getting annoyed when the bus is late.

I believe that many of us struggle with perfectionism & trying to have it all. We want big careers, a nice house, a car, a dog, maybe a baby…we want to acheive big things at work, but have time for the gym and a cocktail….we want to settle down but also to travel….we want to post pretty pictures on Instagram but struggle with self-criticism and lack self-esteem.

If we’re women we have to be a perfect girlfriend, friend, daughter, mother, sister, colleague & boss who still has a banging bod (or at least who has a lot of self-love for that bod) & eats cake on the weekends. If we’re men we should be strong, but sensitive, in touch with our emotions but have it all together. We should be a feminist while still trying to be the breadwinner; a great father, boyfriend, brother, son & still be available for football & beers with the lads at the drop of a hat.

Here’s the thing. We can’t have it all. We can’t always be in control and perfection doesn’t exist. Sometimes life happens in unexpected ways and the only way to really experience it positively is to let yourself be taken on the ride.

Learning to let go should be learned before learning to get. Life should be touched, not strangled. You’ve got to relax, let it happen at times, and at others move forward with it. It’s like boats. You keep your motor on so you can steer with the current. And when you hear the sound of the waterfall coming nearer and nearer, tidy up the boat, put on your best tie and hat, and smoke a cigar right up till the moment you go over. That’s a triumph.
— Ray Bradbury

I teach my students in class that if you have to force it, you’re not ready. This is something I have learned to be so true, particularly as I build up my business. Some things just won’t work out the way you hoped, or wanted them to. This doesn’t mean there isn’t something to be gained, learned or experienced from them. You simply have to let go of the fixed outcome you had in your mind and change your perspective. Ask yourself, what is this teaching me?

Aparigraha is about reminding yourself every day to unclench your fists and your jaw, stop fighting and let go of anything you don’t have power over: whether it’s a big life change, another person’s behaviour, or simply the weather. If you can’t change it, let it go. Use your energy on those things you do have power over, like your thoughts, actions and behaviours.

Be open to change. Ultimately we are humans, which means we are changing, evolving and growing every second of every day. If we reject change then we reject nature, we reject life, which really is no life at all.

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