Yoga for Letting.Go.

"We attain freedom as we let go of whatever does not reflect our magnificence. A bird cannot fly high or far with a stone tied to its back. But release the impediment, and we are free to soar to unprecedented heights." ~ Alan Cohen

Happy spring! It may not feel like it outside, but hopefully Mother Nature gets the memo soon, that spring has officially sprung. Last time I wrote it was to share my thoughts on letting go, which was a theme that wove its way throughout our recent health and yoga retreat in Costa Rica, Purify and Restore.

Letting go is a very necessary and powerful part of transformation. And since spring is all about transformation—cleansing, rebirth, renewal, growth and change—I wanted to stick on the subject a little longer and offer up a few more tools to help with the process. 

Yoga is a particularly wonderful tool for letting go. For giving yourself permission to release, both mentally and physically, whatever you don't need. Whatever is no longer serving you. We carry so much around with us every day. Tension, stress, anxiety, worry, old relationships, new relationships. All of that gets stored in our bodies and minds, taking up space that otherwise could be put to better use. Or simply left free and clear, for energy and breath and life to flow more freely within you.

Whatever you're letting go of this spring, whatever clutter you're clearing, here are a few yoga poses that will help you loosen your grip.

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Prasarita Padottanasana
(Wide-legged Forward Fold)

Forward folds are a great way to release and let go. They stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, telling the body that it's safe to relax. And from a relaxed state, letting go comes much easier.

Step your feet wide apart and parallel to one another. Bring your hands to your hips and on your exhale, begin to hinge at the hips and tip your torso forward, maintaining a long, clear spine or flat back as you come halfway down, bringing your body parallel with the floor. Take the fingertips to the floor or blocks and pause here as you activate the inner thighs and take the weight forward into the balls of the feet. Take a few breaths and then again on an exhale, begin to bend the elbows and release the torso down into the full forward fold. Drop the head, relax the neck. Let go. Breathe.

To release out of the pose, keep the fingertips on the floor and on an inhalation, bring the torso up halfway. Bring the hands to the hips and with a long spine, return to an upright position. 

For more on this pose and its benefits, click here.

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Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (Pigeon)

We store a lot of emotion and tension in our hips, so hip openers like pigeon are a wonderful way to release. This pose can be intense and uncomfortable, but just like anything, if you allow yourself to sit with that discomfort and soften into it using the breath, the sweet release will come eventually.

From downward facing dog, place the right knee behind the right wrist and lay the right shin down onto the mat. Untuck the left toes and then slide the left leg all the way back behind you. Be sure the left leg extends directly from the hip, and that the foot is in line with the leg. Square your hips in front of you and use a prop like a block or a blanket to prop up your right hip if that feels more comfortable. Release onto your forearms and drop your head onto the mat or a block. Extend your arms all the way out in front of you. Breathe deeply, in and out through the nose.

When you are ready to release, walk your fingertips back up towards the hips, tuck your back toes and make your way back to downward dog. Repeat on the left.

Fore more on pigeon, benefits and variations of the pose, click here.

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Lessons from Costa Rica: Let.Go.

"Giving up doesn't always mean you are weak, sometimes it means that you are strong enough to let go" ~ Anon

Last week I returned from Costa Rica where, together with my brilliant and talented sister and business parter Ashley, we led our signature yoga and health retreat, Purify and Restore. It was an incredible week of luxury, healthy living, delicious food, sunshine, yoga, adventure, reflection, friendship and transformation. A true and beautiful pampering for the mind, body and soul.

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It was an immense honour to lead this group of strong, inquisitive, sensitive and kind-hearted women through the Purify and Restore experience. In addition to their openness to learn, to grow and to devote a week to indulging in self-care, each one brought with them unique talents, personalities and offerings, which culminated in a beautiful mosaic of souls. The connections we made with ourselves and with one another were the heart of this retreat. A group of strangers met on that first evening in Costa Rica, and a group of deeply connected friends lovingly bid each other farewell on the final day.

It was apparent from our very first meditation exercise together that one theme would be a thread throughout the week: Letting Go. This is no surprise since an experience like Purify and Restore, when we take time to retreat, reflect, and to reconnect to ourselves, is invariably and deeply linked to personal transformation. And in order for transformation to occur—which as human beings, is inevitable, since we are constantly evolving and changing—we must willingly and actively engage in the process of letting go. Big or small, we must continuously let go of things, ideas, people, relationships, expectations, assumptions, fears, etc in order to move forward with an open heart so that we can freely accept and embrace the brilliance of whatever is coming next.

Every day we engage in this dance of deciphering when and how we should hold on, and when it's time to let go. We'll keep dancing these steps for the rest of our lives. It's not easy. It often requires some powerful, personal work and reflection. In order to fully let go, the process requires that we dig deeper so that we can understand where these fears/ideas/expectations/assumptions, etc. came from so that we can face them head on, understand why they were there, what they taught us, forgive whoever it is that we need to forgive in order to move forward, and then lovingly let go.

Powerful stuff, indeed, but letting go can come in smaller packages too. So start with something simple. Maybe you need to let go of that surge of frustration you feel when you miss the morning subway by just a hair. Maybe you need to let go of that pang of disappointment when you make it to yoga only to find that there is a sub in for your favorite teacher. Maybe you need to let go of that last item on your to-do list, and give yourself permission to tackle it tomorrow.

Easier said than done, I know. But letting go can also be fun. Take one of our retreat participants, for example, who made leaps and bounds—literally—towards letting go of her fear of heights by zip lining through the rainforest in Costa Rica. In a matter of seconds, a quiet little yelp of fear transformed into a beautiful and serene sigh of freedom and exhilaration. And those are the moments that make all the tough ones worth it. The moments where you realize that there is so much life, so much beauty, so much joy that's waiting for you on the other side.

So go on and loosen your grip, just a little. 

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As the seasons change, balance effort and ease

No matter where you are in the world, things are probably changing around you. If you're up in the Northern Hemisphere like I am, small whiffs of fall are starting to creep in as we watch summer drift away. My friends down under are probably starting to perk up with the anticipation of spring. And if you're in Hong Kong, I guess you're hoping the typhoons will stay at bay.

When things in our environment change, we inevitably feel an internal shift too. The arrival of fall often means we get a little more serious as the playfulness of summer fades. And vice versa. Some things get easier, some get harder.

One of my favourite concepts in yoga is this idea of finding a sense of both ease and effort in each asana, or pose. It's called Stiram Sukham Asanam and literally translated it means "steady, comfortable seat". So, if you’re in a really intense, firey pose, like, say, warrior 2, or crow, how can you find a way to balance all of that effort, all of that strength, with a little bit of ease? How can you soften? Maybe you can steady your breath. Relax you shoulders. Soften your gaze. And similarly, if you’re in a pose you feel is a piece of cake—maybe mountain pose, tadasana—how can you engage more actively? Pull up the thighs. Scoop the navel in towards the spine. Broaden across the collar bone, draw the shoulder blades down the back. Stand taller.

I love this practice, this balance, this dance between ease and effort. In yoga, but also in life. And I find it particularly useful in times like these, when seasons are changing, priorities are shifting, new goals are being made, or old ones are being set aside.

So as you move, and breathe, and dance into the next season, whatever that may be for you, see how you can keep your steady, comfortable seat. The highs and lows of the changing seasons and all that comes with it are beautiful, but they can often cause us to be either stuck in the weeds or thrown off course. So if you’re headed into autumn, can you keep, within you, some of the lightness and playfulness of summer? And if you’re getting ready to welcome the spring, how can you maintain some of the steadiness, determination and grounded-ness we often cultivate in winter?

How can you soften? How can you engage? How do you find a balance between ease and effort? Let me know in the comments below!

Like what you see? Click here to receive regular updates from The Samana Project. We'll also send you our Samana High-Five: Five easy ways to start being healthier TODAY.