Personal Yoga

Day nine & ten: a few words on letting go

A few weeks ago I nominated “trust” as my word for the year. How well I’m doing with implementing this word is demonstrated by the simple fact that I completely forgot about it already.

Yeah, it has been that kind of month. In my defence, I have been too busy and off the radar lately to even remotely think about how I want to cultivate more trust. But that’s also precisely the point: when everything is hectic and busy, I need trust the most. In those times, something inside me wants to surrender fully. But I can’t.

Collapsing into a pile of bones

Why is it so hard to let go? There are spiritual answers to this question, and more physical ones. On a physical level, there is actually a good reason why the body finds it so hard to let go. When we take the muscles of the human body, we can roughly distinguish two kinds of muscles: phasic and tonic muscles. Phasic muscles are fast-reacting, readily available muscles, which contract quickly and generally have poor endurance. For example, try spreading your arms out wide and then holding them up there for a few minutes. This may seem fine for a minute, but after a while, your arms will get really tired. That’s because in general we don’t phasic use muscles to go about our daily lives. Phasic muscles are not constantly active.

Tonic muscles, on the other hand, are often considered to be our postural muscles. They contract slowly, have great endurance and are anti-gravity. That comes in pretty handy, because tonic muscles are mostly the muscles that help us sit and stand up straight. If they weren’t anti-gravity, we would constantly collapse into a pile of bones. Which would be pretty inconvenient.

You can probably guess that these tonic, postural muscles are pretty much always active. That means that most times, there is a basic amount of muscle tension in the body to support against gravity. This is normal and, if you don’t want to be that collapsed pile of bones, necessary. But when we are stressed or spending a long time in a poor posture, such as being behind the computer all day, we build up more muscle tension than necessary.

Yoga helps to let go of some of that muscle tension. Connecting different postures, awareness and the breath, you’re able to relax a bit more into yourself.

Fear of letting go

But the physical aspect is just one part of the story. Sometimes, your body may be fully ready to let go, but it’s your mind that gets in the way. That’s usually the tricky part for me. On some particular bad days, I have this sensation of utter tiredness, but I’m afraid to go to sleep. It’s like my mind is desperately trying to hold on to the waking life. To being in control.

It’s a continuous battle for me, this fear of letting go. And yet this experience of fear is not lineair or black and white. As with everything in life, it arises at some moments and is absent at others. It goes in waves and cycles, it’s a visitor that comes and goes and sometimes stops along the way.

I can recognise these moments without fear easily, because they usually come with so much joy. Like when I was hanging upside down from this funky board we got to use during our last yoga class. The board is basically a reversible table, designed to give you that “surrender-to-gravity” feeling that even a shavasana (final relaxation pose) can’t really bring you. When I was hanging there – shoes gripping behind an iron hook to keep me from falling on my head – letting go felt so easy. It felt so good that it made me laugh. How much fun life can be when you really let go.

Work in progress

Of course it’s not always like that. It’s a relatively warm February here, so my mind immediately starts racing about climate change. A friend tells me a horrible story and I have to try to not have a panic attack (note to any of my friends reading this: please keep your dramatic medical stories to yourself). Days are busy and the fear creeps back upon me. That’s how it goes. Sometimes the visitors stay longer than you want.

I’m much braver than I think because I have lived through a lot of fear and I’m still breathing. But complete trust? Let’s say it’s a work in progress.

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