Over the last few years, I’ve realized that I had been very attached to certain ideas about who I am and what I should be.
It started many moons ago when my intuition combined with a series of life circumstances prompted the triggers to change my life. I left a long and steady relationship, quit my corporate industry job running nearly a decade, and I moved from California, where I had lived most of my life, to Arkansas.
Primarily, I told people the reason of the move was for love, but I also knew it was as much for myself. I needed changes: a new beginning of my life, a fresh start to find my true career calling, an opportunity to truly live.
It was an overhauling and a gutsy move, but I was very convinced and excited about the upcoming changes in motion. I had an overall good picture of what this new chapter meant to me, but before anything could happen, I had to truly learn letting go—which I struggled with immediately.
I could not understand why until I realized later that it was tangled with my paralyzing fear of failure and uncertainty. As I’ve consciously gone toward various changes in my life, I’ve gripped onto certain ideas subconsciously much harder than I could let go. I externalized the reasons for not being well-adjusted. Initially, they sounded fair enough, but my mind continued to play thoughts like,
“Of course it’s expected for someone like me to struggle living in a completely different climate, landscape and social culture. It’s West Coast urban to Midwest country!”
“I can’t practice yoga because there is no Bikram yoga studio anywhere in the entire state of Arkansas; I have to practice Bikram yoga in order to be a ‘yogi.’”
“I cannot eat healthy and feel good if I don’t get to have grocery store options akin to Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.”
“Besides the local flagship university town, there is nothing here but farms, cows and big empty lots between homes. Seriously, there is nothing to do here!”
Slowly, I was able to challenge myself and dissolve some of those self-limiting thoughts or beliefs, but it took me years after moving to recognize how those fears can be truly broken down. Letting go was the most difficult lesson because it forced me to confront my deepest fears.
Letting go is scary but becomes more liberating as time goes on.
First, the lack of a Bikram yoga studio really depressed me. I felt without this intense and hot yoga practice, I would lose my physical ability to stay limber, strong, and also the connection between my mind and body. In addition, because I missed my Bikram yoga community in California, I was uninterested in trying different types of yoga because I found what I liked and what worked for me. Bikram yoga gives me that yoga bliss, elusive high or feeling of complete physical and mental transcendence that I yearned. I could not let go of what I sought after as a result of yoga—the external benefits and physical aspect of practice.
I initially managed to make practicing Bikram yoga happen at home in my bathroom—the makeshift hot room—with door cracks sealed by towels, three heaters cranked up for an hour before starting (note: please do not do this for safety and sanity reason). I also decided to get certified as a Bikram yoga instructor in a nine-week long intensive training back in California for the sole reason of learning solid fundamental knowledge of the proper mechanics of each of the 26 postures in the Bikram series.
Eventually, I realized that none of those efforts could address my current situation of living in a remote location from any studio, and that my true yoga practice was just starting—on and off the mat.
I was very much attached to the Bikram method and simply thought, I’m just a die-hard Bikramite who loves her Bikram yoga. No,there was something more to it; my love for yoga was masked by a false sense of self behind fears.
Long distance commuting to teach and practicing at home slowly stopped working. I became more frustrated and hung up about the physical practice. When I felt my mind latch onto certain expectations and unwillingness to change or let go, I killed the pure bliss of what yoga is.
After curling up in a ball, bawling on the bathroom floor many times, I finally let go because I realized that I truly love yoga, not just the Bikram practice. So I listened to my heart and faced my fears. I talked to my fellow teachers and yoga practitioners. I read and reflected to understand better what yoga truly is.
I had to take a good and hard look at my fear of letting go. My fear of letting go of what Bikram practice then meant to me kept me attached to a false sense of gratification and fulfillment after an intense physical yoga practice, despite how much my mind needed a much different type of practice.
Even though I’ve now come to appreciate and enjoy yoga of different disciplines (and I still practice and teach Bikram yoga when I travel), I remind myself to let go of feelings of attachment to outcomes or mastery. Yoga has taught me more than the physical asanas, which are the tools, but its teaching goes far beyond the mat, such as letting go of attachment.
I recognize now that I can always practice yoga, which gives me exactly what I need—on and off the mat, in any discipline or style, anytime and anywhere.
My second challenge of letting go of attachment came with the lack of varieties in grocery store format and merchandise options upon moving from California to Arkansas. Not having familiar options and access to what I was used to greatly challenged me to be resourceful in finding alternative ways to continue or support my plant-based or healthier dietary lifestyle—with less access to fresh produce or limited options in vegetables and fruits available. My initial read of my new living environment just didn’t seem to echo my dietary preference. I got nervous, anxious and couldn’t adjust well because I feared that I could not survive without those things and I just didn’t belong.
I have now discovered that shopping at a big box grocery chain can be good because I don’t have to drive and run into five different stores to get exactly what I want. Sure, maybe I cannot find one exact ingredient with the exact same brand I’m used to, but having the ingredient itself is really what I wanted after all, and it’s less stressful that I don’t have to choose among the subtle differences of each brand. I’ve learned to not just find, but identify what I truly need without being attached to the ideal of getting exactly what I expected or having many different options to choose from—sometimes in the form of distractions.
Over time, I also figured out how to improvise when things didn’t turn as expected, like with my cooking or finding ingredients and substitution options because I really love cooking and baking.
Seeing how well I adapted in the kitchen, with incidentally new and improved recipes spawning to life, my boyfriend casually said to me one day, “See, you can apply this—how you approach your baking and cooking in the kitchen—to your outlook in general. You are creative and flexible, and you can be happy, anywhere and anytime you want to be.”
His words frankly hit the nail in the head. I have a choice to be free and happy, as long as I’m wiling to let go of what doesn’t serve me or whatever makes me feel less like my true self. Like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, I was stuck and not living my life to the fullest extent possible.
Letting go was difficult because of facing my fear at first, but it opened the doors to freedom and new possibilities.
I’ve become more decisive, more aware of what I truly need vs. want, or simply more content with what I have. Once I’m willing to let go of fear, I can be honestly self-fulfilled and be free to live.
The last trial of letting go was the lack of social night scenes and hopping event venues in the wide open space of Midwest landscape, which made me, a West Coast city girl at heart (or so I thought then), become even more reclusive and reluctant to explore.
At first glance, people seemed boring and trite and I felt we had very little in common. But I realized that wasn’t true at all. As an introvert at heart, I recognize that it’s not the night or social scenes that I was missing necessarily after all, but the vibes of urban metropolitan and accessibility to wide arrays of event venues—which set up the scene in my mind to be curious and explorative. Without the visage of urban oasis, I have met people who became my dear friends and discovered they are funny, quirky and even love some of the same things as I do. Some of them became the most sincere and genuine friends I’ve ever had. I just didn’t put out my best efforts to reach out and connect with them earnestly at the beginning.
Because I’ve always loved quaint, mom-and-pop shops and local small business/community vibes, I get curious when I come across unique characters or excited when I learn of people whose start-up ideas or projects are often their life’s passion, and some of which relate to mine. I find myself becoming more open to experience my new town. Besides, the landscape here is generally vast and natural; its beauty and bounty abound here at home to many people. It’s not surprising to learn that people here generally are down-to-earth and warm, once I made the effort to get to know them a little better. My fear of not knowing what to expect or not having familiarity turned me off to many great opportunities to be curious about my surroundings.
I was holding on so tight because I was afraid of losing what I had or knew, feeling empty and vulnerable. I was afraid of finding my true self to be less than what I had expected for myself, an unrealistic set of standards embedded in me from years of growing up in a socially competitive culture—being successful at everything you call or label yourself to be, and being part of the functional member of a community. Without any security blanket, I am afraid that I have no sense of identity and therefore, I cannot be fulfilled.
I attached my sense of self to the lifestyle on the West Coast, with Bikram yoga, a wide arrays of grocery store options and access to many social scenes. Letting go of those notions took a lot of courage, tears and sometimes small progress followed by some setbacks that eventually broke through the fear once and for all.
Letting go is scary but is a powerful impetus for growth and new possibilities.
Letting go offers potential paradigm shift that challenge the structured and disciplined side of me. Even though it’s wonderful to know that I thrive on routines and structure, letting go helps me to filter the fears, the ego that clings onto familiarity and false sense of security. I gradually learn to manage that reactionary or monkey-mind of human nature, and to become more grounded in the deepest sense of who I am, well-rounded and resilient when life throws curve-balls. No matter what I do, where I go or where I live.
And oh, sun salutations flow sequence makes my triangle pose in Bikram class rock!
Josie Huang is a passionate yoga practitioner and wandering bikramite; a curious home chef and experimental baker who thinks of her kitchen like a fun science lab; a fledging who is carving her career path combining her passions in health, yoga, food and nutrition. When she is not practicing yoga, cooking or studying, you can find her reading a good book, talking about health, yoga, food and nutrition to anyone who would listen to her or just want to try her cooking.
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Ed: Brianna Bemel