May 21, 2018

How to Deal with the Ugly Side of Letting Go.

I have a question for all my yoga teachers and practitioners:

How many times have you heard the phrase “let go” in a yoga class?

I’m guessing more times than you can count. Well, I’m over it. I renounce it. And while I believe the underlying intention of the teacher speaking this instruction is positive, my preference against it comes from the unpacking of it.

So, teachers, students, “let go” lovers, before you craft your defense, hear me out.

About a month ago, I was lying on my mat, not feeling too hot. It was the Monday after a hard weekend—rough day, weak-bodied, mind spinning.

The teacher’s words landed in my ear holes: “Let go now.” Prone on my mat, preparing to move, considering her invitation to drop my disposition, I thought, I f*cking wish.

Woah, Court! I reprimanded my mental aggression. But my crude reaction was honest, and it initiated an investigation of what actually is required in order to truly let go.

I left the studio feeling lighter, less explicit, yes, but still curious, wondering:

Is the persuasion to “let go” simply an attempt at bypassing the truth of what’s being called for processing in the body and heart? Is letting go really an attempt at manufacturing “good” emotions while dismissing others? Is rejecting “bad” emotions only perpetuating a suffering that is thoroughly rooted in subjective emotional and vibrational preference? 

My answer mostly felt like a yes. So, as a teacher, I’ve changed my mantra from “let go” to “let in.” Why? Because I do want to let go. And I want my students to authentically let go as well. Because there is so much value and healing and renewal in it: we want stuck energy out of our centers, we want fresh prana in our lungs and diaphragm, and we want clear channels.

I believe we first must bring awareness to what there is to let go of—what is stuck, what is screaming—so we can allow it, feel it, be with it, breathe it, hear it, let it rise, give it room, and then, potentially, watch it clear.

But I don’t want to feel this gnarly sh*t—this anger, this hate, this shame, this sadness, this resentment. Sometimes we don’t even know how to access it, and that’s fine. For me, for now, the best I can do is just offer my body permission to release and work with it organically through actively softening tension while using breath and awareness.

There are no shortcuts. And I think there is a reason for the whole ”the only way out is through” mentality—so we can learn to trust the full spectrum of those more difficult feelings, which are as much a part of and as beneficial to our life experience as love or joy or peace.

But, Courtney, I ask myself, why can’t I just skip the steps some days? Can’t I just drop all the gross and deal with the rest on another day? A better day? Well sure, maybe, but know this: letting go before we let in is a lie. For example, I can’t tell myself “I love you” if, in that moment, what’s really true is “I hate myself.” We can only fool ourselves for so long.

I can’t soften tension in my body until I know where it is located. I can’t change my mind until I identify my thought patterns. The truth, no matter how ugly, needs oxygen, illumination, acknowledgment, and if we can, non-judgmental allowing—and maybe even what Buddhist philosophy refers to as metta, or loving-kindness.

Letting in may also seem contradictory to affirmation, manifestation, and the “good vibes only” movement—it may seem we’re affirming and perhaps even encouraging negativity. But if we’re affirming or manifesting something that is not true, the practice is not going to work.

We can’t “fake it until we make it”—we end up faking ourselves out so hard that delusion takes full reign and then we find ourselves wondering why what we’re consistently calling in isn’t showing up, or maybe even why what we’re so desperately calling out is what’s showing up. What the f*ck?! It’s because truth is getting in the way; the perceived ugly kind that’s been both passionately and passively rejected.

The body doesn’t forget. It will hold the repressed, stuffed, rejected, and dismissed emotions until released. And this isn’t about preaching to anyone; these words are also very much for myself. Because feeling into the perceived ugly goes against everything I’ve spent most of my life working to avoid, running from, and denying. Every cell of my human body wants to dissipate the discomfort, to bypass the pain, to skip all the steps and layers and land languidly into love.

I’ve spent a lifetime trying to skip the whole feeling things. Perhaps you have to. And for me, the jig is up—it simply doesn’t work. So, I’m committed to the practice of “letting in.”

I’m going to try every day, on and off my mat, to be with what is scary, threatening, embarrassing, or shameful. Because when I let in, maybe you can too. And when we all let in—together, collectively, supportively, non-judgmentally—perhaps then, we can truly, sincerely, let go.



How to Let Go & Move on Like a Buddha.

Sitting with Vulnerability: Why I Take my “Raw” Self out for Tea.


Author: Courtney McNabb
Image: @elephantjournal/Instagram
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Catherine Monkman

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