Shradda and Aparigraha: Unshakeable Faith and Letting Go
Many people don’t realize that yoga is so much more than the physical poses, or asanas. In fact, you can practice yoga without ever doing a downward facing dog, a warrior one, or a handstand. Asana is only one of eight limbs that constitute a true yoga practice. Along with asana, practicing yoga involves pranayama or conscious breathing to expand the life force within our bodies, the yamas or our ethical behavior in the world, the niyamas or our own personal practices and observances, pratyahara or the withdrawal of our senses from the outside world to the internal world within, dharana or concentration on quieting the mind, dhyana or meditation, all finally leading to samadhi or enlightenment. The Yoga Sutras as described by Patanjali define the word yoga as union. This union is not only one of the mind, body, and soul, but also the union of our individual consciousness with the divine consciousness or our higher power. The sutras give us many examples of how to achieve this union. During my teacher training, my teacher summed it up for us simply and beautifully: to achieve yoga, to achieve union we must practice, we must have unshakeable faith, we must let go of attachments, and we must surrender to our higher power. Yoga is never something that is finished, as long as we are in our human bodies we must practice letting go, we must practice having faith, and we must practice surrender. It is almost impossible to practice one without all the others.
Practicing unshakeable faith (shradda) and letting go (aparigraha, one of the five yamas) have been essential in my own practice recently. I’m sure you can all remember times in your life where your self-worth, your self-esteem, your self-confidence haven’t been as high as you would like. Often times, these low feelings can be linked directly back to holding on too tightly…holding on too tightly to an idea, a person, a feeling, an outcome, the past. We have certain expectations of how life “should” look or how situations “should” turn out. We are scared of the unknown, we stop trusting ourselves, and we hold on too tightly out of a false sense of security, out of fear. But, when we practice shradda, unshakeable faith, we begin to listen to our divine selves more carefully. Not what our heads are telling us are right, but what our hearts know to be truth. When we practice shradda, we build our faith in the universe that all things are and have always been in perfect order. When we find that faith in the universe, in God, in whatever you hold higher than yourself, we begin the process of surrendering to that faith. We begin to surrender to our divine selves and when we find that faith and surrender to the flow of the universe, we are able to begin to let go of our fear that everything is not okay, that we are not okay, that we are not perfect exactly as we are in this moment.
There have been so many times in my life where I’ve resisted going with my flow. I’ve wished to look different, to feel different, to think different. I’ve wished to feel okay with conforming to society’s ideas of what a good, successful life looks like. I’ve wished to just be like everyone else just so that life might seem a little easier. I’ve forced myself into relationships because you’re not “supposed” to feel okay being alone. I’ve held on to things for far too long. But, the universe is mysterious and works in perfect order and there is a reason I look the way I do, a reason I think the way I think, a reason I feel the way I feel. I may never know what those reasons are but shradda and aparigraha, unshakeable faith and letting go, teach me that it does not matter if I ever know. I have faith in myself, in my feelings, in my thoughts, in my heart and the universe and I am learning to let go of what I’m “supposed” to do. I’m not saying this is easy. It most definitely is NOT easy and that is why we practice.
There’s a quote that I love by Toni Morrison that perfectly captures the ideas of shradda and aparigraha:
“You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.”
To be free from the restraints of minds, we first must have faith that we can fly, that we are infinitely capable, and then we must let go and soar.