I used to grind my teeth while I slept. I'd wake up every morning with a tight jaw and a headache. I also realized that several times a day my fists were clenched like I was going to punch something (or someone). The tightness radiated from my fists, up my arms and into my upper back. So much stress.
It took a lot of conscious awareness of the tension in my body to break those habits, but it took a lot more time to let go of the emotion behind that tension.
At the time, I was in a dysfunctional marriage and often felt overwhelmingly powerless. Saying I felt stuck is an understatement. I felt like my fate was written in stone and the only way out was the slow, plodding trek to death.
Cheerful, I know. #HappinessCoach
But while I was learning and studying yoga, I came across the yamas, specifically the final yama in Patanjali's Eight Limbs of yoga. Learning the art of unclenching, or aparigraha, changed my mindset and my life. #NonGrasping
It used to mean that practicing aparigraha meant living a life of austerity, giving up attachments to people and material possessions (how many shoes do you actually wear??). But since most of us don't abandon our families to live naked on the top of a mountain, aparigraha has evolved into the practice of letting go of the things that no longer serve you. (Hint: bad relationships, shitty jobs, manipulative friendships, bell-bottom jeans, etc.)
You can always tell when you're living a clenched, attached life by the way you feel. Always. The symptoms might manifest in a tight jaw (been there), a feeling of hopelessness or dread (yep), shortness of breath and even panic attacks. You might feel that no matter where you turn, you're up against a dead end.
Practicing aparigraha also brings up emotion, but these emotions include a sense of well-being, happiness and, most of all, freedom.
So how can you start letting go of the shit you're carrying around?
Be mindful. When you feel those hopeless feelings rise up, pay attention. It's your body speaking to you, telling you to stop. Once you stop, notice what you were thinking when those feelings spewed up like a bubbling swamp. Thinking of your ex, your grumpy teen, your unpredictable boss, the dozen donuts in the breakroom?
Change your focus. Once you identify the thought that's causing you stress, take a breath and redirect your focus. Step away from the swamp and turn your thoughts to a time you felt absolute freedom. Maybe you were on vacation, maybe you were hiking, maybe you were streaking through a meadow; just return to that experience and take several deep breaths.
Throw shit away. We have too much stuff!! Clutter causes confusion. Confusion causes unease. Unease causes stress. Stress causes a trip to Baskin Robbins for a gallon-size milkshake. Instead. Get a big box and fill it with things you never use. Clothes, cookbooks, all those seen-on-TV items - drop those in the box. Once it's full, take it to Goodwill. Repeat often.
Volunteer. Find an organization dear to your heart, like saving penguins or knitting sweaters for dolphins. Spend time doing those things. Volunteering takes you out of your head and into a space of kindness and freedom. (Bonus!!!)
Untether yourself from your past. Yes, really crappy things happened to you. And they keep happening as you relive them over and over and over. You think about it. You talk about it. You Instagram about it. You give it WAY too much power. Take back your power by letting the past stay behind you. If you've made mistakes, forgive yourself. If others hurt you, stop giving them power by continuing to dwell on the situation. You are a badass survivor!
Practicing aparigraha can help you move into the next exciting stage of your life. Once you unlock the handcuffs of the past, you enter a bright future where you can find a good relationship, a great job and a supportive group of friends. Letting go feels like freedom. Every time.
Peri Kinder is a Happiness Coach, Certified Yoga Teacher, Meditation Instructor and Humor Columnist.