June Essay – Letting Go – The Yoga Practice of Detachment
It seems that one of my favorite topics to write about is the yogic practice of detachment. Perhaps because true detachment is so difficult to pull off. We are told often to accomplish, and to be proud of our accomplishments. We are also told that if we put in the effort, it will pay off. We then make the mental leap that the payoff will be exactly as we imagined.
This is another essay about detachment and letting go of the expected payoff (or fruits) of our actions.
Detachment (Vairagya in Sanskrit) is a word that gets thrown around often as one of the two pillars of yoga. Its counterpart, practice (Abhyasa) seems to be more accessible and straightforward. Practice is something we can all understand, if not actually implement. But we need both practice and detachment to balance our yoga journey.
Mr. Iyengar says “Vairagya is a practice through which the practitioner learns to be free from desires and passions and to cultivate non-attachment to things which hinder his pursuit of the soul”1.
I have had another of my many lessons in detachment I would like to share with you.
I recently had a health issue come up that challenged my attachment to myself as a healthy person. I have put a lot of effort into being healthy, both mentally and physically, and admit that I am proud of this. I am attached to this idea of myself.
I was diagnosed with primary hypertension (high blood pressure). Those of you who know me well are probably scratching your heads right about now. I am doing everything right – exercise, diet, weight, meditation, mindfulness, low salt, etc. But nevertheless, recently my blood pressure readings shot through the roof.
This diagnosis was a blow to my self-image. Even though my doctor assured me that it was genetic (both my parents have high blood pressure) and that it wasn’t fair I was devastated. I knew the genetic tendency was there, but was confident I could beat it with all I was doing for my health. I felt like an important part of me was gone and that I had failed.
After a few weeks, the voice of reason (detachment) slowly began to make itself known. I am extremely nearsighted and (mostly) don’t feel badly about that. Why should I feel any differently about high blood pressure – it is out of my control in this case, just as my eyesight issue is. We are told to let go of the fruits of our efforts, and this is an excellent example. My efforts of diet, exercise and de-stressing are important, and I will continue them, but the fruits of my efforts (good or bad) can be released. I can practice detachment with my self-image, and then feel more peaceful towards myself.
1. Light on the Yoga Sutras, BKS Iyengar
Nina Pileggi is the owner and director of Sunset Yoga Center.