As we approach the holiday season, we are constantly bombarded with all the ‘hot,’ new items to put on our wish list for ourselves, our friends, and our family. How many options for tablets or smart phones do we really need? All of this marketing for ‘stuff’ makes the joy of gift-giving overwhelming and sometimes too much to handle.
In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, we learn about the path called ‘raja’ yoga. This ‘royal’ path consists of the 8 limbs that lead us to union with the divine, essentially yoga itself. The first of the 8 limbs of yoga is called ‘yama’. The ‘yamas’ are our codes of conduct with the outside world. In other words, our moral observances and restraints. Within the yamas there are five wise characteristics, but the one that stands out the most this time of year is the fifth yama known as ‘aparigraha.’ ‘Parigraha’ means worldly possessions so ‘Aparigraha’ can be defined as ‘non- possesiveness,’ ‘non-greed,’ ‘non-attachment,’ and ‘non-hoarding,’
“As we progress in the practice of aparigraha, we begin to see our subtler and more potent mental possessions.” -Pandit Rajmani Tigunait
Not only are we exposed to all of this stuff to buy, but we are now seeing more stores putting up their holiday displays well before Halloween. This added exposure to all things holiday can make us feel as though we need to start mentally preparing earlier and earlier each year. Our minds start attaching to these things, but in reality what are we really attached to? Yes, it does feel good to buy a loved one a gift, but are we getting attached to the gift itself or the feeling of the outcome? Do we want that sense of approval or praise from the recipient or are we expecting something in return? These subconscious expectations are what binds us to those ‘worldly possessions.’ The practice of ‘aparigraha,’ while difficult, starts to detach ourselves from expecting something in return (physically or emotionally). In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says “Let your concern be with action alone, and never with the fruits of the action. Do not let the results of action be your motive, and do not be attached to inaction.”
In addition to gift giving this time of year, hosting or planning holiday get-togethers becomes the common theme. Social media and magazine covers are graced with beautiful displays of food and matching decor. How many of us have tried to nail that ‘perfect’ recipe to impress our guests only for it to turn into a flop? Plus we worry that the table display won’t be flawless so we end up forgetting to put out the festive place cards that we spent so much time on. When we spend too much time attached to the outcome and the pressure of perfection, we never truly enjoy the essence of the work itself.
In these next few weeks, try to detach yourself from ‘things’ and the unnecessary need to accumulate ‘stuff.’ Try cultivating the practice of aparigraha through meditation, pranayama, and asana and observe what comes up for you. Maybe you’re able to let go of physical objects that weigh you down by cleaning out your house and donating them. Maybe you’re able to let go of the mental impressions that carry too much emotional baggage like the desire for praise from others or expecting something in return. Freeing yourself of these possessions allows you to really live your true, honest self and know that you are enough just as you are.
Suggestions for practicing aparigraha in meditation, pranayama, and asana:
Meditation- Focus on your third eye (6th chakra; Anja; knowing and intuitive mind). Breathe into that space and breathe out attachments to things that don’t serve you. Let go of any expectations.
Pranayama- Kapalabhati (‘skull shining’ breath) is a great technique for cleansing and purifying because it is considered a kriya. It is done with a passive inhale and a powerful exhale. Sit in a comfortable seat and start by inhaling deep and exhaling all the air out. Inhale halfway and begin short, quick, forceful exhalations by contracting the abdominal muscles. Start with 20 breaths, then 30, then 50. After the last breath inhale deeply, hold the breath and activate mula bandha. Then exhale completely. Not only is this pranayama technique beneficial for clearing the sinuses, massaging the internal organs, and oxygenating the blood, but it also helps to detoxify your mind.
Asana- what happens when we show up to our mat and our mind tells us one thing and our body the other? We may have been able to get into Utthita Parsvakonasana with our arms bound yesterday but today we physically are not able to. Be present with the breath and let go of what came before so that you can honor the reason why you came to your mat.
Wishing you all a healthy, safe and peaceful holiday season.
Written by: Tara Gallo