Release your grip by practicing aparigraha

in Yoga philosophy

openbuddhahandHow ironic that the subtlest and hardest to grasp of all the yamas, the moral restrictions that make up yoga’s ethical code, should be aparigraha – non-grasping.

We can understand why grasping is harmful when we see a miser, or a person who takes at the expense of others. We can even see some of the downside when we look at the clutter and confusion of possessions in our lives.

But just when you think you’ve got a grip on it, you find another layer. We cling to all kinds of things. Clinging to a fixed idea or grasping for a particular experience is no different from desperately needing an iPhone or a new pair of shoes. Just to be clear: it’s not the possessions or the thoughts in themselves that are the problem, it’s the tightness of our grip.

And when you release the grasping around ideas, there’s another level still. Practicing aparigraha means we eventually stop clinging even to the idea that we exist as a separate, definable self.

Asana practice presents a fertile field for grasping. There are so many poses we’d like to claim as our own, and the line between burning zeal for practice and clinging to the results is exceptionally fine.

Happily, asana practice is also a great place to start practicing non-grasping. Here’s how.
Choose a pose that has an easily identified goal, such as bringing your chin to the floor in Upavista Konasana (wide-legged seated forward bend). No matter which pose you choose, make it something you can hold for several minutes.
Now come to your working place, and consciously practice releasing your grasp on the pose.

Let go of any sense of ownership you might have about “my pose,” and what “my pose” might look like. Let go of the idea of completion, and of measuring the distance you have yet to travel. Release what you “should” be able to do. Then release the idea of yourself doing the pose, of “me in the pose,” a modest step toward letting go of “me” altogether.

Shift your focus to the pose, its geometry and energy, its direction and movement, its expression in your body. No matter where you are on the continuum of the pose, in the moment of purely experiencing it, what you have is all you need.

Benefits: Practice asana with non-grasping, and you’ll save yourself from the self-inflicted injuries induced by reaching too far, too fast.
Better still, it will help you grip less tightly when you’re off the mat. According to the Yoga Sutras, once you’ve perfected non-grasping, you’ll attain knowledge of past and future lives. In the meantime, the more you practice non-grasping, the more happy and satisfied you will feel.

Sequence: Any time, anywhere.

Ouch: Exploring non-grasping is a lot like peeling an onion. You may never reach the point where there are no more layers to peel off. Give up the hope of perfection, let go even of the idea that you might come to the end of your own grasping.

Sanskrit Corner: say Ah-par-ee-GRA-ha. Aparigraha means “without possessions,” usually translated as non-grasping, or non-hoarding.

Creative Commons image by Rumpleteaser.

{ 5 comments }

Traci Skuce April 5, 2010 at 9:32 am

Oh the never-ending study! I was realizing I was grasping hard to my practice. Becoming rigid on what my days should look like. Becoming attached to the practice. Then, I hurt myself. Sigh.

So, what is that balance? Where practice is essential, but not rigid? As you say, the letting go of me in the pose. Letting go of me having to get anywhere with this practice.

Eve April 5, 2010 at 1:33 pm

Hi Traci,
I sometimes think that balance in practice and in life is a lot like balance in the feet in Tadasana. When you check into it, there are always subtle movements and corrections going on. Maybe being in balance involves sometimes gripping too much and sometimes letting go too much, but never getting stuck in either place?

Maureen Uldall-Ekman April 3, 2010 at 8:21 am

This is very meaningful and helpful. That grasping goes beyond possessions into ideas and the desire for results makes so much sense. Thanks Eve!

Karen Ferguson April 1, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Thanks so much, Eve, for this post and “Meet your I-Maker” (March 25).
Both came appeared in my inbox at exactly the right moment! I look forward to more posts on the spiritual and philosophical aspects of yoga and everyday life.

Eve April 1, 2010 at 1:00 pm

Hi Karen,
I’m glad you found them useful. Yoga philosophy has such a practical, down-to-earth quality, doesn’t it?

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