Letting Go: What Does It Mean to Let Go and How Do We Begin?

Confession: I am a yogi who sometimes really doesn’t like being told to “just let it go.”  The practice of non-attachment goes right out the window when I have something on my mind. After I take a few steps back from the situation that is causing me to death grip my feelings, I am usually able to begin letting go. But in that moment - when I am venting and brainstorming all the ways I am going to change the frustrating situation and my zen husband is passing along words of wisdom - there is nothing I want to hear less than those words: let go. How does one even ‘just let go’? I have heard myself say. What does that even really mean? 

The practice of ‘letting go’ is exactly that. It’s a practice. Some days we, as humans, are really good at it. Some days, we just aren’t. Unless you are really zen, and in that case teach me your ways. Actually, maybe not. There are so many ways that you could take the term and spin it: let go. In it’s most literal form, let go. Like when I tell my dog to drop it. Whatever it is that you are physically holding on to. Release it. It falls to the ground. When you go into the abstract, though, it might be easy to go down the rabbit hole. Do I let go of my feelings? My responsibilities? Do I let go of everything? When does that become apathy? What about holding onto the happy? Wouldn’t that only be a good thing? There are so many questions when it comes to letting go. I am sorry to disappoint. I have no answers. 

What I do have, though, is a few tips for beginning to let go of those stressors that can consume our brains and grow tension in our bodies. Remember, this is the beginning. You will not become an expert in letting go just because you read this article. You will not become an expert on letting go even if you read every article there is on the internet about letting go. But practice - and only practice - will help you learn how to truly let go. 

  1. Take a deep breath. Actually take a few. Pause what you are doing and take some REAL deep breaths. Not the chest breathing that barely fills you up. Feel your stomach rising and falling as your breath fills up your lungs. 

  2. Remind yourself of what you can control. Think of your skin as your bubble. Your skin wraps up your bones, muscles, brain and all of those systems that work together to keep your blood pumping, body moving and thoughts flowing. You don’t even really have control of everything INSIDE your bubble, so stop trying to control what is outside. You definitely do not have control of that. So sad, but so true. You can only control (some of) your thoughts and feelings. You can only control your behaviors and your reactions. How much pressure is that to think you can control more. 

  3. Do something to release your tension. Have you heard about this thing called yoga? Just kidding. If you’re reading this you probably have. Or have you? Get on your yoga mat! Do just 3 Sun Salutations. Don’t want to or don’t like to? Listen to a guided mediation. Go for a run. Punch a punching bag. Let go of the PHYSICAL tension the stress is creating so that you can start to let go of some of those stressful thoughts. 

  4. Practice self-compassion. Be KIND to yourself. Try not to beat yourself up for having these feelings in the first place. How often does that happen? Does it make it better? No. It doesn’t. So think about how you are feeling, acknowledge it, and then practice some self-kindness. Practice it now: “Right now I am feeling [blank] about [blank]. Everyone feels [blank] sometimes. It’s OK and I will get through this.” 

  5. REPEAT. Repeat. Repeat it all. Repeat it all over and over, every time there is something in you that is consuming your brain. Something that you do not want to hold on to anymore. Don’t feel like you need to let go just because someone else tells you to. That will just start the chatter in the mind about how you aren’t doing things correctly, you’re bad at doing these things, etc. When you are ready, when you know that it is time - practice, practice, practice letting go. Eventually, it will come. You will feel more free. Less weighted. More buoyant. And then, you move on to the next. Letting go of the deeper, more ingrained thoughts, feelings, messages that you have held on to for so long. Practice, practice, practice. 

Another tip: Seek out someone you trust deeply to consult with about how you feel. Sometimes, we need to talk with someone else about the way we feel. We need to process. We need to work through our emotions. After, we can actually begin to let go of whatever it is that we are feeling. Find someone who has earned the right to hear how you feel. Someone who will not turn it into gossip or a time to dwell on the subject. Find someone who can sit quietly with you, who can allow you to work through what you need to without inserting their own feelings into it. Having trouble thinking of someone? Use a journal. Writing is a form of externalizing our feelings. It works just as well, sometimes even better, than talking with someone about how you feel. I will post about the benefits of writing another time, but either way. Find a way to get ‘it’ - whatever ‘it’ is - out of your brain and your body. 

There is no easy path to letting go. Yes, I believe yoga helps. Yes, I believe therapy helps - and exercise and self-compassion and self-love. But none of this is easy. None. If you need help, reach out. Reach out to a trusted member of the community, a friend, a partner. Reach out to us. Find someone to give you support and comfort along the way. You can do this!