Aparigraha: Letting Go
The fifth Yama, aparigraha means non-possessiveness, non-greed, or letting go. Greediness or possessiveness is a trait that we may find unattractive in others, but overlook or do not recognize in ourselves. Taking an honest look at our own hearts, minds, and households can be enlightening.
Aparigraha can be viewed as a literal non-possessiveness, meaning not hoarding material things. A periodic sorting through of our possessions can help us to decide what we need and want to keep and what we can donate, share, or give away. For instance, my closet became so packed that I couldn't even see what clothes I had hanging. I decided to purge my closet, and donate the clothes I don't wear to the local thrift stores. This application of the principle is but one interpretation.
Hanging on to other things that are not material items, such as thoughts or beliefs, can become possessiveness or attachment. We go through life collecting beliefs. Experiencing life and creating a belief system based on those events is part of our humanity. A student who gets poor grades despite his hard work may come to the conclusion that he is not smart. A woman may develop negative thoughts about herself based on past relationships. Holding firm to our beliefs can be extremely limiting. The student in our example could decide not to finish school or the woman could develop self-harming behaviors.
Letting go of thoughts and beliefs that do not serve us can be freeing. This is a practical application of aparigraha. We can analyze our own ideas regularly and revamp those beliefs that are holding us back, stifling us, or putting us in danger. By throwing off the attachment to these ideas and images of ourselves we are free to explore who we are becoming. Behaviors that are unhealthy can become habits; letting go of any attachment to those behaviors is another application of aparigraha.
Another thing that people tend to cling to is grudges. Letting go of past battles and forgiving those who have wronged us can lighten our minds and hearts immensely. Past hurts can become so ingrained in our lives that we create belief systems around them, like the woman in our example above. Forgiveness can open up our hearts to new beliefs and healthier thought patterns. Thinking positive, compassionate thoughts about others can free us of the baggage of bitterness and grudges.
Living yoga off the mat is a practice. When we recognize attachment in our lives we can begin the process of letting go. Releasing that which no longer serves us, parting with clothing or other items that we cannot use, forgiving others, and creating new thought patterns with positive self-talk are all ways we can practice aparigraha.