by Blakeney Schick
When we step on to the mat, we tend to focus on the effort required to create the actions of grounding down through our feet or our sitz bones, lifting up through our side waist or the crown of our head, bringing our belly to our spine and our seat toward our heels. The longer we practice, the more easily we may find some of these actions. But there’s another action that we cultivate. It’s letting go, releasing our grip on our ever-present to-do list, the conflict at work or at home, the constant conversation in our head — even if it’s just a little bit. It’s finding ease.
Working on key actions has become a constant of my practice. Letting go, not so much. While I have learned how to step back from pushing my physical limitations when I’m on the mat, I am not very good at regularly stepping back from the details of my daily life, and effort is my personal comfort zone. My answer to most situations and challenges is to do something — usually it’s several things. It helps me feel like I’m “handling” whatever life sends my way. Letting go, on the other hand, seems like letting it all fall apart.
The last six months have brought a series of challenges that have had me almost constantly reacting and readjusting, but always moving. Frankly, I’ve been amazed at how those challenges have stretched and strengthened me. But then, earlier this month, I got my own personal tutorial in letting go. It was the day I realized that one of my wisdom teeth had to come out, and that sooner would be better than later. Making the appointment for the extraction effectively cleared my calendar for the rest of the week.
About five minutes into the procedure my oral surgeon told me that I must have a very high tolerance for pain. This is not something you ever want to have an oral surgeon tell you. Ever. For the next three days, I popped painkillers, watched a lot of Friday Night Lights, and did basically nothing else. I let go. There was no other option. Because I couldn’t stay on top of just about anything, I let myself be easy, truly easy, for the first time in a long time. As it turned out, I didn’t really miss anything. Nothing fell apart in those three days. Everything was okay.
I first heard this quote from Charlotte Beck’s book, Everyday Zen, when Steph read it at the beginning of class not long after I started coming to Mala:
“Life always gives us exactly the teacher we need at every moment. This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light, every traffic jam, every obnoxious supervisor (or employee), every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or depression, every addiction, every piece of garbage, every breath. Every moment is the guru.”
An impacted wisdom tooth wasn’t the teacher I was looking for, but if the last six months have shown me the value of full-hearted effort, those three days taught me that it has to be paired with ease. Letting go may be harder for me than working to extend my tailbone toward my heels, but it’s just as necessary if I’m going to have a well-rounded practice. Much like a long child’s pose after some serious core work, we need ease in our lives to off-set the effort. It doesn’t just help us let go of the effort or the mental to-do list, it let us pause and breathe — and it allows us to be ready for whatever comes next.
Blakeney Schick is a public radio producer who follows events and elections. She started going to yoga 8 years ago in the hopes that it would help her stand up straighter. It has. But she’s stayed on the mat because yoga’s also made her stronger in every possible way. Blakeney found her way to Mala in late 2007, and finished Mala’s 200-hour teacher training in 2012. She is also a regular contributor to the Mala Yoga blog.