Letting Go

By Dr. Patricia L. Bay, Psy.D.
Published in W Magazine, September 2011

Breathe in, slowly focusing on the intake of breath. Notice the space at the top of your inhale and pause. Reside in that emptiness for a few moments. As you exhale, releasing your breath, let go of that which you have been holding onto. Yoga breathing is no different than what we need to do in our lives. Could it be that simple?

"I have to let him go," my friend says quietly. She sighs and looks at me with tears glistening in her eyes. "I cannot hold him here and force him to want to live using my will alone. I guess I thought that if I wanted it hard enough, I could help him do it."

Her son is a heroin addict and he is killing himself slowly. How does a mother let her child go, releasing him into an unknown abyss? Can she hold her breath at the top of that inhale and not die herself in the attempt to hold that space? Letting go can be one of the hardest things that we do. Letting go involves an act of faith.

"I suppose that I finally acknowledged deep inside myself that Jack died," my mother says. It was not easy after almost 63 years of marriage to let go. "It was after I really accepted this that I started living again," she says with a gentle smile that goes all the way to her beautiful blue eyes. She nudges her 86-year-old beau, Dick, and quips, "look what was waiting for me." Dick's face shines as he looks at my mother with soft, adoring eyes.

I, like most people, resist the letting go of the things I treasure. The older I get, the less this involves things and the more it is about the people that I love. I suppose there is a fear of being diminished somehow if I let go and release my hold, my expectations, my need to keep someone close. If I breathe into that small flash of panic at the thought of letting go, I can release it on my exhale. I work on that. I am not saying it is easy.

In yoga breathing we do not question the need to release the breath that we so carefully took into our bodies. We learn to recognize and acknowledge that space between the inhale and the exhale. We move almost gratefully into the gentle release of that breath. We have perfect faith that another breath of life-giving air will follow that letting go. Just breathe, babe... just breathe.