What happened when I let go
by Dr Julia Sáenz
To give a little context – I’m a highly anxious individual who worries more than the average person breathes. I function best when given the opportunity to plan, as it helps keep my anxiety at bay. “Being prepared,” aka controlling, allows my mind to make up a story in advance that usually is rather far removed from the truth and commonly consists of some catastrophe that’s sure to ruin my life if not averted by means of the minute rigidity I’ve managed to perfect over the last three decades.
Unfortunately, this also applies to my yoga routine. As you might suspect, I initially invited yoga into my life in hopes of taming that imaginary lion inside my head. Sadly, it’s since become infected by much of the same poison, as I let my once disciplined routine turn into a non-negotiable obligation. My usual week consists of five, sometimes six, even seven visits to the yoga studio. Taking a rest day is difficult, for obvious reasons, and often doesn’t happen. Needless to say, the idea of breaking my routine causes massive anxiety. It generates a panic-like state in which I convince myself I will fail in all areas of life if I don’t abide by the rigid rule book my brain has governed. Diligent planning is the sole safeguard for a meltdown of that magnitude, and the antidote to spontaneity.
So when the opportunity arose to turn a 3-day birthday trip for my husband (which also came about rather last minute, but was the product of my own doing, and so in my control) into a 6-day adventure with only a few days notice, I about lost it. Frantically oscillating between the longing for adventure and the fear of the unknown, I found myself emotionally paralyzed, unable to make a decision, ultimately jeopardizing my chance to go altogether. Fortunately, something kicked into gear and allowed me to shift focus to what truly matters – living life in the present moment. So I said yes, and accompanied my better half on a work trip to Arizona, before heading to Vegas for some birthday shenanigans. But I didn’t just pack my bags and leave, I made a conscious decision to do something differently. For the first time in a long time, I gave myself permission to “just be.” Instead of hoping to impress, trying to meet perceived expectations, pleasing at all cost, and making myself small, I determined I would “just be me” – a state that can be difficult for me to attain, as I often struggle to remember who that woman is beneath all those layers of anxiety and concern. What happened is some of the best shit of my life.
While I could ravish about the beauty of Tucson and the indescribable tribe that is Del Bac Whiskey, I’ll save that for another day. The purpose of this anecdote is to share the power of letting go as it unfolds. You might agree, it’s often impossible to fathom impact as it happens. If you’ve ever been in a car accident, you’ll likely know exactly what I’m talking about. However, when given time to process, you uncover the true essence of an event. And the reverberation of this trip is unmatched.
Although I didn’t succeed in abandoning my rule book in every situation, I certainly had moments of true bliss. Moments in which I was all-emerged in what was happening around me, making for an experience much like the Aperol Spitz commercials designed to make you thirsty for life. I was opened up to a whole new world I otherwise would’ve missed out on – not because I wouldn’t have been there, but because I wouldn’t have been present. I made meaningful and deep connections with people, sharing parts of myself I’m prone to hide. I luxuriated in the Sonoran Desert with all of my senses – I basked in the heat, witnessed the sunset at Gates Pass, submerged myself in the local culture, and indulged in exquisite food and even tastier drinks (lots of ‘em!); the latter of which I’ve been known to deny myself. I took it all in. And because of that, I left the trip with a full heart. A heart that was touched, inspired, invigorated. A heart that will always cherish these precious memories. After so many years of being absorbed in my internal churnings, meaningful recollections have become a luxury. There are only a few moments I remember clearly, and my high school graduation isn’t one of them.
There’s a ripple effect though that’s almost as magical, and even more profound. Now that I’m back home, I have a different perspective on a lot of things. I’ve always known the power of true consciousness but actually experiencing it is a whole different ball game. This time, I got to taste how wonderful it is to just be. I realized life goes on, unperturbed, and everything takes its natural course as the sun continues to set and rise. I didn’t take a yoga class while we were gone (although I was certainly tempted, thanks to ClassPass), and nothing happened. The yoga studio didn’t call to revoke my membership, and I wasn’t greeted any less kindly on my first visit back. The puppy still loves me almost as much as chicken and our apartment still needs a lot of ‘final touches.’ Life is still just life. And while nothing happened, everything changed. The days got shorter, the air just a smidge brisker – California Fall started rolling in. My yoga practice changed, too. And while the fear of exactly that largely fueled my indecisiveness prior to our departure, now I couldn’t welcome it any more if I tried. Because it was a change I didn’t expect. I was concerned I would lose my mobility, my strength, my stamina. In fact, in the moments of absence I did have while travelling, I found myself wondering if my physical shape was beginning to alter just days after leaving (I know, it’s quite pathetic). None of that set in. Instead, I returned stronger than ever. Not just physically, but mentally. My awareness has been sharpened, almost as though its glasses have been adjusted. I am yet again able to fully sense my body. I reconnected with my ability to direct the tiniest of muscle fibres – I hadn’t even realized how far out of touch I’d fallen. My breath regained its precedence, allowing postures to be mere embellishments, forcing worry to fade into the background. Once more, yoga has become the sanctuary I intend it to be.
The point of this chronicle isn’t to showcase the wonders of yoga. It’s to illustrate how my fear of change almost cost me a heaping spoon of progress. It’s to demonstrate how rigidity is the death of opportunity. It’s to show that taking a leap of faith, however small, pays off. Standing still creates a vacuum in which constancy exists, allowing us to make predictions. However, when predictability becomes status quo, complacency finds its way. We become desensitized, oblivious, ignorant. We essentially cease to live. Change, in contrast, is the source of life. It promotes growth, evolution, enlightenment. Change is inevitable and all-pervasive. It’s the only constant in life. And I’m learning to invite it in, to embrace it, to let it teach me what I have yet to learn. On this trip, I got six days older, but I also grew insurmountably wiser.