Nothing to Gain & Everything to Lose


I was asked by someone wanting to try yoga for the first time: what could they gain from doing yoga? Indeed it is a practice that has a seemingly endless supply of lessons, revelations, insights, ways to open, stretch, and strengthen the body, and so much more. But really all of those benefits come about because of what has been removed, purified, let go of, or released.

Practice and all is going. With all due respect to Pattabhi Jois and his famous saying: Practice and all is coming, I find it particularly potent to notice instead what has gone as I traverse the path of practice over time. What have I let go of? What has fallen away naturally? What is no longer in alignment? What have I cleared out of my body? What limiting beliefs have I relinquished? Of course, there is plenty that has come as a result of what has gone, but it is rarely, if ever, the other way around. We must first let go before we can let come. And, in fact, in the letting go we realize a profound freedom that is devoid of the need for anything to come at all.

But is it as easy as that? Just do the practice and it will all work out? The hard truth is: No, we have to do our part. And not only that, it can be painful at times. Patanjali advises us that practice (abhyasa) must be steady and maintained over a long period of time and approached with non-attachment (vairagya). These two concepts work together to lay a foundation of continuous practice without clinging to a particular outcome. Abhyasa leads us in the right direction and vairagya keeps it all in check. So there is progress, there is potential, but non-attachment allows us to continue the inner journey without getting side-tracked into the highs and lows along the way.

One of the primary functions of yoga asana, pranayama, and meditation, is the purification of the body and mind, which can occur on the physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual level. But it doesn’t necessarily come over night. A continuous practice over a long period of time affords us the opportunity to allow the veils of conditioning to fall away gradually so that we can more easily access our essential nature. This is the revelatory aspect of Yoga. There are times when we get a moment of insight that rushes through, but more often than not, it happens sporadically over time. Sometimes the process is as clear as a crisp winter day high atop a mountain and yet other times, as unclear as the muddy waters of a lowland swamp. Sometimes there is a linear momentum to the process and yet other times it is convoluted as we fall back into concealment, forgetting who and what we are.

There is no right way, and there is no way forward without going through. There is only our willingness to stay true to the path, in our own way, in our own heart. There are times when we want to turn away from the inevitable pain, the piercing realization that we were living out of alignment or that something we once held dear is no longer right. But if we can have the courage to stand within the fire of intensity and learn to let go, what awaits on the other side, what was there along, is freedom. F R E E D O M. The freedom to be exactly who we are and where we are within the great web of life. The freedom to be nothing at all and everything at once. The freedom to be. And it’s in this way that we have nothing to gain and everything to lose.

Mary Bolton