Ways to Practise Aparigraha

Happy young woman standing in summer meadow, letting go of a red balloon stock  photo

What is the weight we are lugging around with us everyday? That could be the weight of our material possessions, or it could be the memories, ideas, emotions of our past. In order to move ourselves forward, it’s important to let go of what holds us back. And aparigraha is an important concept. 

What is Aparigraha? 

Non-possession of anything that gives suffering for someone, abstension from greed, non-possessiveness. 

But.. I don’t think I’m possessive?

We often talk about possessiveness in terms of relationship, when a person demands total attention and love of another person. However, what I would like to bring light to is possessiveness over ourselves.

Do you have a collection of things? E.g. clothes, figurines 

This is possessiveness over material goods.

Do you feel unhappy when you are not able to achieve something? 

This is possessiveness over your achievements.

Do you find yourself rethinking about your regrets? 

Then you are holding on to your memories. 

It is actually the possessiveness over ourselves that cause us stress and unhappiness, and it will do us good to release ourselves from things that don’t serve us anymore. By releasing what is no longer useful, we open ourselves to fresh ideas, new relationships, and more harmonious ways of living and being. 

Here are 5 tips on how we can practise aparigraha in different areas of our life.

1. Possessiveness over Things: Let It Go

“The yogi feels that the collection or hoarding of things implies a lack of faith in God and in himself to provide for the future….By the observance of aparigraha, the yogi makes his life as simple as possible and trains his mind not to feel the loss or the lack of anything. Then everything he really needs will come to him by itself at the proper time.” ~ Dr. BKS Iyengar, Light On Yoga.

Possessions take up space and energy—in your head as well as in your home. So try this: Every time you buy something new, let go of something old—give it away, or toss it out. By letting go of things from the past, you can live more fully in the present. 

Over the period of COVID-19, I think many of us have reevaluated our life, values, material possessions and had a better understanding of what is important, and what’s not important to us. That’s a great start, and we should continue embracing the concept of minimalism as our life conditions improve. In fact, the more we have, the more we possess, the more essential it is to clear out whatever doesn’t serve you anymore. This can be in the form of that old shirt from 10 years ago, a photo from a previous relationship that makes you sad each time you look at it. 

Also, if you had a habit of buying new items to celebrate an occasion, to reward yourself, think about why you are associating such meaning to material possessions? What are you actually trying to hold on to? Ask yourself what enters your mind in these moments. What makes you feel like you are lacking? Let go of these items, and only keep what you need. 

Clearing out your physical possessions is a great way to start practising aparigraha in your life. As you clear out the physical items that might be cluttering up your life or living space, you create space for mental clarity and better things to come into your life.

Personally, moving towards minimalism and evaluating the material possessions I own has had the effect of making me more confident and creative. Confidence comes from realising that you might have been using material possessions to fill a psychological void, and creativity comes by being able to do more things with less. 

2. Possessiveness over Relationships: Practise Self Care

When we are afraid and insecure, we may feel a need to cling to and control those who are closest to us. That rarely works. Instead, find ways to nurture and center yourself so that you feel independent and strong in your own right, and can allow others to be who they need to be.

If you are holding on too tightly to people in your life, think about why you are so reliant on them? Is it actually a fear of inadequacy?

Embrace yourself, and focus more on accepting yourself as who you are, as well as accepting the fact that relationships come and go. Accept that every person appears in your life to teach you something. That way, you can focus more on enjoying the exchange you are getting from any relationship at any point of time.

3. Possessiveness over the Past: Forgive

Let go of painful memories from your past. Free yourself by offering forgiveness to those who have hurt you and to yourself. By ruminating over the past, you are only causing yourself to be hurt by the past over and over again, and trapping yourself in things that cannot be changed.  

Whatever rituals you need, whatever letters you must write… Make the decision to let go of the past and free yourself to move forward. The letters do not need to be sent out to the parties involved, it is mainly for yourself.

This also goes to any regrets you have over actions you have taken in the past. Forgive yourself. Learn from your regrets so that you will not make the same mistake in future, and release yourself from the regret. Forgiving doesn’t necessarily mean that the actions made were correct, it is merely accepting that the past will be the past and it doesn’t serve us to dwell in things that cannot be changed. Forgiving people, or yourself, helps to give closure to any incidents so we can move ahead in life and embrace new opportunities. 

4. Possessiveness over the Outcome: Focus only on what you can control

Do your best, and let life take care of the rest

Sometimes we get disappointed when things don’t go the way we plan. Instead of worrying if things will go the way you plan, think of what you can control and focus only on the things you can control. Sometimes, things are just not meant to happen at this point of time. Believe that things will work out the way they are meant to, and enjoy the journey instead of overly worrying about the outcome.

Being in the present moment allows us to be free. When we work and do what we love without worrying about the outcome, we allow ourselves to enjoy the process for all that it is.

Nothing is more important than what is happening right now.

Don’t cling to the past or future, and miss out on what’s happening in the present.

5. Possessiveness over our practice: Breathe

It is here, on our mat—with our breath—that we begin to witness the lesson of aparigraha. If we hold onto the breath too long, its nourishing qualities turn toxic. But if we trust the breath to leave us, we are rewarded with more life force. During our practice we have time to observe how fear can restrict this life force—through our tendency to hold the breath in challenging moments—while exhaling allows us to move more deeply into our posture.

Similarly during our practice, we have an opportunity to observe where we are clinging with our bodies. Are we afraid to let our neck fall back in ustrasana?  Are we gripping our toes to the mat in our warrior sequence like a bird afraid to fly? Perhaps we are clenching our buttocks during bhujangasana.

In all of these moments, we can realize that in order to have a deeper experience, we must be prepared to let go. And so we can come to the end of our practice, ready to sit in our meditation with our open hands, our vessel empty, ready to be filled up.