Sacrifice: The hard work of “letting go”

Looking back to a blog post on letting go, I’m thinking about how difficult it can be to give up something enjoyable, or simply familiar, even when hanging on isn’t healthy. “Sacrifice” seems like a better term to communicate the challenge of discarding a habit. As uncomfortable as sacrifice may be, though, refusing to do it can lead to suffering. Homer Simpson provides a clear example of this in season 5, episode 6 of The Simpsons. In it, he reaches for snacks inside two vending machines simultaneously and gets both arms stuck. A rescue crew arrives, tries and fails to free him, and prepares to saw off his arms when one attendant asks, “Homer, are you just holding on to the can?” (He is.)

Once the grip is released, the arm is set free. In yoga, we practice economizing effort to focus on specific objectives, such as opening our hips. Step One involves noticing where we’re holding on too tightly, pushing too far (or not enough), or otherwise getting in our own way of success. Step Two unwinds the unhelpful pattern by turning away from the familiar path and toward another approach. 

One example I learned from my teacher, Annie Carpenter, is that to experience the hip-opening benefits of Warrior II pose, it’s often helpful to begin by rotating the back leg internally, toward neutral. Then the front, bent leg can more easily rotate externally in its hip socket, creating space in the front hip and groin. The front knee will align over its heel instead of being forced inward from trying to square the hips to face the long edge of the mat, and the sacrum stays wide instead of getting pinched. Sacrificing external rotation of the back leg—and discarding the ideal of squaring the hips in Warrior II—facilitates maximal opening in the front leg. The outcome? Safe, healthy hip-opening, one limb at a time. (In Homer’s situation, removing his arms so that the snacks can drop down.)