Do you sometimes feel unhappy but can’t work out why?

Is there something you would like to let go of, which could make you feel better?

Perhaps you are attached to an image you have of yourself, to money or status, or to your beliefs and cultural systems?

As part of Wellbeing, red10’s Lisa Smith explores the Yoga concept of vairāgya – how recognising our attachments, and then seeking to let them go can help us feel happier and freer in all areas of our lives.

Letting Go

The theme I’ve been exploring recently with my group yoga classes is vairāgya – letting go – which seems appropriate given the strange times we are living in.

 This Sanskrit word literally means:

vi – move away from

rāga – desire (klesa)

 It comes from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, first mentioned in YS 1.12 which states that stilling the mind (the goal of yoga) is achieved through:

  • Discipline/practice
  • Detachment


For many of us, attachment is what causes our unhappiness; attachments to an image you have of a person or yourself, attachments to money or status, attachments to a certain time or place, attachments to a job or a way of life, attachments to our beliefs, politics and cultural systems.

Attachments cause unhappiness because we cannot control how long we keep them. Attachments are what make it so hard to accept change – once we have them, we don’t want to let go.


I believe this is why many people are struggling with Covid-19 and the restrictions it is imposing upon us. We were totally attached to life we had, we had no control over the arrival of this pandemic, its virulence and impact, and we cannot control what life will return to afterwards – or when.

It’s all in the mind

True vairāgya however refers to an internal state of mind, rather than to external lifestyle, which is good news because it means it can be practised by everyone, whether you are engaged in family life and career, or a renunciate! Everyone can learn to let go, detach.

It is not giving up what you love

What vairāgya isn’t, is suppression or repulsion for material objects.

My teachers Ranju & Dave call it ‘non-stick openness’. It’s not turning away from or rejecting our lifestyle and beliefs. It’s about cultivating an open space in which new possibilities can arise. It’s turning towards something, being open to what you want and need.


Yoga philosophy says there are 4 stages of letting go.

Be open to it

Be honest and recognise what isn’t supporting you and cultivate new space. Letting go is reducing your thirst for material and spiritual promises – give yourself permission to let go of those promises! Make space for something else.

Still the mind

Be open to the possibilities of the present moment. A daily yoga or meditation practice helps with this, but you must be disciplined otherwise nothing ever gets done and nothing matters.

Be aware of triggers

Notice the mind being drawn off course, notice when it is drawn back to those promises and aim to remain centred without being knocked off balance.

Maintain an effort

It is very easy to weaken and we might easily let go of the necessary effort. Be careful of avoidance and stick with it.

An innocent cup of tea?

So, here’s a simple, practical example of vairāgya, of me letting something go which isn’t supporting me.

I love a cup of proper tea first thing, and my husband usually brings me one in bed. I am very attached to that. Every bit of it. But whenever I have a health consultation, with a nutritionist for example, they always suggest I have 2 cups of hot water on waking. It is a much better way for me to begin my day, but, honestly, I find it quite difficult! I do it for a bit and then slip back to tea (and blame DH of course). Here’s how I can use vairāgya to let this go:

  1. Be open to having water. Ask DH to bring hot water – it’s less hassle for him (I’ll work on letting go of the luxury of being brought a drink to my bed another time).
  2. Be present, in the moment when sipping the cleansing hot water first thing. How is it, what does it feel like, how am I straight after having it? (It’s actually fine).
  3. Notice the triggers such as being upset (I’m sure there are many things a cup of tea can’t fix, but I can’t think of one right now) or even someone just saying “But you’ve always loved a cup of tea first thing, Lisa! What’s wrong with that?”
  4. Stick with it. If routines change, if I’m away or unwell, I can still start each day with hot water.

Be open

I won’t try and map this on to how we deal with a pandemic… I’m working through this too. But suffice to say that giving yourself permission to let go of the promise of whatever it is you are missing (attached to), and being open to the new may just help?