How to let go… when you’re an A-type

I’m a wholly neurotic, frenetic A-class example of an A-type. If you’re an A-type too (I know a few of you follow me on this blog) you’ll be with me on this: We know we need to let go, release our grip and chill the fork out, but…it requires clever trickery.

The view over the valley at Gwinganna. (Photo by Jo Foster.)
The view over the valley at Gwinganna. (Photo by Jo Foster.)

Indeed, it’s our very A-typeness – our ability to apply clever techniques – that gets us to something approximating “letting go”, usually via our body. And this is fine. So fine.

One of my tricks when I’m due for some letting go is to force myself into lockdown. I’ve escaped to a tin shed in the forest, plunged into remote wilderness on my own for a few weeks, and disappeared to a Hare Krishna camp.  The last few days before I left Australia I was locked down in a wellness retreat (for those of you wondering, there’s only one that I recommend. I have done for a number of years, freely and with conviction – Gwinganna in the Gold Coast hinterland. Their principles are sound and their care true).

I don’t like retreats (Groups! Organized activities! Being told what to do! Touchy feelyness! Eek!). But my A-type brain knows when something has to be done about something.

In this case, that something was chronic exhaustion ahead of a six-week book tour in America and UK. I needed boundaries and bush and calm and no internet and, yes, a bit of touchy feeliness.

But none of this is my point. My point is sharing a trick for letting go I came across in a group (!) breathing exercise one evening, led by Paul. You can use breath to let go. It’s a great trick. We all know how it goes. But there was a pearler I drifted away with. Here’s how it goes:

Lie down. Breath in. Now breath out to a count of five. Hold for five. Release. Nothing more.

The trick – that my A-type brain came up with when I was meant to be letting go – is to not count your breath in. Counting controls it. You let yourself breath in naturally, which you just will after holding for five. And then you let go, which you just will after breathing naturally.

Try it now, sitting if you like. If your co-workers aren’t watching, shut your eyes.

Why does it work?

In this simple moment of naturalness we tap into…well, our naturalness. No effort. Getting out of the way. It transfers, and we let go.

This natural in-breath (the way we’re meant to do it) also – naturally – sees us breath deep into our belly (the way we’re meant to do it). This – as many of us know – activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Most of us spend our lives breathing into our chest, with our hunched shoulders and taute bellies, ready to fly or fight.

This simple moment of not controlling also transfers. It feels nice. We go with it. It spreads beyond the breath to the rest of our being.

As Paul pointed out, too, when you hold your breath (in a soft way), your brain gets occupied in the counting and gets out of the way.

Oh, and this: the tension (holding the breath) before the release accentuates the value and loveliness of the release (the natural in-breath). It’s a little like my “sprint-rest” theory, also geared at A-types.

I’ve always struggled with breathing exercises. I realize it was the breathing in bit. It always felt so forced and created tension. Too much control, no release, no contrast.

A-types need contrast. Lucky we’re good with tricks.

If you’re an A-type you might like to share your take…?

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