To heal you have to feel
Oh my, I cannot believe I said that! – We all have been there, we all know it is not our proudest moment, but it just slips out. How could this happen? Most of us by a certain age… feel we are pretty good at controlling our emotions, but time to time we all experience a slip of a tong.
Last month my article explained the negativity bias of the human mind; the reason behind why negative emotions and events in our life affect us stronger and longer than positive events, and I left off my column with a warning; Do not get rid of the negative. All feelings are important, when we try to get rid of or suppress our emotions, we run into trouble.
There are three ways we can cause more harm when we suppress our emotions:
1.) We cannot selectively suppress the “bad” stuff only. When you suppress emotions, we become apathetic towards good and bad. Instead of feeling better, we end up feeling numb, depressed, lethargic.
2.) When you suppress emotions, you are not aware of what is going on within you or around you. This is the reason why we “lose our cool” and say the stuff we wish we could take back. When we try to suppress our annoyance or irritation, it tends to explode; I call this the pressure cooker effect. We want to be aware of our emotions, and “let the steam out slowly” by finding a healthy outlet or an action/conversation that is constructive.
3.) We stop engaging with the universe. Emotions are not simply the stuff inside us, emotions are how we engage with our world, how we bond with other sentient beings and how we make sense of the world. Our perception of what is real is guided through feelings. In yoga we say the world is “maya” the Sanskrit word for illusion; meaning there is not ONE reality, but rather endless unique individual perceptions through our mind. Yes, this why quantum physics and yoga has so much philosophy in common. Remember the observer effect in particle physics? The theory that simply observing a situation or phenomenon inevitably changes that phenomenon. Well, this is not just a theory in physics, it is also the main foundation of psychology and yoga.
Because emotions color our reality and create our world, being aware of our emotions is one of our most important responsibility. We will never perfect this art. Since the limbic brain, the part of the brain that is responsible for emotions is an older evolutionary structure, it is stronger and faster than our “thinking” brain, the frontal cortex.
Through meditation and mindfulness, we are practicing to strengthen our frontal cortex to be able to better handle what our limbic brain produces, not by suppressing emotion, but by
1.) Allowing emotion to appear
2.) Observing emotion without reaction
3.) Taking a breath to investigate further
4.) Then taking the appropriate action that will produce constructive outcome
This is the reason why we teach breath meditation. We want to get so good at breathing that it will come naturally as a reaction when we feel “hot-headed.” Breathing meditation without mindfulness is a great way to lower stress levels for about 5 minutes, but for a lasting change in your wellbeing, you got to know HOW and WHEN to use your breath.
I repeat three points over and over again during my mindfulness lectures:
1.) Mindfulness practices increase our capacity to bear experience rather than decreasing the intensity.
2.) Addiction – our desire to mask the unpleasant experience. But avoided material cannot be processed.
3.) To heal – we need to avoid avoidance.
So we breathe to feel, we breathe to take time to process and investigate, and we breathe in integrate our feelings with our body. If I caused you to raise an eyebrow on #2 – Addiction – stay tuned, I will write about our addictive mind next month. For now, remember to breathe and take time to feel, investigate and integrate.
Dora Gyarmati teaches yoga and mindfulness classes. She owns Spira Power Yoga in Issaquah and West Seattle. Her company M3Bmethod also lectures on resilience and stress management to health care professionals.