How does yoga help us deal with strong life emotions? We all know it’s easier to work on ourselves, to find peace and positivity when nothing is challenging us. But they say, that is our training ground for when times do get rough, when emotions rock the boat. Pema Chodron’s words stick in my head, the ones about that we may still be just as angry, distraught, confused, etc, as ever, but that it is just in the act of awareness that the success lies (majorly paraphrased). So, maybe we breathe in and out calm in our meditation and then have a terrible day managing our anxieties. How we react to those anxieties is going to be our meditation then, not that they don’t come up because we gained some great calm inhaling and exhaling this morning.
I am beginning to learn (as I feel I am always at the beginning when I get socked in the face by emotions), that I cannot remove these rough parts about myself, I cannot cut them off like a rotting limb. But I won’t be ignoring them and letting them run away with my good intentions either, I will have my outbursts, may they be less intense and shorter lived, and I will use them as fuel for the fire. They are my manure to which I will make magic out of (thank you Tom Robbins or whomever else said that, I thank Tom Robbins for everything).
So I am going to pay attention. Welcome to the table, yoga. The practice of awareness, and entering through the lens of the physical body. For me, using the physical form to teach my swirling mind about itself has been of great use. I feel that I have better control of my mind when my body exerts effort in way dance, hiking, a yoga pose. I’ve been able to set aside shyness, anger breakouts, fear of the unknown, when I exert my physical form. Now that’s just me. And I am always on the search for others who share in this similar salve, to use the physical form to help cope with life inside of me and my projections outwards. But it’s not just that my mind gets a break as it focuses on the burn in my thigh. I gain confidence through the practice that I am capable of being able to get back up when I fall. That I can change my perspective on the moment, and that scary pose I am about to attempt, or the fatigue I am beginning to feel, is easily changeable by changing my perspective on it. And using my breath and my smile to move through the emotions that attempt to block me from even trying. And good news, it works! So I come back to it over and over again for more lessons in not letting the emotions override the moment, that there is more in that moment than just their big heads trying to block my view of the sun rising.
How does yoga help work with big emotions? For one is the offer to relax the body. There’s the the brain, chemicals, neurotransmitters…. On a form and function level, all sorts of chemicals are produced when we are freaking out. So we need to alter the chemicals. We need to send in the calming ones to push out the freaking out ones. So we need the body and the mind to work together on this one. Yoga gives us the tool of observation, awareness, which brings in objectivity, a stepping out of our intense I am drowning in this freak out. How can we notice what is happening and get relief from it? Sometimes to stop moving and talking, deep breaths are enough. When I’m really freaking out, I have to give myself a little talkin’ to… I tell myself with the kindest mother voice that this isn’t all there is in this moment, that I can get passed it, that this feeling is going to pass and I will once again be able to cope with being a human being in this made up world. And why can I even attempt to mother myself like this? Because I do get to the other side of the world is ending, and we all do. And when I’m in a more calm state, I get back on the mat or the dance floor, and practice riding the wave of the small rises and falls of emotions that occur with the challenges I meet to prepare me for the bigger life ones.
Did you see that cow by the side of the road? Ah, the smell of sage brush! Did you ever contemplate the thin line of sunlight that frames the mountain, is it that thin line that allows me to see the mountain as separate from the sky? Where do you feel the emotional pain in your body, can you move that limb around and see where the pain travels to? If we awaken our observation skills when we are not blinded by the massive cloud of life upset, can we use those awareness skills to help us see the upset as upset and not as this is all I am, I am terrible, this is terrible, and will never not be terrible. Then maybe we’ll be able to send in those calming molecules to offset the panic ones, change our chemistry to get the brain back into parasympathetic breathing, quiet the voice, waiting through the passing storm from under the shelter of the bridge, and learn something about ourselves and how we relate to the world. Yoga gives us tools to practice awareness, so when the going gets tough, we can be aware of it all, not just the pretty flowers and not just the gnarly storm clouds. But all of it, and responsibly play a part in the observance that the pretty flower will wither and die, becoming fodder for the next plant, and the storm may destroy a couple things in its path, or at least require you to change your clothing, but the sun dries it all back out, and beams on through.
Yoga teaches us to cure what we need not endure, and to endure what we cannot cure. BKS Iyengar