“Wherever you are, that’s the entry point.” ~ Kabir
Emotions happen, everyday, all the time. Life can be difficult. Life can be fun. The point of yoga and meditation—and life—is not to quit having disturbing emotions or difficult times. Through the mindfulness and compassion generated by practice, we can make friends out of our emotions, which are energy plus thought, or “energy in motion.”
Here are four progressive, practical ways to work with our emotions in our yoga practice as well as “postmeditation”—daily life:
Cultivate Awareness of Emotions in Motion.
The foundation of working with emotions is the practice of emotional awareness. That is, noticing the flow of emotions arising, lasting a while and later passing away. Boredom, overwhelm, joy, exhaustion, sadness, surprise, numbness, fear, love… Which emotions are coming by to visit? Just notice. Let go of judgment and opinions. When we can just experience an emotion, whatever it may be—neither identifying with or engaging it, nor pushing it away—it usually lasts only a moment or two.
“Emotions are the arising of the natural dynamic energy of life.” ~ Pema Chodron
Breathe into Intense Emotions.
Soon after beginning a yoga and meditation practice, many practitioners start to feel a little crazy.
This is common, because we are becoming increasingly aware of the rapid, random flow of thoughts, emotions, ideas, memories and plans through the mind, throughout the day and night, non-stop. When difficult emotions such as anger and fear arise, we can breathe into them, fully experiencing them rather than automatically going for our favorite escape, distraction or drug of choice. Don’t repress but rather be aware; be the emotion. Embody it. Cry when you need to cry. Laugh when you feel like laughing. Remember, everyone on Earth feels the painful or blissful emotion that you are feeling right now. Breathe into the suffering of the world; breathe out love, kindness and compassion. Let yourself feel the anger or sadness without acting out or repressing it.
“That which is threatening to the ego is liberating to the heart.” ~ Ajahn Amaro
Learn to Concentrate the Mind.
It may be true that all we seek is already within us. It is also true that discipline helps. Learning to concentrate, quiet and still the mind through yoga and meditation is of immense value. A calm mind still experiences emotion, it just doesn’t identify with them, or when it does, the wise mind more and more quickly lets go and allows the emotions to flow naturally once again.
“The result is not the point; it is the effort to improve ourselves that is valuable. There is no end to this practice.” ~ Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki
Add the Magic Ingredient, Insight!
Vipassana, or insight, meditation involves becoming aware of the thoughts and other activities of the mind and the bodily sensations—and developing equanimity or balance of mind no matter what crops up.
Through Vipassana, we realize the mind’s constant desire to attach or repel. To avoid and deny. To create elaborate stories and schemes. Insight meditation can involve labeling thoughts by silently saying “thinking” when they arise. Or, you can label more specifically—“judging,” “anticipating,” “worrying,” etc. This is the mind witnessing itself, the act of mindfulness. Eventually, with some amount of devoted practice, you will transcend the witness and be able to simply flow gracefully with whatever varied emotions are present.
As insight is gained through experience and practice, we see the value of skillful action and the harm in unskillful action.
“We learn to recognize the fluidity of our emotions by going into them and letting them pass through like clouds in the sky.” ~ Pema Chodron
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Editor: Emily Bartran