The word Yoga derives from the Sanskrit “yuj” which means “to yoke”, as in to join a horse and cart together. It signifies the original spiritual aim of yoga – to join the practitioner with “the ultimate reality”, the so-called becoming one with everything.
Whereas in the Western world we commonly think of yoga as primarily being a series of physical postures, this part of the practice known as asana originally consisted of a dozen or so basic stretches, predominately aimed at preparing the body for a period of sitting meditation by opening up the breathing and lengthening the spine. The number of physical postures have increased over the years but actually many of the more vigorous standing postures which we associate with modern Yoga were added as late as the 1950s as Western keep-fit style exercises made their way to India.
The Yoga Sutra written by Patanjali defined what is known as the 8 limbs of yoga – 8 different types of practice, only 1 of which is the practice of physical postures, however other limbs will also be familiar – breathing exercises (pranayama), and meditation practices (which we could consider as encompassing 3 of the limbs). The other limbs concern living what we might consider living a spiritual life – morality and the self-discipline of personal practices, and the final limb concerns the so-called becoming one with everything. (A fuller explanation of the 8 limbs can be found here)
However, given how sedentary modern life has become compared to when Patanjali’s 8 limbs were written, it is entirely in keeping with the limb of personal practices and self-discipline that there should be an increased focus on maintaining our physical health.
“the health of our body affects the health of our thoughts”
…And here-in lies the challenge for a modern teacher. The demands of life in the modern Western world are very different from those a couple of thousand years ago in India, as is our way of relating to the world.
Added to this over the intervening two and half thousand years many different teachers have developed different styles and practices – so much so there is a saying “2 teachers, 3 opinions”. I am very grateful to my teacher for impressing upon me the need to develop my own style of teaching, while remaining humble and true to the practice of Yoga. So while I call this article the essence of Yoga, I am not arrogantly assuming I am speaking for all practitioners. I invite you to develop your own understanding, but to hold that with a Yoga like openness and flexibility that allows that interpretation to grow and change; with a great respect and willingness to learn from teachings that differ from your own preferences and opinions.
Just as modern Mindfulness teachings have taken the essence of Mindfulness and placed them in a scientific rather than religious context whilst remaining true to the original practices, I aim to do the same with Yoga. I recognise that the majority of people come to classes for physical health and stress management, and believe that meeting this need is essential for survival in the modern world! My aim then is to frame my classes in such a way that they are open to individual interpretation, accessible for those looking for health benefits and based in science, while still being relevant and valuable to those on a spiritual path.
So If I were asked to express my personal interpretation of the essence of yoga down to one sentence, I would probably go for “If you want to become one with everything, start by becoming one with yourself”; or perhaps even more simply – “Listen.”
Science has been a great gift for us, and our culture and understanding of the world has grown massively as a result. However it has seemingly imprinted on us a view that rationality is the pinnacle of humanity, and therefore it’s all about our thoughts, and the body is simply a vehicle to drive the brain around. One of my aims as a teacher is to reconnect people with their physicality – our body is an incredible living breathing organism. We know that when we get ill or are in pain, that our mood is affected. We also know that when our mood is affected it affects the way we think, generally becoming less positive, and less focused. So just with those two simple sentences, we have established that the health of our body affects the health of our thoughts, and that the brain and body aren’t separate, but are both a part of the same whole.
Inherent in this idea of oneness is another concept – that of compassionate acceptance. If we are critical of the way things are right now, we are in effect creating a second, imaginary reality in our heads in which things are different – two realities by definition isn’t oneness.
So to be one with our body is to accept how it is right now; it might be a bit stiff today, or every day. Our strength, or our flexibility, or our balance may prevent us from going as far into a posture as we normally do, or as the person next to us in class is doing but we only have the body that we have right now; and however it is is however it is. So we accept our boundaries as they are, we stop wherever it is comfortable for us to stop, and we don’t (or at least try not to) run a story of self-criticism, of not being good enough.
On a psychological level, this teaches us that we are good enough just as we are with all our flaws, which we all know in theory, but living it is a very different matter. Yoga gives us a means to develop that.
And this idea has benefits on a physical level too. Whenever we make a movement, two opposite sets of muscles get involved. For example if we are bending our arm at the elbow, the biceps, on the front of our arms, contract to make the movement happen – in technical terms the muscle creating the movement, in this case the biceps is known as the agonist. But at the same time the triceps, the muscle on the back of our arms gets involved too. In effect it is acting as a brake, to make sure we don’t overstretch and hurt ourselves, in technical terms this is the antagonist.
If we try to stretch as far as we can then, the agonist is tensing to create the movement, and the antagonist is tensing to try to stop any further movement and prevent injury. In effect we are fighting against ourselves. Some techniques for building muscle actually use this process, but as yogis we have a different aims, and fighting against yourself is definitely not one of them! When we take a stretch up to our natural comfortable boundary, before the antagonist really starts tensing, the body feels safe and knows it won’t be injured. Therefore it allows the muscles to relax more and we can go even deeper into the stretch; but we’ve done this in a very nurturing way rather than forcing our way through. This allows for a much deeper release in the muscles. What we call “knots” in our muscles are where the body won’t “let go” – either because it’s been holding tension there for so long, or because there’s a muscle tear that the body is trying to protect. If we force our past our comfortable boundary as encouraged by many stretching techniques, then the body never feels safe enough to release these knots.
“Yoga must not be practiced to control the body, It is the opposite, it must bring freedom to the body, all the freedom it needs.”
– Vanda Scaravelli
We are in effect using a less is more approach. By not trying achieve more, we actually allow for a much more effective release of tension – and tension in our body takes effort for the body to hold, so every bit of tension we release is energy that you are reclaiming to use in your daily life!
There’s one more concept I’d like to unpack from this “becoming one with your body” idea, and as well as having physical benefits it also includes the three limbs of Yoga that I said in my introduction related to meditation. So these three limbs are usually translated as bringing your attention inwards, concentration and perhaps slightly confusingly meditation – so whereas what we usually call meditation practise usually encompasses all three, in this case meditation refers to observing what is going on within us, for example watching our thoughts or emotions without reacting to them (ideas which I discuss further in my previous article the essence of mindfulness)
So as we are taking the postures, we are aware of every sensation in the body, and every movement the body is making, whether a twitch, a muscles release, wobbling to keep our balance, or the movement of the breath. By doing so we are bringing our attention inward, and concentrating covering two of the limbs, and by applying our compassionate acceptance and simply observing and not judging we have the third one included too.
In terms of becoming one with ourselves, which in terms of the limbs I suggested as a precursor to becoming one with everything, we are increasing our “oneness” as the mind observes the body moving with the breath.
And in terms of our physical health, by focussing on the sensations and movements of the body, we are giving our nervous systems a very clear picture of what is going on in our body – the nervous system does this brilliantly anyway, but we are taking away the distractions, and raising the resolution of the picture of the body it is getting.
It is the nervous system which decides which muscles to lengthen, and which muscles to strengthen, so by giving it this clearer picture, we are improving its decision making capacity, and thereby the health of our bodies. This is also another reason behind the compassionate acceptance of the boundaries of our flexibility. If we are fighting against ourselves, tensing both the agonist and antagonist, the nervous system isn’t entirely sure what we are trying to do. By taking ourselves to our comfortable boundary, we are letting the nervous system know exactly what our aim is, and so it can make the necessary changes for those deeper releases.
Likewise, we have pauses during the class, and the class ends with a period lying on our backs. This isn’t supposed to be sleeping time, although snores are fairly common, but it’s actually a chance for your body to process the changes we’ve already made, for the nervous system to deepen the openness we’ve created, so we get maximum benefit from the practices.
Taking this all back to the even simpler essense… Listen. Listening is an act of receiving, we don’t control what comes in. Listen to your body, and where its boundaries are in each moment. Listen to the sensations of your body. Listen to the movements of your body. Let go of ideas of trying to control, or to perfect.
Simply be with your body, as it is right now.
Be with yourself as you are right now.
“The success of Yoga does not lie in the ability to perform postures but in how it positively changes the way we live our life and our relationships.”
It’s common when introducing modern mindfulness to describe the practices as Buddhist in origin, but applied within a scientific rather than religious frame. Whilst he did develop many new ideas, Gautama Buddha also drew from philosophies and practices already existing in India; mindfulness being one of them.
Alongside the development of Buddhism, another school of spiritual thought developed in India, called Advaita Vedanta. Many practitioners of Vedanta believe that meditation isn’t useful and instead solely practice what we could consider to be the purest form of mindfulness, namely that of being mindful of every moment as we go through our normal daily lives.
The philosopher Ken Wilbur describes meditation as being a science – the scientific study of our own internal experience. And we are the only person who can study that experience.
We’ve been given one random human being to study in all its detail – ourselves. How do we react in this situation, or that situation? How do we feel? Do we feel one thing, and say another? What thoughts arise? Where did we learn this response? How do we judge our own actions?
sometimes our minds just won’t shut up!
As mindfulness practitioners, we are not supposed to be peaceful and happy at all times – I’ve had to point that out to an awful lot of people who have completed courses, and always to their great relief!
Our aim is not to try to change who we are, or fix ourselves, but to simply observe. We observe all our emotions, and greet them with acceptance. We start to notice that so called positive emotions come and go, and that so called negative emotions come and go. We notice that the same happens with everyone we know. That this is just reality. This is simply being human. We learn that, as I expressed in a previous article – it’s OK not to be OK. It’s just a part of normal life.
Neither are we trying to stop thinking. In fact it’s impossible! It’s very likely that in many of our meditations our thoughts will slow drastically, and we may have periods were there is no thought… but then thought arises. It’s simply the nature of our minds. And sometimes we just can’t switch off our minds either, and guess what? That doesn’t make the meditation a failure. In fact going back to our scientific study of ourselves… we’ve just learned something about ourselves: namely that sometimes our minds just won’t shut up!
In fact the practise of mindfulness is so incredibly simple, it’s sometimes too profound for our brain to grasp!
If we go into a poor me story we’ve created an extra layer of suffering inside ourselves
So if that’s the practise of mindfulness, what’s the point of practising when I want to be calmer, more peaceful and I want my brain to shut up?
Well because, that is all a side-effect of practising mindfulness, but it is not the practise itself. And for those of us who aren’t pursuing a spiritual goal, that side-effect is the primary reason that we practise.
We could put in terms of the Buddhist concept of “firing the second arrow”, or “throwing the second dart”. If we hurt our hand, we feel pain and it isn’t fun. If we then create a drama around it, and go into a poor me story in our heads such as “it’s terrible, bad things always happen to me, I’m such an idiot” – we’ve created an extra layer of suffering inside ourselves. We’ve got the pain in our hands, and now we’ve got this story of pain in our heads too. This is “firing the second arrow”. If instead we accept the pain in our hands, it still hurts and we may wince, but we are not adding to our suffering through our thinking.
So if you are practising mindfulness, and you keep getting distracted by thought, watch how you then fire the second arrow. Watch how you judge the meditation as a failure, and get frustrated or feel bad. Watch how this only increases your thinking. Congratulations – you’ve just learned something else about yourself!
…And after maybe 20 times of doing this, you don’t feel the need to criticise yourself any more. You simply accept that thought is arising and that’s just what thought does.
Raised in a society that is always teaching us to do, and to achieve, it’s difficult for us to grasp this idea; this profound simplicity. So we go on more courses, and read more books, looking for the answers. These can be very useful. They can give us a framework to better see what is going on within us… and that is all I do as a teacher. I point out to you, what is already there for you to see. But it’s not my pointing that’s important, and it’s not this profound simplicity that I’m hoping you’ll understand. What it’s important is what is there now… and now… and now… and now.
“To look at the moon, it is necessary to gaze beyond the finger, right?” – Zen teaching
Here’s a meditation for you on this theme, from my Sunday Live series. Join us every Sunday at 7 for more.
We’ve all had the experience of not being listened to. Depending on the situation we might find it frustrating, or especially if it’s around our emotional pain, we may feel sad, or interpret it as meaning that what we’ve got say just isn’t important. If it happens to us repeatedly, we may even start to believe that we are not important.
We know that it’s important to pay attention to our children, and we know if we don’t there may be a temper tantrum, or all kinds of attention seeking behaviours, from the entertaining to the annoying, to the downright unpleasant. We understand that if this goes on for a prolonged period that the child may well develop emotional problems that still affect them alter in life. We know that if we don’t pay our partner attention, they may well end up leaving us.
What we may not realise is that most of us are guilty of hurting someone most of the time. Not our children or our partner, but ourselves, by not paying attention to our bodies. As a result, our bodies have all kinds of temper tantrums, manifesting as physical pain and also as all kinds of emotional issues. This will continue to be the case until we change our relationship with our body.
I’m not telling you to “be kind to your body”. I’m not suggesting that you change your diet or start exercising. This is about something much more fundamental; something at the root of many of our health problems and unhealthy behaviours.
Our body is a living, breathing organic being. In evolutionary terms, our bodies evolved thousands of years before our complex emotions and rational thoughts. Every cell of our body is an evolution of single celled organism that became started working with other cells and became more and more specialised, to eventually form the incredibly complex beings made from billions of cells that we are today.
By developing our capacity to pay attention to our bodies, therefore, we can directly influence our health on all levels
Our bodies are constantly regenerating; They fight off disease, and repair when they are damaged; and not only do our bodies naturally want to be healthy and aligned, they have the mechanisms for that to happen.
Our bodies regulate our emotional health – think how you feel when you’re ill or in pain. We’ve no doubt been told “smile, you’ll feel better” – well scientific experiments have proved this to be true, as well as how our posture can affect our mood. We refer to our emotions as our feelings, because every emotion has a physical sensation – you can think of being broken-hearted, or having butterflies in your stomach. Psychotherapists, like Gay and Kathleen Hendricks, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder expert Dr Peter Levine, have shown how we can use these sensations to heal past traumas, and to develop greater emotional resilience.
Our body experiences hundreds of thousands of sensations every second. And each one of these sensations is either the cause or effect of a subconscious process. So, by being aware of the sensations, we are becoming aware of our subconscious processes – this is the principle behind the Vipassana style of meditation, as taught by the Buddha.
You may also have come across the concept of energy – the Chinese call it Chi, the Indians Prana, and other people life force; in its simplest form, every time you feel a sensation in the body, you are tuning into this energy.
By not paying attention to our bodies, we are actually inhibiting some of these natural emotional processing and physical realignment processes from happening – our brains require a level of awareness for these to take place. In simple terms – we need to feel our emotions for the wounds to heal, which is why repressing emotions is unhealthy.
By developing our capacity to pay attention to our bodies, therefore, we can directly influence our health on all levels – body, emotions, mind and spirit.
please, start to treat your body as the beautiful living being she or he is
A large part of my work as a Shiatsu practitioner, rather than “fixing” someone, is actually to trigger my clients own natural processes: their bodies desire to be in alignment; to release tension; and to release old and no longer useful emotions and thought patterns.
In Mindfulness we use body focused meditations in order to start to develop these connections. And while Yoga does improve the state of your body through releasing tension, strengthening muscles, and improving alignment, the real depth of it is in listening to your body as you do so.
Just as in Buddha’s Vipassana practise, we are working directly on our subconscious programming as we do this;
and just as when we pay attention to a child or our partner, our bodies appreciate this level of attention too. As we listen to and accept their quirks and uniqueness; as we learn to hear their needs, they become more confident in themselves, cause us fewer problems, and start to give us more back.
So please, start to treat your body as the beautiful living being she or he is, giving them all the attention they crave. Start right now. Just notice whatever sensations you can feel in your body; as many as you can at the same time. Just notice and accept any aches and pains. Don’t try to fix them, or get rid of them – they are body trying to tell you something, craving attention!
Do this as often as you remember. Do it while you’re talking to your friends, and watching TV, until it becomes natural and doesn’t distract you.
It might feel slightly odd at first, but you’ll soon develop a sense that you’re inhabiting your body; a sense of connecting, and coming home.
Once you feel this level of connection with your body, you can start to generate feelings of gratitude and compassion towards your body. Thank her or him for the hard work it does getting your through life – even if your health means you can’t get out of bed, your body is working hard: breathing; digesting; keeping you alive.
Your body will thank you, and you’ll live a happier more fulfilled life as a result.
I was meditating on anxiety today. Practising meditation and yoga isn’t a miracle cure all and, just like everyone else, my life throws up things that trigger my emotions. Anxiety is one of those, especially when it comes to putting myself out there in terms of my work.
A familiar thought pattern often arises, which counsellors often referred to as imposter syndrome: “Am I good enough? do I know what I’m talking about? what if a ‘real expert’ hears what I’m saying and outs me as a fraud?”
I know that these stories aren’t true, otherwise my clients wouldn’t keep coming back, and choosing me over other therapists and teachers. Clearly then, this anxiety is rooted in shame – a fear of being humiliated. Shame commonly manifests in one of two ways (or a combination):
Everything has to be absolutely perfect so I am beyond criticism. This causes massive stress as we overwork to go way beyond good enough. The slightest inevitable imperfection creates feelings of failure and inadequacy.
Avoiding doing the task, as it can never be good enough. Just the thought of it instils a feeling of failure, so far better to distract myself with pictures of fluffy cats (other forms of distraction are available). The task is then usually either done at the last minute with the massive stress that entails, or not at all; a complete failure often leading to feelings of depression.
My lifetime tendency is to procrastinate; although I can use perfectionism within that: paying far too much attention to getting one small aspect perfect, as a way of avoiding the rest.
So having recognised my procrastination around the task I was putting off, I sat down and meditated; simply allowing myself to feel the anxiety that was coming up – a cold sensation at the bottom of my breastbone.
Suddenly a thought appeared (if you think that meditation is about stopping yourself from thinking, then please listen to mindfulness made easy)
“It’s amazing that I’ve made it this far with all this anxiety”
Here I am, I’ve managed to survive for over 41 years, and I’m still going. I’m eating and warm; I’ve got shelter; I’ve got many friends and interests; and despite my anxiety, I’ve been running my own business for over 10 years – finding a way to put myself out there; helping people and enjoying the results. I recognised the resilience I have to be able to keep going; to keep finding a way to overcome the anxiety, even if it does involve procrastination and the associated stress.
I started to feel the strength of that resilience, a warm, solid feeling. The feeling of anxiety was still there as well and I wasn’t trying to get rid of it, or replace it with this feeling of resilience. I was noticing both of them co-existing.
As I felt this strength, I realised that it was a response to the anxiety. I had developed this strength and resilience as a response to the anxiety. I am growing as a result of the anxiety. The anxiety has given me a gift.
What came next was an even more profound realisation.
This fight going on within me, between the resilience and the anxiety, was actually contributing to the anxiety.
My need to be strong, and to overcome this anxiety was feeding more anxious thoughts: “but what if I can’t? What if I don’t manage it this time?”
Having the strength to put myself out there work-wise means continuing with this line of work. So I have to continue to put myself out there more, and find new ways of doing that, which brings new challenges.
So the anxiety is feeding the resilience, and the resilience is feeding the anxiety.
There’s a Taoist saying – “Your Strengths are your weaknesses, and your weakness your strengths.” Applied Yin and Yang. The dots in the yin yang symbol represent the seed of one within the other.
So my strength and anxiety are in fact two sides of the same coin.
This realisation changed the state of my meditation. I am now outside of this internal battle between strength and anxiety – my desire to do my work and my desire to procrastinate. They are in fact one and the same, and I don’t need to get involved in the fight – trying to win it makes the anxiety stronger. After all its Ok not to be OK.
Now I am outside: I am bigger than the anxiety; I am bigger than my resilience. They are simply feelings within me. They do not define me. It’s my choice now how I respond to them, and I can simply choose not to. I don’t need to act as someone who is anxious. I don’t need to act as someone trying to be strong enough to overcome the anxiety. I can simply choose to act as me, and I choose to get on with my task.
I am experienced enough to know that I haven’t fixed this. I will procrastinate again, and that’s OK. I will try to use strength to overcome anxiety again, and that’s OK too. It’s all a part of being human.
But I also now know that there is a me that is bigger. I now know that when I’m able to connect with this place, that I don’t need to fight. I can also use this in future meditations to heal the underlying causes of my procrastination, making my journey through life that bit easier.
When I decided to write this blog, the idea for the first post came pretty easily, something I come across again and again.
A few months ago, I taught a mindfulness workshop on dealing with difficult emotions – as it turned out all of the participants were women, and I must admit to getting a buzz out of being a man teaching women about emotions! The biggest revelation of the workshop, a game changer for many of the participants though was this simple principle – it’s OK not to be OK.
It’s a great one to get your head around because not only is it OK to not be OK, it’s inevitable that you won’t be OK at some point. No matter how well you think you are doing, sooner or later something is going to come along to knock you off track and who knows what it might be: perhaps yourself or a family member get diagnosed with a serious illness; perhaps an unexpected redundancy; perhaps a relationship, whether intimate or platonic, goes through a sticky patch; or perhaps something happens that triggers memories of painful past events… and these are just some of the obvious possibilities for things that can knock us for six.
“Those who don’t know how to suffer are the worst off.
There are times when the only correct thing we can do is to bear out troubles until a better day.”
– Deng Ming-Dao (Taoist teacher)
I’m yet to meet a person who doesn’t experience turbulent times in their life, and that includes a number of enlightened spiritual teachers. My work puts me in the privileged position of hearing many people’s stories, and I’ve been told I naturally make people feel very comfortable opening up. The mindfulness courses I teach are no way group therapy and there is no expectation anyone shares anything, but people often do end up sharing some of they challenges they are facing – and it’s something people say they get a lot from: just being in a group where people are being honest about the challenges they face, so they know that “it’s not just me”…
…and yet society gives us the message that we have to be strong; stiff upper lip and all that. We are taught that it’s weak or shameful to show vulnerability, despite the fact that all of us experience these times. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard a crying woman say “you must think I’m stupid” and assuring them that I don’t think that can be nigh on impossible – my current best reply is “I don’t know who told you that, but it wasn’t me”. When you think of the number of times you’ve heard someone say “Don’t be stupid” when someone is crying, it’s no wonder this message is instilled.
And with men getting them to admit it, let alone talk about it often presents a huge challenge – often cited as the reason suicide is the highest cause of mortality in men aged between 18 and 35; “Big boys don’t cry”; “Man up”
And for people who practise Mindfulness and other spiritual disciplines, the pressure can increase even more: “I’m not supposed to get upset, it’s not spiritual”; I must be doing it wrong.
So let me share my confession… I’m Pete, a Yoga & mindfulness teacher, a spiritual practitioner for over 20 years, and sometimes I’m not OK. I mean REALLY not OK. I’m a man who cries. I get angry, I get anxious. I have days that I don’t want to face the world. And when I get upset, I don’t always deal with it in a healthy positive way. I say things to people out of my anger that hurts their feelings. Sometimes I don’t say anything at all, and then chunter to myself about the grudge I’m holding, and criticise myself for not being stronger. Sometimes I avoid people. Sometimes I hide this all away and pretend everything’s OK.
Despite all my meditation and all of the emotional work I’ve done, I’m still a messy blood & guts, emotional human being…
Just like you.
Despite all my meditation and all of the emotional work I’ve done, I’m still a messy blood & guts, emotional human being…
Just like you.
It’s what we we do. We each do it in our own unique way. Some of us cope better with some situations, and not so well with others. And that’s all OK – how do I know? Well quite simply it’s the reality of being human. No, it doesn’t feel nice when we’re going through it, but no one ever said that life was one big ball of happiness and joy…
…and I’ll let you into a little secret. When I meet up with other yoga teachers and meditation teachers, very often we talk about the issues we’re struggling with, and how everyone expects us to be OK all the time!
Until we understand its OK to feel upset, then all we’re doing is fighting against ourselves; shaming and hurting ourselves. In mindfulness we talk about acceptance, and understanding ourselves. So let’s make the basis of our practise a recognition that we’re a bit messy really; that sometimes we do have strong emotions that can overwhelm us; and that we don’t get everything right… and sometimes we do need to hide all of this way and just get on, because we’ve got a family to look after and a job to hold down.
In his fantastic book “To be a man” (which I highly recommend to both men and women) Robert Masters asks what takes more courage? To carry on pretending everything’s alright, or to let ourselves fall apart and give in to your emotions, not being sure you’ll be able to pull yourself back together again…
Sometimes we just need to fall apart.
A few years ago, a friend of mine passed away from cancer, I realised someone I’d fallen head over heals for wasn’t interested in me and some work was cancelled, meaning I wasn’t sure I could pay my rent – all in a few days. So I allowed myself to fall apart. I shut my door, and spent the weekend crying and despairing. Going with it. Being authentic with my emotional state. On the Sunday afternoon, positive thoughts started appearing all by themselves; ideas of ways forward with my work. I’d come out the other side.
Sometimes we need a cathartic release. Our emotions aren’t just an irrational inconvenience we can ignore and repress – if we try to do that they just fester, and cause us physical and emotional problems further down the line. Our emotions have to go through a process before they are healed. Very often I hear people say “I thought I was over it” as an emotional upset from the past rears it’s head, and I’ve come to realise that what people really mean is “time passed and I buried it”
A large amount of my work is centered around reconnecting people with their bodies. This automatically engages our natural emotional processing mechanisms, so we can fully release emotions and don’t have to carry them around with us any longer. We can’t process something if we are denying our natural response to it – and that goes double if we’re repressing it in the name of “being spiritual”.
Mindfulness teaches us to see who we truly are, so we can live that life – the one we are meant to be living, not the one we think we should be. And while practising mindfulness sometimes means we don’t react where we might have before, we may still feel the emotion. In Robert Master’s words we “relate to” the emotion, rather than “relating from” it. To put that another way, we see our anger, for example, and we choose an appropriate response rather than acting from a place of being overwhelmed by anger, and attacking the person whether physically, verbally or even just mentally.
If we try to be OK all the time, we are simply storing up the emotions for a later date
Simply naming the emotion, eg thinking or saying “I’m angry, and reacting to this situation” can be a great help. If that doesn’t feel like enough, we can then choose whether to take a few deep breaths as we count to 10, or to punch a cushion, or throw a baking tray at the floor. It’s OK to choose to curl up under our duvets and hide from the world. We can allow ourselves an expression of the emotion recognising this as a healthy choice to give us the space to move forward.
Other times, the emotion will be too strong, and we will get lost in it, but by allowing it, our journey will be smoother, quicker, and we will grow as a result of it. And sometimes we’ll just have to ignore these ideals altogether and just push on through, because life demands it – and that’s OK too.
If we try to be OK all the time, we are simply storing up the emotions for a later date, when some poor unsuspecting soul gets it in the neck for squeezing the toothpaste tube in the middle, or whatever insignificant act they may have unwittingly performed. If we criticise ourselves for having emotions, we are only making ourselves weaker.
Conversely, allowing ourselves not to be OK, means that we can truly deal with the situation we find ourselves in and to be truly courageous by allow ourselves to be vulnerable. Being not Ok actually makes us stronger.
I’m not saying we wallow in our misery, but rather we go by the fabulous maxim, told to me by teacher Marc Gafni – “Cry as much as it hurts”.