Releasing Emotion Can Set You FREE!
February 11, 2013 by Debra Hennesy
Filed under Anxiety, Depression, Empowerment, Exercise, Expressive Arts, Featured, Freedom, Healthy Coping, Mental Health, Mindfulness, Recovery, Self Esteem, Self-Acceptance, Self-Care, Self-Compassion, Sharing Feelings, Stress Management, Wellness, Yoga, Yoga and Meditation
Is it just me, or does it seem as if violence in our country has reached a pace at which it is the ONLY topic of news these days? I must admit that I am almost frightened to leave my house some days, in anticipation of being a victim myself. What’s almost MORE scary to me is the length of time society deems “necessary” to grieve for these violent acts; as soon as we “get over” the horror of one act (for example, the shooting here in Colorado last summer), another occurs that is equally or more horrifying (the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut in December). These acts do indeed bring us closer as a country (and certainly the communities in which they occur), as we feel compassion for the victims and families affected. But I present this question to you: do you feel compassion toward YOURSELF when these violent acts occur? Or for that matter, when anything causes emotional harm to you?
After the school shootings in Newtown occurred, I was so distraught (as was much of the country) that I couldn’t bring myself to continue to listen to the media talk about it, much less see any footage. Whenever I thought of the innocent children whose lives were taken in what they surely felt was one of the safest places besides their homes, I wept. I felt so many things: grief for the people who lost their lives, pain for the parents of the children involved, fear for my own young son’s safety, even hatred for the boy who did the shooting. It was probably the most intense emotion I have ever felt regarding something that didn’t involve me, or someone I knew personally…and it didn’t seem to subside either.
“To weep is to make less the depth of grief” –William Shakespeare
As I continued experiencing the onslaught of emotions for the next few weeks, I began to approach it from a yoga viewpoint, one that involves subtle anatomy. Subtle anatomy, as opposed to gross anatomy, includes the nadis and chakras, and the energy associated with our internal organs. A concept common among yogis is that we store energy in our bodies, and that energy can be positive or negative…resulting in health or imbalance. In a nutshell, what we “hold onto” can become trapped in our cells and possibly make us sick, and more susceptible to injury.
Whenever I would learn more about this concept (and the amazing amount of depth involved…I will learn it for the rest of my life!), it resonated with me. I grew up internalizing that showing emotion was a sign of weakness, and consequently faced years of illness, accidents, surgeries, you name it! Coincidence? Maybe…but I do know that when I allow myself to truly feel emotions as they come, and release them in whatever way feels suitable to me at the time, I not only feel happier and lighter, but I feel a sense of freedom from the burden of holding on.
“Grief can be a burden, but also an anchor. You get used to the weight, how it holds you in place.”
–Sarah Dessen, The Truth About Forever
Now , you may be thinking, “wait a minute…that quote seems contradictory to what Debra is saying!” Without getting too deep into specific emotions, there are some that serve a purpose beyond our understanding, such as grief (not only an emotion, but a process). I perceive this quote from a yoga standpoint (why wouldn’t I, as a teacher of yoga teachers?!), in that an anchor is something grounding…grief can ground us in our time of need, rather than make us feel as if there is no end to the process. The key is to use the emotion in a way that will allow us to be able to eventually let it go with love.
Which brings me to the “how” of all of this emotional burden! It’s easy enough to say “work through it and let it go”, but much harder to do so. The practice of yoga teaches us to listen to our bodies and minds, and react accordingly. When you feel a wave of emotion come over you, what is your first instinct? To cry? To push it down and ignore it? To lash out at whomever may be closest to you?
Shedding tears is, as Shakespeare said, lessening the depth of grief…so if you feel like crying, CRY! Tears are cleansing, a “washing away” of whatever brought them on, and there is no shame in crying. As I said, I cried for weeks over the Newtown shooting, and that is what I allowed myself to do, knowing that each tear represented something far greater than my mortal understanding.
We’ve all heard that exercise is beneficial for maintaining our mental health, and it is. If you feel led to run, bike, hike, swim, or drop in for a Zumba class, then go for it! But I am going to suggest something even more powerful that might surprise you: yoga! Getting on your mat has immeasurable benefits, just one of which is increasing your ability to let go and simply be present…finding contentment with what is, in each moment. The asanas (postures), when held for a period of time, actually compress and decompress the internal organs (remember, where I said our subtle energy is stored?). Thus, doing yoga allows emotions to be released (along with tension, tight muscles, etc.). Have you ever been in a particular asana (such as childs pose or savasana, common “internalizing” asanas) and found yourself unable to control tears, or feeling an intense emotion that you had no idea needed releasing? The physical action of the asanas, combined with the focus required to maintain them, taps into the subtle energy that lies beneath ourconsciousness.
Simply said, doing yoga is therapeutic not only physically, but emotionally as well. I can’t count the number of students who have approached me to tell me that it was their yoga practice that helped them get through difficult situations, and freed them from feeling “stuck” on an emotional rollercoaster. Rather than fighting what you feel during your practice, allow emotions to flow without judgment…knowing that the resulting release that occurs is exactly what you need every time!
Debra Hennesy is the founder and owner of Feel Your Best, LLC, an organization that trains people to become instructors of yoga, Pilates, stress management, as well as yoga therapists. She calls Colorado her new home, with her husband and active 6-year-old son.