Our emotions are actually something that want to move through us.
They don’t want to stay, they don’t want to be controlled, they don’t want to be part of your body, they actually want to move out. And if you welcome them instead of resist them, they move out. They go away.
But if you suppress negative emotions, rather than accepting and appreciating them, they can paradoxically backfire and increase feelings of distress.
It’s like getting a foot cramp in the middle of yoga class. One option is to jerk out of the posture and collapse to the ground and grab your foot and start rubbing the cramp until it goes away. But that reaction often creates more stress than it’s worth and takes twice as long.
The other option, one that you learn after a few years of practicing, is to simply notice the cramp, name it for what it is, send your breath to where it hurts and ride it out. Doing so is surprisingly relaxing, satisfying and takes a fraction of the time.
And so it with our emotions. Once we start practicing healthy affect labeling, which is attaching words to feelings, we domesticate our emotions, instead of pretend they don’t exist.
One strategy I find helpful is to keep a handy cheat sheet on my desk that lists about a hundred different emotions, ranging from defensive to shocked to trapped. That way, any time I need to feel my feelings, I simply grab the list, find the label that best describes my current state, accept it, and then get back to work. It’s done wonders for the sharpening and deepening of my emotional competencies. And it reminds me that emotions come and go like guests who come to visit.
Some are welcome and we’re delighted to see them, others, not so much. But either way, it’s this process emotional development offers the greatest degree of leverage in attaining my full potential.
Wherever it hurts send your breath there.
How are you mindfully ridding the ebbing and flowing tides of your rich emotional life?
Scott Ginsberg is a writer, daily practitioner and work study volunteer at Bikram Yoga Park Slope.