When Yoga Makes Us Feel Good…Until It Doesn’t
We often hear that yoga is a transformative practice. We’re told/expect that we will ‘feel good’ when we leave. You know, we drift off into that blissed state somewhere after all the moving in the standing sequences. Our mind quietens, we’re riding the wave of the breath, and we feel good, at peace…until we don’t. Yes, that is right; it will not always leave us in a ‘feel good’ mood. Our feelings and the emotions constantly change. You are not doing anything wrong, if you are not in a ‘feel good’ mood. It just means that you are experiencing what it feels like to be alive, to be human! This means feeling the full spectrum of emotions. To experience the higher highs, we need to experience the lower lows. Each time we roll out our mats, we are allowing the walls, veils and shades we have put up, from experiencing these states, to slowly drop and shed away. We are able to experience the raw us, the truth, we are able to become honest with ourselves.
Sadly, it’s when these raw, honest, often uncomfortable emotions start to arise, that we want to run away…and sometimes we do (it can feel easier to stay home, on the couch, and eat ice cream…yes, I used to do it!). But what this does, is, just supress the emotions even deeper. Bringing the walls, veils and shades back up. Numbing and cutting us off from life.
To experience both the feel good and the uncomfortable emotions, we just need to sit with them, allow them to be, and allow yourself to be (e.g. if you feel sad, be sad, experience sadness, what does it feel like body, mind, spirit). Remember you are not the emotion, you are simply feeling the emotion. You feel frustrated; this does not make you frustrated. By becoming the observer, you get to experience what feeling frustration feels like. So without creating a story in your head, about whom or what made you frustrated and blaming them, can you stay with the raw honest feeling. Close your eyes, and experience frustration. Start to understand it, what does it do to you, how does it become expressed in your body? Perhaps you start to hold your breath, perhaps parts of your body tighten, perhaps it makes you want to give up. As you keep walking deeper into the feeling, becoming conscious to each layer around the external emotion, you may get to the core of a pattern you have created around that emotion. For example, I would feel frustrated, walking deeper into it brought me to a feeling of heaviness in the body, feeling that I just wanted to give up…then getting to the core, I was experiencing powerlessness. I would act out this pattern in different situations off and on the mat, feeling frustrated…but actually experiencing powerlessness without knowing. Once identified, then you have something to work with. And this is where the transformation takes place.
We have become so programmed in society to supress and shut off our emotions, to supress our feelings. We turn to food, alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, exercise, TV, unhealthy relationships, anything to cut us off, to numb the feelings, to shove them in deeper, so we don’t have to deal with them.
Allowing ourselves to fully experience all of these emotions without judgements, allows us to experience life even more fully. Embracing all emotions in the same way, inviting whatever you feel to come up, and maybe walking deeper, will have transformative effects to your life both on and off the mat.
You don’t need to ‘just get over it’ and you don’t need to ‘just be positive’…neither of these attitudes will take the feeling away, or take you deeper into the core of your being, or to experience life even more fully. They are simply supressing or building up another layer of numbness/avoidance over the emotion.
Our emotions constantly change, so allow them to flow freely just like waves. So next time you’re on your mat (or off) and you don’t ‘feel good’, before you open the freeze and pull out the ice cream, just sit with however you’re feeling, and just be. Close your eyes, focus on the breath, allowing the awareness to ride the breath as if it were a wave throughout the body.