Happiness, sadness, excitement, anxiety, guilt, shame, contentment, unease (you know where I'm going with this, right?).
Trying to suppress our emotions is akin to suppressing the waves in the ocean. Impossible.
Yoga has some very practical wisdom to teach us to surf the waves of our emotions, instead of getting dumped by them. Three simple and effective ways for emotional balance include (1) welcoming it all in, (2) self regulating practices and (3) meeting yourself where you are.
Welcome it all in
While there are very many yogic practices to help us regulate our emotions, the very first thing we need to do is to check in with ourselves. Emotions express themselves in our body, so we don’t need to look very far.
Stop now for a moment, close your eyes, and feel how you are feeling in your body. Notice any sensations that are present. Bring a gentle curiosity to these sensations, without trying to change, fix or make anything happen. Welcome them all in. And as you are doing so, notice any thoughts, memories or urges that are arising.
When we close our eyes and take our focus inwards, we discover a whole landscape within us that is as wild and wonderful as the world outside us.
And when we stop trying to deny, change or fix our inner experience, even if just for a moment, we let go of the struggle and we simply be. There’s nothing we need to do, know or own to make us any better than we already are. When we welcome in our experience just as it is, more often than not we find ourselves residing in peace.
This is a practice we can pause and do at any time during the day. iRest Yoga Nidra is a beautiful guided practice that can support us to welcome it all in, and be with life, and ourselves, just as we are.
Practices to self regulate
There is an abundance of yogic techniques we can use to find emotional equilibrium. Practices for calming, relaxation, energising, balance, grounding and more.
Diaphragmatic breathing is one simple but profound practice that engages the parasympathetic nervous system and helps us feel calm and relaxed.
Try lying down, closing your eyes and putting your hands on your belly. When you breathe in, send your breath down towards your hands and feel your belly gently expand. As you breathe out, notice how the belly naturally contracts as the air leaves the body. Try doing this for 10 breaths or so, and see how you feel afterwards.
If you are feeling a little flat or down, a more energetic practice can help lift your mood. Asanas (yoga postures) are a wonderful way to do this. Roll out your mat and try a few cat/cow stretches. Or, if you are feeling really energetic, try some sun salutations instead. Moving the body and connecting with others is a great way to improve our mood, so try getting along to a public yoga class, and see how you feel afterwards.
Meet yourself where you are
If you are really anxious, one of the hardest things to do is to breathe deeply, even though it is exactly what you need to do. Likewise, when you are feeling depressed it can seem almost impossible to get out of bed and move your body.
It is really important that we meet ourselves where we are. Only when we do this, can we move towards where we want to be. Otherwise, we just get caught up in the struggle of trying to change ourselves.
So, if you are feeling anxious, and your breath is short, shallow and irregular, start your practice by just noticing, without judgement, the rhythm of your breath. Then gently start to deepen your breath into your belly, moving slowly into diaphragmatic breathing without force or expectation.
If you are finding it hard to get out of bed in the morning, don’t set yourself up for failure by planning a 90 min dynmamic vinyasa yoga sequence. Instead start by moving into child’s pose in bed, then flow into a few cat/cow sequences.
So next time you are feeling the waves of emotion arising within, stop for a moment and feel what you are feeling. Often, this is all we need to do. Emotional balance comes when we can welcome life just as it is.
If we need some extra help, there are very many yoga practices we can make use of. Diaphragmatic breathing for calming and gentle asanas for energising are two wonderful ways to regulate our emotions. Think of them as tools in your tool kit, that you can draw upon whenever you need to.
When you’re selecting your tools, and considering the way you go about implementing them, be sure to meet yourself exactly where you are.
As Swami Satchitananada is credited as saying ‘You can’t stop the waves but you can learn how to surf’[i].