Perhaps the biggest challenge in today’s world is to experience all of life – the joy, ecstasy and bliss, along with the disappointment, heartbreak and pain, and still keep an open heart – to remain fully awake, aware and alive. But without this conscious intention, many of us will shut down, become guarded, reactive and defensive. Yoga is a powerful tool to help us not only release tension in the body and quiet the mind, but to also soften and open the heart.
We’ve all been hurt before, and experienced disappointment, heartbreak and loss. Without the knowledge and awareness of how important it is to let this energy move through us, rather than shutting down around it, we begin to let past hurts dictate our future. Physically this shows up with a slouched posture and rounded shoulders as we collapse in on ourselves in an attempt to protect our hearts from future wounds.
From the earliest age most of us have been receiving messages that it is not okay to feel anger, sadness, insecurity, fear, or any other emotion that is deemed negative. For many, this showed up in statements like “stop crying or I’ll give you a reason to cry” or “boys don’t cry”, or even “stop being so emotional.” With these words and others, we were taught that anything other than happiness and joy is not valid, and so begins the guilt and shame that surrounds so many of our lives.
Now, as adults, and after a lifetime of stuffing our emotions deep inside, many of us are brimming over with that which has remained undealt with. Yet it still keeps calling to us, stalking our every move and nipping at our heels, waiting for us to stop long enough to allow all that we have been running from to catch up with us.
This would explain why one of my new yoga clients expressed confusion as to why she couldn’t seem to relax in the evening until she had downed a bottle or more of wine. So resistant was she, like most of us, to being in the moment and risk feeling what rose to the surface that she chose to numb out instead, and this became her nightly ritual, and the only way she could reach a pseudo-relaxed, peaceful state. And she’s not alone in her journey, as is indicated by the fact that there are 14 million alcoholics in America today.
This isn’t the only compulsive behavior we engage in, which is why over 64% of Americans are overweight, or obese. Even with these coping mechanisms, insomnia affects more than half of the U.S. population, with as many as 58% of adults complaining of sleepless nights at least a few times a week.
But perhaps the most alarming statistic of all is that anti-depressant usage is up 800% in the last 10 years. This trend toward disowning what’s coming up inside is affecting us at younger and younger ages, and sadly it is pre-schoolers that are the fastest growing market.
All of this points to the fact that it’s time for us to stop running away from ourselves. True emotional resiliency means giving ourselves enough credit to know we can allow ourselves to feel what we need to feel, confident that once we do, and come out on the other side of it, we will be lighter, and stronger and more at ease than ever before, perhaps since we were children.
There has developed such a disconnection between our minds and our bodies, many of us have become lost in an endless stream of mental chatter that is so busy, we have become like heads walking around without bodies. We become so lost in the thoughts, the story, the illusion, that we no longer have a relationship with, or even feel, our bodies. Yet it is a connection to what is happening inside our bodies that connects us to our center and grounds us.
Most of us believe we are healthy enough if we spend time and energy focusing on caring for our physical bodies, as well as intellectual pursuits. But very little attention is being paid to our emotional wellness, which is the very energy that fuels us, and it affects the quality of our lives. For many, long after they have cared for the needs of their physical body, and stimulated their minds with intellectual pursuits, emotional health is the last frontier.
But this is a beautiful time we are living in. As the world around us changes rapidly, more and more people are turning their focus inward. When the world outside appears crazy, it’s the only place left to go.
And no journey of self discovery can go far without a willingness to recognize what it is we are feeling. In a world with so much mental noise and external distraction vying for our attention, something as subtle as a feeling can be easily ignored. But without a willingness to see, own and understand the subtle energy that moves through our bodies, we can never truly know ourselves.
Our feelings always have a message for us. And if we choose to ignore them our body starts sending louder, more obvious messages which will, if denied long enough, eventually manifest as dis-ease in the body. Denying our feelings is like holding a beach ball under water; it cannot be held down forever, and eventually will push its way to the surface.
All too often we wait until we are on our knees, exhausted from trying to impose our will on a situation unsuccessfully before we are humbled enough to stop, pay attention, and start opening our minds to the possibility of a new way.
This is what inspired the birth of Empath Yoga, a yoga immersion experience and certification course. Empath Yoga is the natural culmination of nearly a decade of work and experience with individuals and groups throughout the world. Students of Empath Yoga first learn how to create and hold the space for themselves, and then for others. The approach is simple: provide a safe place for clients to get in touch with their truth, to feel what they need to feel so they can come out on the other side of it, and support and empower them to make powerful choices in their lives.
The sense of lightness of being that comes from letting go – of the tension we unknowingly hold onto in our bodies, of the restricting old tapes that we replay in our minds, and of the feelings that we have stuffed deep inside – is unlike anything that can be described in words. It must be felt. It must be experienced.