More and more, the experts are telling us to clear blocked emotions as a necessary part in your healing journey. Dr. Northrup’s “You have to feel it to heal it” and other variations make complete sense. Yet, many of us – my hand’s raised her – are so out of touch with how we feel, it’s a challenge to truly GET that concept.
There was no room in my upbringing for the full spectrum of emotions – how many of you had parents who gave you space tantrums? Laughter or tears or outbursts of any kind, my brothers and I were told to “settle down”. The only emotions we ever saw in full regalia was anger – my father’s, sometimes my mother’s when we’d driven her completely up the wall – and never something we were free to send back in their direction.
Raised to use my head, I had little inkling that the feelings I knew had any depth beyond the small ripple they created in my mind and moods. Being a good girl, I was encouraged to keep it that way.
Believe it or not, I actually learned how to feel from a book. I was at my first yoga retreat, and picked up a stray copy of Gay & Kathleen Hendricks’ Conscious Loving. That was when, at age 29, I learned that emotions are felt in the body. Yoga was the doorway to my more fully realized self, in that it gave me the tools and space to start along a path of integrating all my parts – body, mind, heart & soul.
It’s been a long, ongoing process to learn – nearly another 20 years for me to find the courage to explore my feelings to their very fullest. For the longest time, I was scared of big emotions, in others as well as myself. They are so chaotic, unpredictable and potentially dangerous.
And you know what it’s like, you want to do things that make you happy and get through the negative emotions as quickly as possible.
Thing is, emotions are neither good nor bad. Like the rain, they have no inherent value. In cold & dark November, it’s depressing, at the end of a scorching July day, it’s a godsend. The rain necessary for life to shift and change and grow.
We try so hard to increase our joy, always looking for the shortcut or the magic bullet to happiness & love, that we’ve lost touch with the healthy aspects of anger, fear and sadness. We have no time in our schedules to give them space, so we ignore them, override them with a smile or suppress them with pills, alcohol, sugar and other drugs.
Emotions are like water. Close them up for too long and two things can happen. With no hint of movement, the pool stagnates, creating a breeding ground for mould, bacteria, parasites (auto-immunity, cancer, arthritis, heart disease, IBD,…) Holding back a river requires a strong dam and a lot of physical energy, depleting your body’s defenses and feeding such states as anxiety or depression. There’s also the risk that the slightest crack in the wall will release a wild, even destructive flood.
Like water, e-motions are nothing more than energy-in-motion. They need to flow. They become unhealthy when we avoid them or let them get pent up.
Your core emotions, and the physiological responses they create in your body are part of your communication system. They are in place as part of your survival.
Follow the movement, the dance each one invites you to share and you’ll see what I mean.
(I’m serious, stand up and do this with me – maybe one day soon I’ll add a video to help this along.)
We start with Joy or Desire.
Think of something that has made you just overflow with happiness. Where do you feel it? Likely, it’s somewhere in your torso, your heart centre. Sit with it a moment until you feel the movement in there. Perhaps it’s open-chested, shoulders back, leaning in.
Desire is a step forward.
It says, This feels good, this nourishes me, let’s go for it!
It connects you to the world and people and situations that light you up. That nurture you and help you grow. It’s that feeling of a little girl seeing her mom after a long absence and running to her full-tilt, with open arms.
The direct opposite of Joy is Sadness.
Think of something that makes you sad. Where do you feel it and how does it move? Still in your torso, I bet, though closing inward this time. Sadness retreats, curls you into a ball.
It tells you where you’ve disconnected, be it consciously or not, from your loved ones, your community, your sources of nourishment.
It’s part of your survival in the same way that a seed ensures the survival of a plant. The seed’s job is to disconnect, to leave the mother plant. It’s a tightly closed capsule that contains all the energy and nutrients necessary to create a whole new plant. Once it finds the ideal environment and gets exposed to a bit of water, it cracks open.
When you’re sad – usually at the (forced or planned) disconnection from someone or something you love – you can feel uprooted. It’s survival to gather your resources and save your energy until conditions seem safe again. Shedding a few tears (or buckets-full!) will eventually crack open your heart and mind to re-engage with life.
Anger is your inner mama-bear at work.
Without going overboard, think of a situation that pisses you off. Notice where it sits in your body and how it wants to move. It yells and waves its arms around and snarls and wants to throw things – it basically says, Keep the hell away from me!
Anger can be scary in that it is large and loud, but it’s purpose is not to inflict harm.
Anger protects your from harm. It helps you set and maintain healthy boundaries – that perimeter of safe, personal space around you. It kicks in when that safety has been breached.
Bears don’t attack people for the heck of it. Generally a wild animal will only attack if you’re too close to their shelter, their food or their children – when you’ve threatened their basic needs.
If you’re angry (frustrated, irritated, impatient, annoyed, irritable,…) it’s an indication that your survival, that one of your needs – what you need to both survive and thrive – has been removed or threatened. (See this list of basic human needs that, yes, include things like touch and attention.)
Anger moves up and out. It’s loud and needs a lot of space. Follow that flow – better out than in!
A child psychologist once gave me the “anger rules” for my boys. They basically say you’re allowed to be angry, you’re just not allowed to hurt anyone (including yourself) nor damage anything. She encouraged us to make an angry corner where the kids were allowed to punch pillows, shred paper, yell & scream or whack a door frame with a tea towel when the need arose.
Try giving yourself permission to do the same. You might even want to put on a timer so you don’t go too far overboard. (The tea towel one is great, especially when you also yell all the furious, horrible things you want to say to the person/situation that has you riled.) Let loose in your tantrum! Then let yourself settle back into the calm. You’ll find that you are now able to deal with whatever was bothering you with a more rational & productive approach.
Maybe I’ve left Fear for last because it’s my own particular nemesis.
Call it childhood programming or part of my path, but fear is my first reaction to any situation even remotely out of my comfort zone. It blows up to unreasonable proportions. I’m a great one for lying in bed at 3 am turning molehills in mountains that threaten to crush me in their shadows.
What scares you? How does it show up in your body? Fear is a step backwards…or in my case, turns me around and has me run away screaming. Fear can also freeze you in place.
Its purpose is to keep you out of harm’s way. When you get to the edge of a cliff staying stock-still or stepping back are the only wise choices.
Fear says, This doesn’t feel right, let’s get out of here, or check things out before taking another step. When you’re walking down a dark road, it’s the feeling that reminds you to get out of there as quickly as possible.
Fear has a tricky counterpart: it can be the feeling your ego sends when you’re about to walk down an unfamiliar road. Because you have no way of knowing which twists and turns and cliffs you’re likely to encounter, it tries to prevent you from going that way at all.
I’ve learned to use this type of fear as a tool: it reminds me when to step back to reassess and informs me of how huge the potential reward and growth will be at the other end. (This can be a strange concept to wrap your head around – some days, I’m not sure if I get it fully myself – it will likely show up as its own exploration in a later blog.)
Emotions are the energy of life. The dances they lead you on are the steps to a more fulfilled, more expanded, more fully actualized version of you.
Emotions are the cues to being fully yourself. In the physiological world, the distinction between what yours and what isn’t falls in the realm of the immune system. Giving free flow to how you feel will improve your ability to stay strong in the face of disease.
Want to know the beautiful part of exploring my emotions? The more space and time I give them, the less afraid I become of them, the more confidence I have to say what I need to say, the more likely I am to express what I truly need. The repercussions of this on my life blossom continuously.
How do you move with and through your emotions? Which one gives you the hardest time? When you share in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.
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PS I’ve started using Bach Flower Essences to help support myself and clients through the many movements of this dance. If you want to know more about them, contact me here.