As we continue into the more subtle realms of the Yoga Journey, feelings and emotions will arise. This is a great opportunity to meet and greet ourselves just as we are and give these parts of ourselves some time to be seen so that anything that isn’t serving us can move on and free us up.
The Koshas, as I described in the first post of this series, can be seen as a matrix of interpenetrating layers that move from a gross to subtle vibration. Annamaya and Pranamaya, the physical and energetic sheaths, give way to this emotional layer, the Manomaya Kosha. It is a step into the more subtle realm of the mind. This layer of our being can be either useful or detrimental, depending on how we develop the capacity and patterns of the mind.
Yoga these days has become synonymous with flexibility of the body but much more usefully it creates flexibility in the mind. An inflexible mind gives rise to strong and impulsive emotions and reactions in the world. Daniel Siegel, the well known author and neuroscientist describes that a healthy and balanced mind state needs to be:
Flexible, Adaptive, Coherent, Energized, and Stable. (using the acronym FACES)
When these qualities are in place there is a flow, he describes it as a river of Well-Being. So when we float along the central channel of the river we live by the above qualities and maintain our sense of health and integration. In his model the river banks are represented by chaos on one side and rigidity on the other. Once we veer off in either of those directions we come into a place of “mental unhealth”.
It requires tremendous energy to make our way when we keep bumping into the banks of the river because in either rigidity or chaos we become dominated by our emotions. People who veer towards rigidity spend a great deal of energy repressing their emotions for fear of the catastrophic outcomes that may entail if they express their anger, disappointment or frustration. People who make their way along the chaos side of the river expend their energy imposing their emotions on others as if their opinions and emotions were the only truth. Either way, fear rules the day when we are afraid that we will loose something of value if we do, or do not express our emotions.
My teacher Richard Miller says that when our Manomaya Kosha is in balance we have “The ability to welcome and experience a broad range of emotions AND at the same time find a part of yourself that is not that”. He uses the iRest protocol to address the balancing of positive and negative feelings and emotions. With the practice of Yoga Nidra we come to understand our emotions from a place of witnessing.
We can ask “Am I pulling this experience towards me, never wishing it to end or the opposite, a state of aversion where I am pushing an emotion or feeling away?” We build up a lot of stress pulling and pushing. If we do neither perhaps we can find a place of reconciliation?
We can encourage an integrated and harmonious flow of feelings and emotions by regularly taking part in the finer, creative aspects of life like dance, music, art and poetry. These activities create pathways for feelings to arise, be felt, be expressed, processed and move on. We can build up an emotional intelligence by learning a vocabulary of feelings and emotions in order to name, identify and then welcome in the polarities of opposites.
Although we may often use the terms interchangeably, feelings and emotions are not technically the same thing. Feelings are the qualities that arise through physiological sensations. We sense them in the body in a textural way, for instance warmth, coolness, soft, sharp, rough, heavy, light, quiet, loud, bumpy. The way something might feel if we were actually touching it.
We use our senses to feel pairs of opposites such as
Alert – Sleepy
Burning – Cooling
Dry – Wet
Faint – Strong
Dull – Sharp
Heavy – Light
Numb – Sensitive
Painful – Pleasurable
Rough – Smooth
Tight – Loose
Well – Sick
A palette of feelings including tone, form, colour, and texture can come together in the body when an emotion arises in the mind. Emotions can be traced back to feelings as a way of identifying how an emotion is inhabiting us somatically.
There is of course an unending list of emotions that we experience in a lifetime but here are some with possible opposites.
Aggressive – Passive
Angry – Tollerant
Ashamed – Proud
Bright – Idiotic
Cheerful – Sad
Competative – Cooperative
Confident – Insecure
Despondent – Lighthearted
Discouraged – Optimistic
Envious – Un-Selfish
Frightened – Fearless
Grateful – Ungrateful
Humble – Modest
Invincible – Vulnerable
Mellow – Boisterous
Safe – Threatened
Talkative – Uncommunicative
Withdrawn – Forward
We can learn to find the witnessing, steady or neutral mind by inviting in pairs of opposites such as the examples above.
I highly recommend Richard Miller’s work as a way of welcoming all that is arising on all layers of your being. You can visit his website at www.iRest.us or experience one of his 20minute Yoga Nidras here.
If you would like to bring some emotional intelligence into family life here’s an emotions game that we play at home. We take it in turn to flick a counter onto a big picture of faces showing a variety of emotions. The player then gets to share and talk about the last time they experienced the emotion that the counter has landed upon. This game goes on and on as the kids seem to find it empowering to share their thoughts. I get a lot out of it too!
So here’s to opening the front door of the heart and welcoming all of our feelings and emotions in knowing that the back door is open for them to depart when they have been seen and heard.