Oh my, I cannot believe I said that.” We all have been there, we all know it is not our proudest moment, but it just slips out. How could this happen? Most of us, by a certain age, feel we are pretty good at controlling our emotions, but from time to time we all experience a slip of the tongue.
Last month my article explained the negativity bias of the human mind. It included the reason why negative emotions and events in our life affect us stronger and longer than positive events. I left off my column with a warning: Do not get rid of the negative. All feelings are important. When we try to get rid of or suppress our emotions, we run into trouble.
There are three ways we can cause more harm when we suppress our emotions:
• We cannot selectively suppress the “bad” stuff only. When you suppress emotions, you become apathetic toward good and bad. Instead of feeling better, you end up feeling numb, depressed and lethargic.
• When you suppress emotions, you are not aware of what is going on within you or around you. This is the reason why we “lose our cool” and say the stuff we wish we could take back. When we try to suppress our annoyance or irritation, it tends to explode. I call this “the pressure cooker effect.” We want to be aware of our emotions and “let the steam out slowly” by finding a healthy outlet or an action/conversation that is constructive.
• We stop engaging with the universe. Emotions are not simply the stuff inside us — emotions are how we engage with our world, how we bond with other sentient beings and how we make sense of the world. Our perception of what is real is guided through feelings. In yoga we say the world is “maya,” the Sanskrit word for illusion, meaning there is not one reality, but rather endless unique individual perceptions through our minds.
Because emotions color our reality and create our world, being aware of our emotions is one of our most important responsibilities. We will never perfect this art. Since the limbic brain — the part of the brain that is responsible for emotions — is an older evolutionary structure, it is stronger and faster than our “thinking” brain, the frontal cortex. Through meditation and mindfulness, we are practicing to strengthen our frontal cortex to better handle what our limbic brain produces. We do that by allowing emotion to appear, observing emotion without reaction, taking a breath to investigate further, and finally taking the appropriate action that will produce a constructive outcome.
This is the reason why we teach breath meditation. We want to get so good at breathing that it will come naturally as a reaction when we feel “hot-headed.” Breathing meditation without mindfulness is a great way to lower stress levels for about five minutes, but for a lasting change in your well being, you have to know how and when to use your breath.
I repeat three points during my mindfulness lectures:
• Mindfulness practices increase our capacity to bear experience rather than decreasing the intensity.
• Addiction – That’s our desire to mask the unpleasant experience. But avoided material cannot be processed.
• To heal we need to avoid avoidance.
So we breathe to feel, we breathe to take time to process and investigate, and we breathe in integrate our feelings with our body. If I caused you to raise an eyebrow on my second lecture point, addiction, then stay tuned. I will write about our addictive mind next month. For now, remember to breathe and take time to feel, investigate and integrate.
Dora Gyarmati teaches yoga and mindfulness classes. She owns Spira Power Yoga in Issaquah and West Seattle. Her company M3Bmethod also lectures on resiliency and stress management to health care professionals.