I will be offering a 5-day course on Healing the Emotional Body on February 8-12 at the Sivananda Yoga Retreat, Bahamas. Here is a small introduction I published on this blog on Sept. 2013.
You may have asked yourselves, as I have, where the emotions come from. When I feel the heat of anger or the heaviness of sadness the energy of these emotions can be so overwhelming that they seem to have a power of their own. According to Yoga, just as we have a physical body, we have an astral body (Pranamaya kosha) and within this energetic body made of prana there is a mental/emotional sheath that experiences thinking, anger, exhilaration, depression, doubts and delusions. But the emotions or the thinking do not limit themselves to this sheath, instead their energy affects the physical body as well. When these mental and emotional patterns are very deep and have been with us since birth they are called ‘samskaras’, deep ingrained patterns that we have brought with us into this incarnation.
Emotions have often had a bad ‘rap’. For example, women even today are described as ’emotional creatures’, unstable and not to be trusted. Emotionality is seen as opposed to rationality. But psychologists now tell us that emotions have a positive side; they are the basis of creativity, of art, of self-protection and they help determine social behavior by reading other’s signs. So the emphasis is not so much on suppressing emotions but on managing them in an intelligent way (emotional intelligence). How to act wisely in relationships and society, how to develop empathy and how to motivate emotions towards a goal. From this perspective all emotions are ‘good’ and we can even say sacred because they are lessons for re-integration and healing. They are clues that cannot be ignored.
Is it possible then to see an emotion not as positive or negative, but just as an emotion? First we have to acknowledge it. Repressing or ignoring it will not work. Then we have two options: re-act or respond. Re-acting will only exacerbate the situation as in the case of returning anger with anger. This situation will keep us emotionally unhealed. The option of responding, however, can offer the possibility of healing through transformation and change. Motivation then is the key to wanting to change our old emotional ways. So why do we want to change? There can be many reasons but mainly it is because we want to free ourselves from negativity, suffering and dis-ease. It comes a point when we are tired of our own stories and we want to make room for new possibilities. So far so good, but now comes the pain of letting go the old to make room for the new.
This is when our Yoga practice has a lot to offer and I emphasize ‘practice’ because as we slowly walk on this road new possibilities and vistas appear. But how to take the first steps on this uncertain path? When we are totally present on our mat or meditation cushion, one breath at the time, at that moment we discover that there is no past or future and even for an instant we are freed from our emotional baggage and are able to experience presence and fullness.
Most of the time our energy is spent in thoughts about the past, re-hashing past words and deeds, and the future, worrying about our security. Of course we have to take care of ourselves and Yoga shows us beautifully how to look after our body and mind, but there is a difference between obsessing and taking action when the time comes to make decisions. To live in the future is actually to fear death but by not accepting death we cannot fully live in the present. I do not mean by death the end of the physical body which is inevitable, but the death of habit, mental and emotional, the constant letting go of patterns that keep us trapped in the realm of the six enemies of the heart, the ‘klesas’: desire, greed, anger, envy, delusion and sloth. Yoga again shows us the way reminding us to always come back to the breath, to the present, and also to let go at the end of the exhale, experiencing over and over a mini-death and the space that it creates: silent, luminous and mysterious. Swami Vishnudevananda’s instructions come to my mind: ‘Hear the silence, see the silence, taste the silence, be the silence!’
This letting go is practiced in the laboratory of our daily practice (asanas, pranayama, meditation,) but it is eventually maintained, moment by moment, during our busy day, continuously checking and re-checking our emotional reactions triggered by our relation to others and the circumstances of our life. In this manner we can ultimately find release from desire and fear (raga and dvesha), the two movements of energy that keep us in bondage. On the other hand, if we insist on clinging to our old re-active patterns, the old familiar ways, we perpetuate a state of disappointment, attachment, addiction and suffering.