Occasionally a student will say something to me like I can’t imagine you getting upset, angry etc. My long standing practice of yoga have certainly given me a sense of inner calm. It hasn’t made me immune to negative emotions though. I have them and I don’t want to get rid of them. Sometimes sadness and anger are appropriate, if I went to hug someone who was attacking me it probably wouldn’t help me very much.
I got thinking about this topic because it came up in the book we are currently reading in Liverpool Yoga Book Club, Yoga the Quest for the True Self. In chapter 12 Stephen Cope references a study by Dan Brown and Jack Engler on long term meditation practitioners, what they found was that the advanced practitioners continue to experience negative emotions
“What changes was not so much the amount of or nature of conflict but awareness of and reactivity to it… (the… practitioner) may note the intense desire until it passes, like every other transient mental state; or he/she may act on it, but with full awareness” Dan Brown and Jack Engler
I found this interesting as it matches my own experience. It’s not wrong to feel negative emotions and it sometimes even appropriate to act on these emotions. I don’t think that yoga and meditation are meant to send you into dazed state of inactive bliss. What I have found is that I am able to notice the feeling and observe it with curiosity. Oh I am feeling frustrated I wonder what that’s about? Often we don’t have to react to something straight away and it can be good to sit with the emotion and see if it passes as well as work out what the source of the feeling really is. If possible, I will always let at least the bulk of the emotion pass before I act and often there is no need to do anything at all.
Perfectionism on the yoga path
I think it’s important to clarify this as perfectionism is something that can impact many areas of life. I think sometimes people expect that when they have a yoga practice they will never get a negative emotions again and then they may feel like a failure in some way when they do. This is such a shame and this self judgment will only help the individual cling to the emotion rather than let it pass.
Experiencing here and now
The main problem with negative emotions isn’t that we have them or even that we act on them although both can obviously be challenging at the time. The biggest problem people have is they recreate them or manufacture them based on possible futures which they hallucinate and then worry about. Yoga and any other kind of mindfulness practice will help with this because we are training the breath to be present in this moment and so we experience now fully rather than reliving the past or worrying about the future. Of course reflecting on the past and envisioning the future can be useful but worrying about either is generally fruitless.
What do you think? Has yoga changed the way you manage your negative emotions? How?