Okay! So here we come to the end of the Mental Health Week with our last post, and all along we have made it a week of mindfulness for you and for us.
As promised in the last post, we are taking you into somewhat deeper levels of mindfulness since the last two days. In today’s post we will work on mindfulness with emotions and feelings. As in the last six days, we will do a small exercise to help you observe your emotions, mindfully. But before the exercise a little bit more on observing emotions:
How can emotions and feelings be observed?
You know when you are happy, sad, angry, disappointed and so on… Well how do you know? Maybe you will quickly answer “I just know”! But this is mindfulness week remember? We do everything with a pause…so I Invite you to try to not answer immediately! Take a moment and think on how you know what you feel. Think before you go on reading…
There are several theories of emotions but all of them agree on one aspect and that is, physical sensations are closely tied with emotions. Whether the emotion comes first, or the sensation, has been a matter of debate and is not of consequence to us right now. However what does matter to us is the knowledge that our emotions come tied in a package, with accompanying physical sensations.
Now most of us know this and have felt it in some way… say butterflies in the stomach out of fear, dry throat due to nervousness, mouth watering in anticipation and so on…these are classic examples of physical sensations associated with emotions.
What we however do not know is that sensations exist with every feeling and emotion however insignificant or temporary the feeling maybe. Most of the time, however, we are not conscious of these physical sensations. So the answer to the question I asked earlier is: we actually know our emotions to a great extent due to way we physically feel.
Why Do We Need to Observe Emotions and Feelings?
I am going to explain this only from a mindfulness perspective here, although detailed neurological explanations involving nervous system’s self regulatory cycles do exist. (For those of you interested in more of this, read on Somatic Psychotherapy-a form of therapy I use with my clients)
From a mindfulness perspective, knowing the sensations makes the experience of the emotion fuller, more meaningful, more tangible. We are able to know what really happens to us that makes us feel a particular way, or how the way we feel affects us.
Most of you would have heard that the best way to deal with an emotion is not to run away from it, or try too hard to change it but to create an internal capacity to stay with it. I find this way of dealing with difficult emotions very useful. Often in the short-term it is easy to run away from our feelings but in the long term, they don’t seem to leave us. Often when conducting therapy sessions with my clients, I find people dealing with the same negativity or anxiety or sadness or anger for years. So clearly running away from facing our difficult feelings is not then a viable solution to dealing with them.
For instance (and this is a fairly common instance), someone hurts you and you feel terribly pained and you don’t know what to do about it? Perhaps you are in no frame of mind to talk it out, or you just want to hurt the person back, or maybe you have tried talking this out but it never works; the person just repeatedly ends up causing you a lot of distress.
What’s worse is that usually in situations of ongoing pain such as these, that person is very close, either lives in the house (spouse, child, mother-in-law) or is at work ( the criticizing boss, the credit stealing colleague). You obviously have tried to alter the situation or to cope with it in your own way and you find you can’t do much now and you are left with dealing with this unbearable emotion!
Well yes the tough to digest news is, when you have difficult emotions, you have to work with them yourself. Situations and people may or may not change and you have very little real control. So what do you do?
Here is where cultivating a habit of mindfulness of emotions will help you. It will help you to shift focus from these toxic, seemingly mental, emotions to their associated physical sensations. Then your job is no longer bearing the sadness but perhaps bearing or tolerating the physical sensation associated with sadness. When you focus on the mental aspects of the emotion, you catastrophize it, you feel it’s terrible you are in that state and all the labels that you have associated with it hurt you even more. So now you have the respite, you do not need to analyze what that emotion means or how bad it is, you simply need to watch it in your body and observe it.
Of course in getting ready to deal with emotions this way, you will first need to accept that there is a problem on which you have little control and then drop the labels that tell you what the emotion means and how bad it is to have it. Once you have done this, you are ready now to sit and watch your emotions, in your body.
The Exercise for the Day: Sensing Your Body
Whether or not you have these distressing emotions in your life in the present, the exercise for today will prepare you for acknowledging emotions as they occur. It will help you to integrate them, accept them and stay with them instead of reacting to them in a way that isn’t helping you.
Before you can know sense emotions in your body, it is important to just sense your body and to know how your body feels from the inside.
This is very similar in format to the mindful relaxation exercise that we introduced earlier, however the difference is of the intention. This does relax you, however here there is a deeper purpose. The purpose is to connect to what is happening within.
- Sit in a comfortable place
- For a few minutes do breathing meditation. This will anchor you to your breath and help you settle down in your body.
- Then slowly focus on your head…know how it feels, even if you do not get aware of any sensations, it is fine. Just take some time to sense it. Know the hair on it (or the lack of them J)
- Move the focus slowly to your face. Again get aware of any sensation you might feel, even if nothing more, perhaps just sense the breeze touching your face…
- Remember you are just making a connection with sensations that you are not used to feeling. So do not be in a hurry or do not be disappointed if you are not able to sense much.
- Slowly move downwards part by part. Get aware of your neck, shoulders, each arm and hand, chest, upper abdomen, lower abdomen, upper back, lower back, the seat area and the sex organs and finally each leg at a time right up to the foot.
- Do this exercise every gently and slowly with no space for “ I can’t feel anything, this isn’t for me”.
When I do this exercise, I do it with this intention, “This is my body, given to me. It helps me all day and I am thankful for it. I’m going to spend some time with, just knowing it and sensing it, gently and slowly.” Maybe using this intention would help you too…
Once you have watched each part, the exercise is over. You can slowly open your eyes.
Listen to a Guided Meditation on Staying with a Difficult Emotion:
If you do this often enough, you will find that slowly over days you are more in touch with how your body feels inside.
When difficult emotions come up, you just need to start watching your body and you will know which parts are involved in your hurt, or anger or sadness. You can then watch the physical sensations instead of dealing with the mental emotions.
Do share with us your experiences with mindful living through comments on our site.
Post contributed by: Sadia Raval