This month we are talking about the emotional experience of having – and recovering from – an eating disorder. In this blog, Orri’s Yoga and Body Awareness Therapist, Pippa, shares her wisdom around making friends with your emotions.
The path of recovery asks us to become aware of our internal experience; our thoughts, our beliefs, our emotions and how these inform our actions, behaviours and relationships.
When we start to become attentive to our inner landscape, we might begin to experience emotions that are uncomfortable or that we are used to labelling as ‘bad’, such as anxiety for example.
A natural (and in some cases necessary) response is to resist or ‘shut down’ emotions that leave us feeling overwhelmed.
Becoming aware of this and finding practices that reduce our resistance and increase our ability to ‘feel our feelings’ is an essential component to recovery and ultimately, helps us to relate to our bodies in a way that feels more easeful and compassionate.
Here are some of my favourite ways to make friends with your emotions – or at least to become acquainted with them!
1) Check-In with your body-mind-heart
Sometimes identifying where an emotion is ‘located’ in the body can help us to make sense of it and reduce overwhelm. A helpful practice is to get a blank piece of paper, draw a stick person (which represents you!) and then label your person with the words ‘head’ at the top, ‘heart’ in the middle, and ‘body’ at the bottom. Take a moment to check-in with yourself and then write down any words or images that come to mind that describe how you’re feeling. You can write thoughts, emotions and sensations. When you’ve finished, take a moment to notice how your experience is often layered, that you are a whole holistic being who’s experience is made up of many sensations or emotions. Ask yourself, are there any that feel more familiar? Are there any that you don’t want to experience? The more we do this, the more we develop the language to articulate our emotions and get curious about our responses to them.
2) Give your emotions names!
One of my sweet friends names her anxiety ‘Paranoid Pandora’! Whenever she notices that her thoughts have become anxious, she names that Pandora is ‘active’. It’s a helpful practice that can create distance between you and your emotions. It’s also helpful to share this with a friend or therapist too, because together, you can (lovingly) refer to this emotion when she/he becomes present.
3) Working ‘with’, rather than working ‘against’
Emotions are ‘energy-in-motion’ – meaning they are trying to find their way through and out of your system. We often meet unwanted emotions with resistance – in other words – we stop our physiological and psychological systems doing their job to process our emotions so that, ultimately we can let them go. For example, research has found that crying not only releases stress but can also release oxytocin and endorphins which in turn can reduce physical and emotional pain, leaving us feeling more regulated and less distressed – isn’t that incredible? When emotions arise, see if you can ‘be’ with them as best you can. It might be for a few minutes or longer if that feels manageable. Then write, dance, draw, talk, sing – express your emotions in any way you can, moving them out of your system and body and into a wider container.
A key part of our role at Orri is to sit with clients when they experience uncomfortable emotions. Together, what we realise is that even the most uncomfortable emotions will pass. Reminding ourselves of this simple fact can be helpful, particularly when we are experiencing an emotion that feels particularly charged or intense.
What’s important to remember is that we are not our emotions – we ‘experience’ emotions. This is a small but significant shift in perception. Instead of viewing emotions as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, over time, we can start to view emotions as messages from the body that serve as a compass or internal guide.
These messages are informing us about our needs, our fears and our joy. All are valid, all are welcome and all are trying to move your heart-mind-body system into a more harmonious state.
I think this poem by Rumi sums it up beautifully….
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.