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Today I’m diving into a topic that holds immense power in our healing journey: our emotions. In previous episodes, I’ve talked about the effects of the nervous system on our well-being but today I’m exploring how suppressed emotions can cause stress and hinder our physical and mental health. Join me as I share my own healing journey and how I experienced a profound transformation by confronting and processing emotions I didn’t realise were there.

I’ve always considered myself a calm and collected person, but when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I began to explore the impact of my suppressed emotions, particularly anger, and how this was impacting my health. Many of us carry unprocessed emotions, and in this episode, I share how they get stored in the body and why we get emotionally triggered by seemingly ordinary things.

In the ancient philosophy of yoga, thoughts and feelings are treated as the same thing, known as citta. Our heart-mind stores our experiences, emotions, and memories, shaping our perception of who we think we are. However, these mental filters can become blocked or clouded by accumulated thoughts and emotions, distorting our perception of reality. One of the aims of yoga is to unblock these filters and connect us with pure awareness, our true selves beyond the tumultuous waves of emotions.

In our society, we often categorise emotions as good or bad, favouring the positive ones while suppressing the uncomfortable ones. However, blocking negative emotions creates numbness and restricts our ability to experience the full range of emotions. Just as an artist needs contrast and musicians rely on high and low notes, blocking any emotion affects our overall emotional well-being. Yoga teaches us to allow all emotions to flow through our bodies and embrace the wisdom they offer.

Through my journey of healing, I discovered the transformative power of safely expressing and releasing emotions. In my case, non-linear movement became an invaluable somatic practice to move emotions through my body. By processing and releasing these feelings, we clear our mental filters, experience improved physical and mental health, and respond to life’s events from a place of healing rather than emotional wounding.

Embracing and processing our emotions is an essential aspect of our healing journey. Yoga and somatic practices provide us with powerful tools to safely feel our feelings, clear our emotional backlog, and respond to life’s events with grace and authenticity. Remember, emotions are not inherently good or bad; it’s our relationship with them that shapes our well-being and growth. By allowing ourselves to fully experience the range of human emotions, we free ourselves from the burden of past pain, ultimately leading to a life of greater joy, authenticity, and deep connection.

 

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[00:00:00] Monica: Welcome friend. Today’s episode is a really juicy one. It’s all about our emotions. And in the last podcast episode, I talked a lot about the nervous system and how it affects both our physical and mental health. But I didn’t really talk much about the things that cause us stress. So in today’s episode, I’m going to share a little bit about my own healing journey and the biggest source of stress for me, which is my emotions.

[00:01:32] But before we begin, let’s take a long, slow exhale together.

[00:01:40] Now the information shared in this podcast is for entertainment purposes only. It’s not medical advice. It’s always best to speak with your doctor or health professional.

[00:01:51] Most people would describe me as a fairly calm sort of person. I’m not particularly dramatic or emotional, I’m fairly low key. So when I first started to get in touch with my suppressed anger, I faced a lot of resistance. Because A, I didn’t think that I was angry, and B, I thought anger was bad or negative.

[00:02:12] I never really thought of myself as an angry person. But when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I came across this book, When the Body Says No, by Gabor Marte. And he talked about the breast cancer personality, which is very agreeable, kind, pleasant, nice, and how in his experience, many of his patients were suppressing their uncomfortable emotions, especially anger.

[00:02:38] Now I had plenty to be angry about. My marriage had ended, my dad was dying, my business was struggling, and then I lost the one thing that I’d taken for granted, my health. Yet I didn’t feel angry. Scared? Yes. Worried? Yes. Uncertain? Of course. But anger? Not really. It turns out that I had a lot of anger. I was just an expert at suppressing it.

[00:03:06] So I began opening my mind to the possibility of me being angry. And there was one particular incident that really stood out for me that gave me a clue. Now, I used to live on one of those ridgeline streets where the road is divided by a wall and one side of the street is higher than the other.

[00:03:23] The houses were also really close together and none of the houses had a garage. And there was this kind of unspoken rule among the neighbours that you didn’t park in front of someone else’s house. Anyway, one night after yoga I stopped at the shops to get some groceries. When I got to my house someone had parked across my driveway and I had to park about 10 houses down because the cars were all parked bumper to bumper on the curb, as they often are in those inner city suburbs.

[00:03:49] So I was lugging my heavy groceries up the stairs and it started to rain. And when I opened the front door, I dropped my groceries on the floor and started to punch the couch and swear. I was angry. I spent about three minutes just punching the crap out of my lounge in a fit of rage and then I stopped.

[00:04:08] Thankfully no one was there to see my outburst. Where was all this anger coming from? Yes, it was annoying that I couldn’t get a park, but my reaction was over the top. So I asked myself, what’s really going on here? Because it wasn’t about the car park. That had happened many times before and I was fine with it.

[00:04:30] But today I wasn’t fine. I often talk to my yoga alchemy clients about The thing beneath the thing. And what I mean by that is that some surface problem like parking presents itself, and we appear to get angry about that, but the surface problem is an outlet for a deeper wound beneath the surface. So I asked myself, what was I really feeling here?

[00:04:55] And the answer was I felt disrespected. And that’s why I got so angry. There’s this concept in yoga called samskaras, which is kind of like our emotional buttons. And when that emotional button gets pressed, we can have a disproportionate reaction to something relatively minor. We can be over the top. And one of my emotional buttons is feeling disrespected.

[00:05:23] Now logically, I know that other people’s behavior is about them and not to take it personally. And certainly when my neighbors are trying to find a park on a rainy night, they’re not thinking about me, but I took this very personally. That’s just what I do. that’s the thing about our emotions, they’re not logical or rational.

[00:05:44] And when that emotional button gets pressed, we react from a place of emotional wounding. Everyone has these emotional buttons. Whether it’s feeling disrespected, feeling unsafe, feeling unworthy, feeling flawed. And what tends to happen is that we try to arrange our life and control our circumstances so that these buttons don’t get pressed.

[00:06:10] For me, feeling disrespected brought up old pain. So when I experienced something in my day to day that looked and smelled like disrespect, I reacted as if I was experiencing that old hurt all over again. I was having a disproportionate reaction. And that’s often the clue. If we can recognize that we’re overreacting because our painful emotional button has been pressed, then we can begin the deeper self inquiry to heal the pain beneath that button.

[00:06:41] And at the heart of yoga is the process of self inquiry. The ability to look within and see how our habits, patterns and tendencies contribute to our own suffering.

[00:06:53] And in yoga philosophy, there’s no distinction between thoughts and feelings, they’re treated as the same and called Chitta. Thoughts and feelings, or Chitta, are the pulsations of the heart mind. And our heart mind stores all of our experiences, emotions, memories, and over time constructs an image or identity of who we think we are.

[00:07:16] And this chitter in our heart mind acts like a mental filter between the external world and the pure consciousness within. Over the course of our lives, our mental filters can become blocked, or we can experience a build up of old thoughts and emotions. And this clouds our perception of reality. This means that we experience an event and we run it through the filter of our heart mind.

[00:07:42] And if that event reminds us of a past pain or hurt, we respond as if that hurt is recurring now. Rather than just responding to present events, we bring all of our emotional baggage. And if you’re like me, you can start taking impersonal things personally. Respond disproportionately and start making false assumptions and stories in your head to reinforce limiting beliefs.

[00:08:07] The yoga point of view is that our mental filters are blocking our perception of reality. We don’t see things clearly. Instead, we see things through the lens of our past pain and hurt. The

[00:08:20] process chitta. and unblock our mental filters so we can experience reality through the pure light of awareness. And yogis believe that we’re not our thoughts, we’re not our mind, we are pure conscious awareness. And it’s our citta that prevents us from connecting with our pure awareness and our higher authentic selves.

[00:08:43] Our citta is always changing and reacting to the world, whereas consciousness or awareness is unchanging. Consciousness is known as the witness, or the observer, or the seer. It’s the part of us that can observe ourselves having thoughts. The part of us that’s aware of our chitter, chatter. Who we are is the pure light of awareness, and we have chitter that filters and clouds that light.

[00:09:11] We’re not our chitter, we’re the ones who experience it. Now, the Yoga Sutras written a thousand years ago has a really great explanation of why we suffer. This is known as our kleshas. So we experience the world through our senses, but we experience it subjectively, and we filter it based on our likes and dislikes.

[00:09:33] We cling to the things that we like, and we resist the things we dislike. Our mind is programmed to seek pleasure and avoid pain, and we build up a collection of likes and dislikes which forms the basis of our self concept. We start to take the happenings of the external world personally. Stuff happens because we’re just one of 8 billion people on the planet and we take it personally.

[00:10:00] We let the weather affect us, we let the traffic affect us, we let other people’s mood or behavior affect us, because we take it all personally. And this makes us very uncomfortable. So we try to control the outside world. We look for an external solution to an internal problem. The world isn’t our problem.

[00:10:24] Our internal filtering system is our problem. We resist the world coming in because it triggers us. It presses our buttons. We’re in defensive mode. And the emotions that arise when our buttons are pushed cause an adverse reaction called kleshas. And in Sanskrit, the word klesha means poison and refers to a negative mental state that obscures the mind and allows the conditions of suffering to arise.

[00:10:55] In yoga philosophy, our kleshas are the root cause of our pain and suffering. Our kleshas reinforce negative chitta in our heart mind. And memories, emotions, and trauma become imprinted on our chitter. Strong impressions from highly charged situations like trauma or the heavy repetition create a memory strong enough to influence future actions.

[00:11:20] And the stronger the imprint, the more likely we are to react unconsciously based on our habitual patterns. Our Chitta, which is our mental and emotional baggage, drives much of our actions and behaviours, reinforcing unhealthy patterns and perpetuating our suffering. These patterns and habits make up our conditioning and are known as Samskaras.

[00:11:42] Our Samskaras are instinctual, and they are activated unconsciously. Often it’s only after the event that we realise that we were triggered and responded in a certain way, but in the moment we can’t seem to help ourselves. But reacting impulsively only strengthens our samskaras, making them even more irresistible for next time.

[00:12:05] often elite athletes will watch slow motion videos of themselves to detect certain patterns and improve their performance. Well, we can slow down and pause and interval between impulse and action. This allows for greater reflection, helping us to identify whether or not our actions stem from old samskaras.

[00:13:18] Awareness and self reflection help to recognize our samskaras.

[00:13:24] And instead of asking, why is this happening to me? Awareness probes deeper and asks, what does this pattern have to tell me? Now everyone has samskaras, just like every garden grows weeds, and yoga encourages us to tend to the garden of our mind to ensure that the weeds don’t take over from the flowers and trees.

[00:13:46] And the effects of our samskaras are our urges and tendencies, like the urge to run away from conflict or the tendency to turn to food or booze for comfort. Now fortunately, the system of yoga helps us overcome our clashes. Firstly, it offers tapas, or discipline practice. And this is about showing up on the mat, doing the work, facing ourselves.

[00:14:11] The second step is svadhyaya, or self observation, self reflection, and the ability to look within and recognize our mental patterns. And the third step is Ishvara Pranidhana, or letting go of control, recognizing that we’re just one of 8 billion people on the planet, and there’s something much bigger than us that orchestrates the world we live in.

[00:14:35] We can’t control the world or other people, we can only control our own actions and behaviors.

[00:14:41] So what this means in practice is that when we ignore our emotions, they don’t go away. They just fortify these mental filters that affect our perception of reality. These emotions that we suppress or ignore, they stay in our heart mind, they clog up our mental filters, our perception of the world and ourselves.

[00:15:04] And our thoughts and emotions have a symbiotic relationship. How we think affects how we feel, and how we feel affects how we think. But when it comes to our relationship with our thoughts and feelings, we tend to favor, prioritize, and give greater importance to our thoughts, rather than our feelings. In our society, a display of emotion is often considered a weakness.

[00:15:30] Maybe as kids we were told not to cry, to cheer up, or maybe we got in trouble if we displayed anger. We’ve grown up believing that emotions are a problem and they’re not to be trusted. You know. And no one really gave us an education on how to deal with our emotions. Much of the stress we experience these days is emotional in nature.

[00:15:54] And if we were being chased by a tiger, we would run or fight. But many of us stay stuck in situations, patterns and lifestyles that activate our stress response.

[00:16:05] And we’re exposed to more emotional stress than physical stress. Yet we’re least adept at handling our emotional stress. We’ve become numb and unable to feel or detect the emotional strain that we’re under. And this emotional stress can eat away at us because we lack the skill and awareness to detect its signals.

[00:16:27] And this leads us to staying stuck in a stressful job that we hate, a dysfunctional relationship, or continuing to live an anxious lifestyle. And as Bessel van der Kolk says, our body keeps the score. Everything that’s ever happened to us. All of our past hurts are stored like memories in our body. And they’re mostly out of sight and out of mind.

[00:16:54] But we can still feel the burden and heaviness of these suppressed emotions. Now consider emotions to be energy in motion. And all emotions have a charge to them. Holding and storing emotional charge requires an enormous amount of energy, effort and tension. Ideally, we want energy to flow freely through our body without getting stuck.

[00:17:21] Yet any negative emotion that’s not properly processed is stored in the body and leaves an imprint of pain. Everyone carries this accumulation of past pain, and Eckhart Tolle refers to this as the pain body. The pain body is like a dark, heavy cloud that follows us around and can continue to grow if we don’t process our feelings.

[00:17:45] When our emotional buttons are pressed, it’s our pain body that’s triggered, causing us to overreact. Now one of the things that really helped me on my healing journey was learning how to safely express and release my feelings. I trained in this modality called non linear movement, which is a somatic or body based practice to move emotions through the body.

[00:18:09] Based on the concept of somatic experiencing, emotions that aren’t expressed are stored in the body and we experience them as tension, pain, fatigue, and anxiety. Processing these emotions is a safe way to allow us to release these patterns of holding, suppressing, and help us to feel better physically and mentally.

[00:18:32] Emotional processing helps us to clear our mental filters so we’re not storing that pain and suffering. We free it from the body, and this is the work we do in Yoga Alchemy. We adopt a bottom up or body based approach to healing, incorporating somatic practices and nervous system work to build safety and tolerance in our nervous system.

[00:18:55] We also use meditation and self inquiry to clear our mental filters so we can identify our emotional buttons and the deeper wound beneath the surface.

[00:19:05] When it comes to emotions, it’s important to remember that emotions aren’t bad. I used to think it was un yogic or even un feminine to express anger. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I learned how to express sacred rage and see anger as a catalyst for making big changes in my life. We often think of emotions as good or bad.

[00:19:29] We like feeling happy and excited, yet we label anger, grief, and guilt as bad. A different perspective is to think of emotions on a spectrum, the The positive emotions on one end and the uncomfortable ones on the other. Now humans are meant to feel the full spectrum of emotion, give meaning to our lives. Yet if we block or suppress the negative emotions, we end up blocking our ability to feel the positive ones too.

[00:19:58] And we end up just feeling numb or blah. And just like an artist needs black and brown to provide contrast to the bright colors, or a musician needs both high and low notes, we can’t just block some emotions without affecting our experience of the others. But that’s what I was doing. In the process of suppressing my anger, I was also suppressing my ability to feel positive emotions too.

[00:20:24] I had a really narrow emotional range, and anything outside that range made me feel uncomfortable. So rather than express those emotions, I bottled them up until my body became rigid with muscle tension. And this just made me more tense and dysregulated my nervous system. These days when I get angry, I try to move it through my body.

[00:20:46] I jump up and down, I shake it out, or I punch a bolster. It’s not pretty, but it doesn’t matter. It stops me from storing that energy in my body and I feel better after.

[00:20:59] Emotions are neither good nor bad, it’s just the way we react to them that’s either healthy or not. And one of the things I teach in Yoga Alchemy is a healthy way to process our emotions by moving what we’re feeling. Movement is a great way to release and discharge our pent up emotions. It’s a really healthy and controlled form of emotional hygiene.

[00:21:21] And there’s this quote that I love by David Hawkins. He says, Fear of life is really the fear of emotions. It’s not the facts that we fear, but our feelings about them. Once we have mastery over our feelings, our fear of life diminishes.

[00:21:39] Now, while it’s tempting to blame stress on external events, often the real source of stress is internal. Stress results from the build up of pressure from our suppressed feelings. And this pressure wants to be released and needs to come out. Otherwise, it creates internal problems. And the only way we can let go of these uncomfortable emotions is to feel them and release them.

[00:22:05] And when we can release our emotions, it results in far less muscle tension, better mood, more energy, a calmer, clearer mind, being less reactive, and generally improved physical and mental health. And this is a big part of the work we do in yoga alchemy, learning how to safely feel our feelings and clear our emotional backlog, so we can respond to life’s events rather than react to life from our emotional wounding.

[00:22:33] Remember, it’s normal to feel our emotions. It’s normal to feel mad, sad, or bad. And when we allow ourselves to feel our feelings rather than suppressing them, we’ll feel so much better. Emotions just want to move through our body, and when we allow them a safe passage, they pass on through. No emotion is permanent.

[00:22:55] Sure, it can feel intense for a little while, but it always passes. And we feel better after. When I was learning to feel my anger, I would get really scared of how much anger and rage I really had. I was even worried that I couldn’t control it, and that once I’d opened Pandora’s box, I wouldn’t be able to close it again.

[00:23:18] But rather than controlling my anger, I found a way to safely release it, and to give it the space to be felt. And in my experience, beneath my anger was a tremendous amount of pain and grief. In my case, anger was protecting an even deeper hurt. And once I got in touch with the grief in my bones, the anger began to dissipate.

[00:23:39] It’s kind of like the layers of an onion. I peeled one layer of anger, only to find a deeper layer of hurt, and beneath that hurt was grief, and under grief was fear. I peeled the layers back and let the tears flow. It was pretty intense for a while, but I finally was able to let it all out. It didn’t feel great doing it, but I felt better after.

[00:24:03] Chronic tension in my shoulders and back disappeared. I was sleeping better. And that gnawing sense of unease that was always there, disappeared. Now my life is far from perfect. I still have ups and downs. I still get angry and upset. But I have the tools to deal with my emotions, which means I’m no longer afraid of them.

[00:24:27] And over the last four years I’ve taught over 50 clients how to safely express their emotions. And what’s been interesting is how people’s anxiety lessened or disappeared altogether when they learned to process their suppressed emotions. And a really helpful metaphor to understand anxiety is to view it as a smoke alarm.

[00:24:49] And when the smoke alarm sounds, we know that there’s smoke, so we look for what’s burning. And what’s burning is often an uncomfortable emotion that we don’t want to feel. We hate the alarm and we want to eliminate it because it feels so bad, but the alarm of anxiety won’t stop until we figure out what’s burning beneath the surface.

[00:25:10] And often the feeling beneath anxiety relates to something we felt in childhood. Trying to fix or get rid of anxiety without going to the source is like taking the batteries out of the smoke alarm. It doesn’t address the root cause, and that root cause is that there’s a part of us that doesn’t feel okay.

[00:25:29] And the part of us that’s not okay can often resemble a younger version of ourselves who felt scared, worried, lonely, unlovable, or even ashamed. Many of us have difficulty feeling our feelings so we push them down, except they don’t go anywhere. They remain stuck in our body and subconscious mind and we experience them as anxiety.

[00:25:52] Getting to the source of anxiety requires us to check in with ourselves about how we’re really feeling, and when we process the underlying feeling, the alarm stops.

[00:26:02] Emotions are what make us human, and we’re meant to feel the full range of emotions. Yoga and somatic practices can help us process those uncomfortable emotions so that we don’t store them or suppress them. And it’s really normal for uncomfortable emotions to arise in our yoga practice, especially yin yoga which has a strong emotional component.

[00:26:26] When or if that happens to you, remember to breathe through it. Emotions aren’t permanent, they eventually pass, and when they do, we’re left with a sense of space and ease. With regular yoga and self inquiry, we can heal our emotional buttons and the wounds beneath them, so we can experience life without our past pain.

[00:26:49] Yoga is so much more than a stretch, it’s a life skill that increases our capacity to deal with life. And if you’re curious about the deep work we do in Yoga Alchemy, join the waitlist to save 500. Enrollments will open around Easter, and if you’re on the waitlist, you’ll be the first to know. Until next time my friends.