Let’s talk about yoga, emotions, and the unknown. The new year is upon us with all of its promises of a bright future. But perhaps moving into the unknown brings an uneasy feeling? If so, you are in good company. A look into the future and all of its unforeseeable outcomes is anxiety provoking for many. After all, anxiety is usually associated with the future, right? For many, a new year means a new beginning and new opportunities for personal development. At the same time, many are grieving from the past year(s) or dreading the unknown of what’s to come.
Almost 20% of our nation’s population suffers from some form of diagnosed anxiety disorder, and 8.4% suffer from major depression; and those are just the statistics for diagnosed disorders; the ones that are known about that have been diagnosed by a practitioner. There are millions of people who have not been diagnosed with mental illnesses yet undoubtedly wrestle with the symptoms.
So all this begs for a better understanding between our emotions, mental health, and the unknown, which we bring to you in a yoga and non-yoga context.
Why am I so attached to the end result?
The answer is…because you’re human! Humans find comfort in knowing what will happen next, knowing what outcomes will be, if decisions will pay off, and if everything is going to be okay—do you see the pattern? Humans like to know. Unfortunately, that is not how we were made. We are created to seek peace in the present moment, not in regret of the past or in worry for the future.
The last Yama of Patanjali’s 8-limbed path to yoga is Aparigraha—non-attachment. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna advises Arjuna that each action (how we live life) is what matters, not the fruit of the action (the outcome, or answers to the unknown). If we are attached to controlling the end result or knowing what it is, it’s impossible to be in the present moment, therefore, peace eludes us. Minds will whirl with anxiety until the big reveal—when the unknown becomes known. Then we move on to the next unknown thing, and the cycle begins again.
Ask yourself: How much of my time is spent worrying? What do I worry about? Is it usually about the future? People, or circumstances that are out of my control? How would it feel if I gently invited the mind back to this moment? Peace is in this moment. By becoming aware of out-of-present thoughts you can observe the stress and anxiety that an attached mind can cultivate. What does one do to find peace in the present moment? I’ll give you a few ideas:
- Practice mindfulness. Mindful living doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a lifelong practice. The more you practice, the easier it becomes to invite the mind back to the present moment. There are countless apps and YouTube videos that offer a variety of mindfulness practices. And of course, check out Ignite Yoga’s schedule for in-studio meditation classes.
- Yoga. Yes, yoga. The asana practice teaches us to stay in the present moment with the body and breath. You may notice the instructor invite you to return to the breath and sensations of the physical body. These are invitations to mindfulness.
- Journaling. The art of pausing, scribing, and observing our thoughts accesses the Buddhi Mind. The Buddhi Mind is the conscious, discerning mind that separates the big world REALITY from our little bubble reality. The Buddhi Mind is the higher, intellectual mind that sees through Maya, or the veil that makes us forget we are all divine. If you were in constant contact with this reality, do you think worrying would be necessary? No, in fact, you would be in a constant state of joy.
Emotions are a part of the human experience. They tend to be labeled good or bad, however, all emotions are teachers, and by feeling them it means we are alive in our minds and bodies. It is what we do with these emotions that matters. Once a mindfulness practice is second-nature, observing emotions becomes part of the practice. The uneasiness you feel while muddling through the unknown is real, and causes real emotions, stress, and possible anxiety. You may cope by trying to overly-control other people or situations; become grumpy or impatient over things that normally wouldn’t be a bother; you may shut down, over-analyze, or isolate.
The good news is, when you practice mindfulness, you are able to observe these behaviors and see what needs taken care of within you. You can observe where the physical body is experiencing discomfort or tension; you may notice the breath is tight and shallow; you may need extra rest, or to talk through the discomfort with a trusted friend or therapist. These are suggested healthy coping mechanisms to use when emotions have been hijacked by stress and anxiety. Allow yourself to be with these emotions by doing the following:
- Mindful breathing by observing each inhale and exhale
- Name the emotion and sit with it fully without trying to change or dismiss it
- Nurture yourself through strong emotions by talking to yourself as if you’re speaking to a dear friend or loved one
- Journal about what you’re feeling. A stream of consciousness that doesn’t even have to make sense
- Observe tension in the body and try to soften and release in those areas
- Reassure yourself that even the most uncomfortable emotions are not permanent, and the more present you are with them, the less likely they are to sit in your body as unresolved trauma
The Ultimate Knowing
While we know that we will never be able to foresee what the next hour, day, week, or year will present us, Ultimate Knowing is what brings us peace. Ultimate Knowing is believing we are being taken care of on a level we cannot humanly understand. Resistance comes before surrender, it’s inevitable. So we may let our minds put us through the ringer before we bring ourselves back to the present moment.
Ishvara Pranidhana, in yogic terms, means surrender. It is the embodiment of yoga; living as if all is well because you have surrendered to a Higher Being. You do not have to be religious to surrender, nor does this act require enlightenment. Ishvara Pranidhana happens every day, maybe multiple times a day, like a re-set button. We say, “thy will, not mine,” or simply, “I don’t know, and that’s okay. I am taken care of”. When we embody these words, a release is felt in the physical and energetic body. It’s an inner knowing that we forget about when we’re stuck in the whirling mind, trying to over-plan the future.
In Western culture, acceptance is a more regularly-used term. We may not like not knowing, or we may not enjoy what is presented to us, but we accept by acknowledging our feelings and taking action by doing the next right thing. When this is done over and over and over, we’re bound to be living a more peaceful existence.
This is all Yoga. Every emotion is a lesson. The more surrendering we do, the more peace we receive, and the not-knowing isn’t so much a problem anymore. Emotions don’t have to own us, but we cannot escape them without fully experiencing them. Our human experience is a series of surrendering and accepting our humanness of not-knowing, yet being taken care of, nonetheless.
None of this can be done perfectly. It’s all practice, and practice makes progress. In the comments below, feel free to share how you practice handling emotions and the unknown.