Have you ever been stuck thinking about something that’s making you angry and upset but you can’t seem to stop thinking about it anyhow?
I woke up Saturday morning unable to let go of something from Friday that had made me angry and disappointed in other people. I’d invested so much time thinking about it that I was now feeling it – my back was stiff, I felt a heaviness in me (beyond what could be explained by cheesecake) and my shoulders had moved closer to my ears.
Relief was on the way because Saturday mornings I go to yoga.
Yoga is one of the ways I process negative emotional energy, i.e. gunk, out of me.
Just walking into the yoga studio has an immediate effect. I’ve come to associate the studio with being in the moment and paying attention to what I’m doing. This is where I practice being mindful so that I have that skill when I really need it out in the real world.
We start with a few deep breaths. In through the nose, out through the mouth. I feel a few seconds of relief from my negative thoughts. It feels great. My mind is now facing a dilemma. Which feels better – being in the moment or the angry thoughts? My mind is fickle like that.
Sometimes I like to watch how my mind works and laugh at its stupidity.
We start warming up with some cat/cow poses – picture Halloween cat with arched back then moving to looking like a dog with a sway back, rump in the air. I don’t know why it’s called cow.
My thoughts are now alternating – I’m angry, then I’m focused on my breath and being in the moment. Oops, I’m standing on a different leg than everyone else. My mind drifted to contemplating those irritating people again. OK, back to my breath.
By the time we get to the balancing poses, I’ve stopped thinking of the idiots. (Actually their names are Lidiot and Smidiot- large idiot and small idiot.) If your mind isn’t quiet while balancing, you tip over. As I’m often motivated to not appear silly, I’m doing my utmost to quiet my mind.
But it’s not really the quieting of my mind that gets those negative thoughts to stop. That alone would be hard work. What’s going on is that I’m processing the pent-up negative emotions through doing the yoga poses.
As the emotion gets released through my body, my mind gets stronger and more able to focus on what I want it to.
Emotions have a physical presence in the body. The energy of negative emotions can become trapped in the body if you hang onto it or don’t process it. That trapped emotion can lead to illness, pain and depression. Yoga releases that energy and therefore the emotions. Running does the same thing for me.
I often find it easier to leverage the mind-body connection rather than fight to change my thinking. I get my body feeling better and it then influences my mind. When I’m stressed I find it easier to come up with physical energy than mental energy.
Class has ended and it’s now mid-afternoon as I write my first draft of this post. I feel great. That emotional gunk is gone and thoughts of Lidiot and Smidiot are long gone.
There is a difference between processing your emotions and distracting yourself from feeling them.
I figured this out a few years back as I noticed what happened when I came home stressed from work. Some evenings I’d just sit on the couch and watch TV and some evenings I managed to go for a run. Running or walking, like all activity that burns energy, helps process that negative energy gunk out of your body.
Watching TV doesn’t – it just distracts you from feeling the gunk. Other distractions would be drinking alcohol and sleeping. Although I’m fans of both, they are only distractions. The emotional gunk remains. I still feel it in me – ready to be reactivated as soon as the negative thinking kicks in again.
Sure, I still waste time on the couch. But if I’m feeling overwhelmed with emotion I try to muster whatever energy I can to get up off my butt and do something because I know there’s a big payoff.
Do you distract yourself from feeling emotions or process them? What do you do and does it work?
About the Author
I promote peer support and encourage people on their recovery journeys. My plan with this blog is to build a community of like-minded individuals offering ideas and encouragement from their own experiences. My master plan is to help create psychologically safe and supportive workplaces. I live in Calgary, Canada.