Controlling Emotions With Yoga

calming yoga

The science of anatomy states that emotions are a production of our brain and our mind. An emotion arises simply for the sake of survival. An emotion is a short-lived mental fluctuation, but when we start to identify with that emotion, it becomes a feeling or a mood. You can learn how to control your emotions with Yoga before they become long-lasting patterns.

The Yogic View of Emotions

In yoga emotions are described as vrittis, “waves” or “ripples” that can disturb the otherwise calm mind. The practice of yoga and meditation focuses on calming these waves to return the mind to a peaceful state. In yoga it is considered essential to silence the fluctuations of the mind to reunite oneself with a state of universal consciousness.

Yoga theory states that we experience emotions because of resonance with particular energies. If we do not have the energy of a certain emotion, we cannot have that emotion. In contrast, if we stay too long in an emotion, we build up the resonance with it and support it.

We resonate with the macrocosm (universe) through the chakras of our microcosm (individual self). Each chakra has a resonance with certain emotions or states. If we are tuned into the energy of svadhistana (the second chakra), we may experience feelings such as suspicion, creativity, jealousy, or confusion. Whereas if we tune into the resonance of manipura chakra (the third chakra), we may feel anger, courage, pride or passion.

Each chakra has a variety of attributes. We can tune into the positive attributes to bring about desired change in our lives, but they are still vrittis clouding our connection with the ultimate. Even excess of a positive emotion is not desirable. Identifying too much with any type of emotional life prevents us from seeing who we really are.

We do have a choice in this process. This is where meditation comes in. Meditation and spiritual practice help us to differentiate between who we really are and what is ephemeral. Things change from day to day; one day we are joyful, another bored – this is not us, it is something that is not eternal.

In Yoga we know we are not that emotion; we can manifest the emotion if we want, but ultimately we know we are not that.

Why Do We Get Stuck In Negative Emotions?

Yoga theory states that there are two main reasons why we remain stuck in negative emotions:

The first is Samskaras, or karmic knots. These are tendencies which have been carried over from past lives or conditioning formed in this lifetime. Negative emotional tendencies develop as a response to trauma or loss. Every time we act from these tendencies we reinforce them.

The second cause for negative emotional patterns is due to disturbances of prana, or vital life force, in the system. These disturbances can be low prana, an imbalance of prana, blockage of prana, or impurities in the system which alter the flow of prana. Yoga techniques help to restore and correct the flow of prana in the body which helps change our emotional patterns.

Changing Emotional Patterns

In addition to the steps outlined in “How to Take Control Over Your Emotions” here are some techniques for controlling your emotions with yoga:

Label the Emotion

This technique is not limited to yoga, but it is an essential one. When you are caught up in an emotion, identify it and call it what it is, be it fear, anger, or any other undesirable emotion. By labeling the emotion, you diminish the reactivity in the brain. This is the first step that allows you to get out of that emotion and create the space to create a new response. When we react from a place of anger, fear, or another negative emotions, the mind is not clear enough to find the best solution.

Cultivate More Positive Emotions

When it comes to dealing with emotions, there is a need to develop positive emotions, especially in times of turmoil. Cultivating positive emotions does not mean we stop trying to dis-identify from our emotions. We can foster these more desirable emotions and still know the emotions are not who we are. Emotions give life flavor; emotions are part of our human existence, and in tantric yoga all of this existence is embraced, its just that we try not to over-identify with the emotions.

It is neither quick nor easy to stop identifying with emotions; it is a gradual, ongoing process. An important step is to change your particular “moodset”. Our default emotions are, in a way, programmed into our brain, but we can change these neural connections through conscious effort. By building up new positive neural connections over time, it will become easier and easier to enjoy more positive emotions. In the future, instead of reacting with anger, the default emotion can become love.

Patanjali wrote in the The Yoga Sutras  “In the face of negativity, one should cultivate the opposite view.” A type of emotional role playing is a technique that can be used to foster the positive emotions. Ancient Indian art forms, including painting, drama, and dance, use emotive portrayals to express the different colors of life. The term rasa which is used to describe the nine major emotions of Indian art translates as “juice” or “essence”. Rasa is the essence of our emotions that exist in both body and mind.

The 9 rasas or basic emotions are:

Love – Shringara
Joy – Hasya
Wonder – Adbhuta
Courage – Verrya
Calmness – Shanta
Anger – Raudra
Sadness – Karuna
Fear – Bhayanaka
Disgust – Vibhatsa

Rasa Sadhana can be described as “emotional fasting”. For a period of time , be it a day, a week, or longer, one does not get involved with the less desirable rasas or focuses fully on one of the more agreeable rasas. If fear arises, be aware of it, shut it off, and cultivate a more desirable rasa such as courage.

We can build emotions at will. Playing the role of an emotion sends the same neurotransmitters throughout the nervous system as when we have an automatic emotional reaction. When we practice emotions, we can change the quality of our emotional body. Eventually, reactions will change, and we will suffer less from negative emotions.

Of course, changing our emotional responses takes a lot of dedication and willpower. It is not likely that we can instantaneously switch from anger to love. First, we must keep enough awareness to “shut off” the anger to create space to change the pattern and cultivate love instead.

Exercise Your Witness Consciousness

When an emotion arises, ask yourself “Who is angry?” Find the one inside who is watching. This creates the space needed for you to stop identifying with your emotional personality, even for just a moment. When you realize there is a witness, you can see that you are not your emotions but instead the one who is watching yourself react to those emotions. The more often we can make the switch from a normal state of mind to the witness consciousness, the easier it will be to change undesirable emotional patterns.

Practice Mindfulness Meditation

Meditation is the best method for increasing awareness of arising thoughts and emotions. Emotions and other modifications of the mind are noted, but we don’t react to them. This allows us to keep a constant awareness that we are not the mind; emotions are like clouds in the sky of our minds. When an emotional reaction takes place, treat it as if it were a cloud passing through the sky of your consciousness. You can practice mindful meditation from any tradition.

Use Breath to Balance the Hemispheres of the Brain and Calm the Mind

Nadi shodana pranayama (otherwise know as alternate nostril breathing), is a technique that helps balance both sides of the brain and change the body chemistry. Start with 5 minutes of this practice a day and build up from there.

How to do Nadi shodana pranayama: 

  1. Sit in a comfortable seated position with the spine straight and eyes closed.
  2. Using a finger press down on the right nostril to close it, breathe in through the left nostril. Hold the breath as long as it is comfortable.
  3. Release the right nostril and press down on the left nostril to exhale through the right.
  4. Inhale through the right nostril, hold the breath.
  5. Press down on the right nostril and exhale through the left.
  6. Continue in this way, and end your rounds with an exhalation through the left nostril.

Ideally, use the hand mudra that goes with this pranayama. Take your right hand and place the tips of the index and middle fingers between the eyebrows. Place your thumb on the right nostril and your ring finger on the left nostril. Use your thumb to open and close the right nostril and your ring finger to open and close the left. Rest the left hand on your knee with the palm facing upward.

White Tara
White Tara

Try a Deity Practice for Cultivating Positive Emotions

Deity practice is a technique from Tibetan Buddhism. This is a form of tantra where one imagines they are a being who is awakened. Familiarize yourself with the qualities of a chosen deity and visualize the body of the deity as clear as possible. By imagining oneself as an enlightened deity, negative emotional states can be reduced and qualities such as compassion, mercy and unconditional love can be cultivated. It will also make one feel less destined to react to the frustrations and disappointments of life. Common deities for this practice include Tara, Amitabha, and Avalokiteshvara. This practice is best when done from a deep meditative state where the mind is already empty.

 “If you are distressed by anything external [or internal], the pain is not due to the thing itself but your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”   ~Marcus Aurelius

Related: 10 Mindfulness Practices to Manage Negative Thoughts and Emotions

Resources:

  • Lecture: Dr. Pentuic – Emotions and Health from Yogic and Scientific Perspective

Photo: goodluz

Image: commons.wikimedia.org

Michelle is passionate about holistic health and self-discovery. She received her training in Nutrition, Herbalism, and Bodywork from the International Academy of Natural Health Sciences in Ottawa, ON. She studied Ayurveda and Yoga in India and later continued her Yoga studies on Koh Phangan in Thailand. Michelle truly believes that good health involves body, mind, and spirit. She loves to spend her time in walking in nature, meditating, painting, writing, and learning more about health and wellness.

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