Overcoming Negative Emotions

As we try to incorporate the yamas and niyamas in our lives and constantly strive for self-improvement, we may encounter difficulties as it requires breaking unhealthy, subconscious patterns of thoughts or actions. These patterns tend to stem from, lead to, or feed negative emotions although we may not always be aware of them. As Mark Manson wrote, “as a general rule, we’re the world’s worst observers of ourselves. When we’re angry, or jealous, or upset, we’re oftentimes the last ones to figure it out.” Therefore, I thought it may be helpful if I share how I try to identify and overcome negative emotions.

 

Overcoming negative emotions

1.     Observe

        Allow yourself to feel whatever it is you are experiencing

        Don’t try to resist it

 

2.     Recognise and accept

        Identify what it is that is upsetting you

        What emotion is it? e.g. anxiety, fear, jealousy, sorrow

 

3.     Question

        Why are you feeling this way?

        Keep asking ‘why’s until you get to the root of it

 

4.     Focus on the present

        Non-identify from these emotions, recognise that just because you experience them, it doesn’t mean that you are them. Emotions come and go, your atman/soul/true self is eternal.

        What can you do about it now?

 

Non-identification of mind and emotions also relate to the teachings of koshas, which refer to illusory sheaths of ourselves that conceal knowledge of our true self (atman). They comprise of annamaya (food sheath/physical body), pranamaya (energy sheath/life force), manomaya (mind/emotion sheath), vijnamaya (intellect/wisdom sheath) and anandamaya (bliss sheath). In this case, we should focus to non-identify from manomaya and vijnamaya.


Breaking patterns or habits

Once the negative pattern is identified, it may be difficult to break it as they may be long-set habits. It requires time and effort. You may also feel angry, frustrated or impatient with yourself. However, it is unhelpful to beat yourself up over it as it will lead to cycles of negative emotions.


Picture this scenario: guy A has a hot temper and wants to manage it better. One day, he blows his top because he missed the bus. Realising he didn’t manage to control his temper, he gets angry at himself. Then, he gets angry at himself for getting angry.


Therefore, it is important to notice that you feel upset, forgive yourself and try again when you stumble. Remember to be patient towards and love yourself!


All in all, I believe that the purpose of practicing yoga is to enhance our lives. Through philosophical teachings and physical practice (asanas, pranayamas, meditation), it increases our mental and emotional clarity which help us better manage obstacles in life. Therefore, I hope that this post has some value in helping you – whether in your yogic path or just overcoming negative emotions when life gets you down. 

Attachments

When people think of attachment, they generally think of material things. Attachment can also be extended to non-material things, such as ideas, relationships and even identity. However, there is a problem with attachment – it leads to suffering. This is because life is ever-changing and always evolving – the only constant is change. Therefore, while I may feel comfort when I stay with my attachment, it will bring me sorrow when it’s taken away from me against my will – which is likely to happen, given life’s nature of unpredictability and change. Another downside to attachment is that it limits personal growth.

 

Therefore, Aparigraha, which means non-attachment, is one of the five yamas described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Other meanings of it include non-grasping or non-possessiveness, not accumulating, or accepting objects that are unnecessary in daily life.

 

To exemplify it – in the third week of YTTC, I found myself feeling sentimental and sad as the course is coming to an end. I realised that this was because I have grown attached to a few things, such as the routine of the course, my classmates and Sree, and the daily teaching of philosophy and spirituality which have been very comforting. However, it’s not practical for things to remain the same forever. That is why we are constantly urged to ‘move on’. Staying attached to something will also limit my growth, as I will either 1) miss out on opportunities for good change, or 2) live in the past and experience those opportunities with a closed mind.

 

In this case, I can’t be a yoga teacher-in-training forever. Moving forward in my life, whether to teach yoga or doing something else (while keeping the knowledge I have gained in this course) with an open and receiving mind is what will keep me growing.   

 

Some may argue that conscious detachment to things will make me cold. To many of us, attachment forms the basis of relationships and love. However, it is important to note that detachment does not mean indifference or not loving. To me, the main points to take away from aparigraha is that 1) we need to let go of what no longer serves us or is no longer necessary to us 2) everything (the good and the bad) comes to an end, 3) acceptance of the ending of things. 


A quote that has stayed with me for years sums this up beautifully “some things fall apart, for better things to come together”.

Demystifying My Beliefs

Whenever people said “yoga changed my life for the better”, I always thought that it was because of physiological benefits from physical exertion/exercise e.g. improved fitness, increased confidence, better sleep, enhanced overall mood through various factors such as release of endorphins, etc.


As a physiotherapy student, I am a firm believer of science. At university, the concept of evidence-based practice is hammered into us. If a piece of information is not supported by high-quality research, its likelihood to be true is small. Therefore, it was hard for me to believe that the “life-changing” effects of yoga could be due to anything but physiological benefits. My passion in anatomy/physiotherapy was actually one of the reasons I joined this course – to gain a better understanding of the bodily aspects of yoga. Specifically, I wanted to: 1) learn what was required of the body to perform specific asanas e.g. strength in psoas major, length in hamstring, and 2) explore the possibilities of integrating yoga practice into physiotherapy treatments through asanas.


Through this course, I am starting to develop insight on how yoga is beyond just a form of exercise – it is a way of life. The Eight Limbs of Yoga provides a guide on living happily. I especially like the yamas and niyamas of the eight limbs, which to me are great moral guides. Yoga also touches on spirituality, which I was initially sceptical about since I wrongly understood it to be associated with religion. Religious people are spiritual but spiritual people are not necessarily religious. I now see spirituality and achieving enlightenment as another way of perceiving life, which enables us to overcome life’s obstacles with greater ease.


However, delving deeper into yoga theory has not been easy, as it also means challenging my strong scientific beliefs. While some of the techniques can be supported by evidence and logic (e.g. the physiological effects of deep, slow breathing in pranayamas), there are others that I haven’t been able to find (e.g. the association of the right nostril with the sun and the left nostril with the moon). As I found that it was difficult for me to fully immerse myself into something I had doubts about, I decided to look at things in a different way.


Through my own reading (I highly recommend ‘The Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle and ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***’ by Mark Manson) and conversations with Sree, I learned that whatever we attach ourselves to becomes a source of suffering. And one of our biggest attachments is to our identity or life roles. Attachment to identity becomes somewhat a form of self-imprisonment as it limits me from doing or believing anything that could potentially contradict that false identity. For me, my role as a physiotherapy student and my loyalty to science and evidence was limiting me from truly absorbing what I was learning in the course.


I am also starting to accept that science does not yet know everything. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that we believed that the earth was flat or that smoking had no negative health implications. To think that we know everything is to shut our minds out to new information and the potential to learn and be better than we already are. If there is evidence supporting the benefits of certain components of yoga, who is to say that in the future, the rest of it would not potentially be proven to be true too?

Understanding Myself Through Yoga

This week, I learned that my dosha is pitta-vata with a pitta predominance. However, I have more vata than pitta mental and emotional attributes.

I have almost always had perceptions of a perfect person and what the ideal personality or character traits are supposed to be. However, the standards I hold myself against are difficult to live up to, likely also because they are vastly different from what my dosha inclines me to be. For example, even-temperedness is an ideal trait, but I am naturally hot-tempered (pita dosha). Therefore, when stressors in life get to me, or when I don’t live up to the standards I set. myself, it leads to feelings of anger at myself (from my pitta dosha) as well anxiety that I will never be good enough (from my vata dosha). To make things worse, I also fault myself for my short temper and anxiety, which perpetuates these emotions further. I guess that self-destructiveness is another quality of my vata self.

As I strive for self-growth and am quite hard on myself for my imperfections, I really liked finding out my doshas/life forces for a few reasons:

1. It helped me understand that attributes of myself which I deemed to be unideal or abnormal are in fact, normal and explainable, therefore helping me to accept myself as I am.

2. It helps me to manage myself through knowledge of my inherent strengths and weaknesses.

Understanding that such negative emotions could have been contributed by imbalances of my dosha has been helpful in easing off some of the pressure I put on myself, as well as provided me with some strategies on how I can manage it through my diet and lifestyle.

Master Sree/Max also said something which was very comforting to me. He explained that there are no right or wrong types of dosha, and while it is possible to change our dosha types through diet and lifestyle, he did not encourage it as he believed that we were born with specific life forces for a reason, mainly in keeping the balance of the world. His words serve as a reminder to forgive and accept myself for my inherent shortcomings, while I continue striving to be the best version of myself.

3. It helped me make sense of internal conflicts I experience.

For example, the pitta in me loves order, which means I enjoy making thorough plans for the day or week. However, the vata in me can also be impulsive, which results in last minute changes when the time comes for that plan to be carried out. This contradiction between vata and pitta qualities tends to create internal conflicts, where I’d admonish myself for being unable to stick to my set plans or routine (pitta), while also disliking my ‘uptight’ self and wanting to be free to change (vata).

Here is another example of internal conflict I experience. My pitta self is ambitious and competitive, which is expressed in my desire to be best in a specific field. However, I also have many different interests and am enthusiastic to experience it all, therefore my focus changes constantly (vata). This is frustrating because it means that even though I want to be a master in all things, I know it is literally impossible.

While the journey through life is always going to be challenging, I’m glad I found yoga as it has been proving to help make life a little more manageable. Initially, it was purely an outlet for exercise through which I can manage my stress but delving deeper into the theory of yoga has been so insightful and has shown that it can be helpful to my self-discovery and self-management. I know that I have barely only begun to scratch the surface of it all and am very excited about everything else there is to learn.