In this blog I’d like to shed light on how our emotions, whether current, present or deeply rooted within us, can have a major impact on our nervous system, heartrate, mental state, and physical state. Also I’ll touch on how external factors in our environment can also influence us. If you haven’t read the previous blogs in my Back Pain series click HERE.
The Emotions and our Environment:
Emotions are very powerful energies that have an equally powerful influence on our body, mind, nervous system, and life. Consider some emotional responses you would have for the following situations: losing a loved one, a threat to your job security over a deadline, not being able to save money or buy a house, your boyfriend dumps you (of girlfriend), almost getting into a car accident, falling and breaking a leg, winning the lottery, accomplishing a long time goal. Take a moment to contemplate these scenarios and how your whole body would respond to each. For me the responses for each situation would be along the lines of the following; deep remorse and sadness, stress and anxiety, depression, sadness and loneliness, adrenaline, shock, outright joy and happiness, pride and satisfaction. We are human and have instinctual and cellular responses for the situations we encounter in life. Our nervous system, the endocrine system, and adrenal glands provide the body with different hormones, chemicals, tensions, relaxations and reverberations that are directly relative to what situation or emotion the body may encounter. It is normal to cry, have a bout of anxiety, feel sad, feel depressed on a rainy day, and experience raging anger just like it is normal to laugh, play, feel uplifted and experience joy and happiness. It is when we are in a constant state of one emotion that these energies can have a negative influence on the mind and body. In fact muscular tensions can form in our body from what we are feeling. We even use language that supports our experiences like “that guy is a pain in the neck”, “taxes are a pain in the butt”, “A lump in my throat”, “butterflies in my stomach”-- do any of these sound familiar?
Anxiety, for instance, is a commonplace emotion felt by many people I know (myself included). When we are anxious there is a surplus of uprising energies to the mind, we sweat, panic, think too much, and can’t settle down. With long-term anxiety the body and mind have a really hard time relaxing or feeling rooted and grounded, and the nervous system is overworked dealing with all the surplus of excitement! This longtime stress for me ends up tightening my jaw, neck, shoulders and upper back, finally culminating in a full on backache that won’t be ignored. I’m getting anxious just writing this! But I have been experimenting with the understanding that by simply noticing these sensations there is a choice we have when observing our state of being. We can ignore it, bottle it up and mask it with some temporary fix or distraction, or we can take time every day to spend relaxing, meditating, walking in nature, doing yoga poses or whatever it is that slows us down for the mind to become more clear, the nerves to settle, the upward rising anxiousness to ground itself into comfort. This work helps us to make good choices. We can’t change the body’s natural response to emotions; they are engrained in our genes and cells. We can begin to contemplate the circumstances from which these emotions arise and make it our yoga practice to skillfully counterbalance the negative responses that stress our bodies and minds.
The idea of separation brings me to talk about environmental influences. Feeling like a separate entity from the world is built in to the story of the ascent of humanity and our attachment to ego and the self. The modern day man has conquered nature, solved the mysteries of the planet and stars, cured most disease through science, and has surpassed the need to rely on others. As an individual we are expected to make a living, own our own house, own a car, consume mass amounts of stuff, and be self-reliant. It is easy to feel completely segregated and uninfluenced from our neighbors and colleagues, nature, or climate change and global struggles. Deep down I think everyone knows we are connected on very subtle levels to everything. When we make a bad dietary choice we live and feel that. When we argue with someone close it is an emotional experience. When a refugee child washes ashore in a distant country on the news our hearts flutter with remorse. We are unarguably connected to the world in which we live. Living in a toxic or negative environment brings dissatisfaction to our lives. As we saw how the emotions can spur tensions and responses in the body and mind, so too does our environment. Consider having really poor conditions in your workplace. Day in and day out you go to a job you hate, where you are treated unfairly yet are trapped by the need to pay bills, feed yourself, and keep shelter for yourself and family. Clearly this environment is stressful and would bring a longing for a better job and more time to nurture ourselves. Don’t quit your job because of yoga, but maybe let your job be your yoga by connecting more with your employer and voice a need for change. If your wellbeing is in a conflict with work then a shift must take place. The ecosystem we are part of includes our friends, hobbies, diet, work, home and all factors of our lifestyle. Example of actions that could lead to back pain are: drinking too much, overeating, lack of exercise, negative company, tension with a loved one, not getting out for fresh air and nature and most other obvious choices that are unhealthy. Through yoga we wake up to all parts of our life and have a choice in how we live. I’m not recommending some kind of fairy tale life that doesn’t have its downsides but rather encouraging the need to live in an environment that is comforting, nurturing, and most importantly connects you to others, the food your eat, and mother nature that we are deeply connected to.
I hope my words are painting a picture of living your yoga practice. Yoga is not just physical poses, yoga studio classes, $100 yoga pants, or the spiritual materialism that is trending in the wellness industry. Your life is your yoga!