One of the reasons that I'm attracted to Kripalu yoga is because it is transformative -- life changing. We are not just "working out" or twisting our bodies into various shapes -- we are learning skills on the mat that carry over into our lives when we are off the mat. One of these skills is called "riding the wave." When applied to our emotions, we notice that emotions are like waves: they rise up, swell, crest, and then break and wash out. They are temporary. If we are aware of this fact, then we can learn to be present through emotional difficulty without spinning out of control or getting pulled into the dramatic ups and downs of our emotions.
This weekend I helped my son move into his first apartment near his college. Although I am happy and excited for him, I am also sad because he is growing up and literally moving away from me. As I practiced my yoga today, I had an opportunity to put "riding the wave" to practice. I'll share my experience so that it might be helpful to some of you.
I started my practice with letting-go breaths and then deep breathing to help me relax and center myself. While breathing, I scanned my emotions: What am I feeling? I'm feeling sad ... a heavy sadness, more like grief. Instead of trying to run away from the feeling by distracting myself or engaging in a lot of mental chatter, I accepted the feeling and stayed with it. I dove right into the center of it and allowed myself to feel the sadness. Something interesting happens when you allow yourself to be completely and fully present with an emotion: it often dissipates. You realize that despite everything, you're OK. That's the wave washing out. It might rise up again, but it will wash out again too. As I moved into sun breaths, I watched the feeling change from sadness to gratitude: my son is a great kid and I got to have him with me for 18 years. What a gift! As I folded into Child's Pose I thought about the cigarette that someone threw onto the wooden stairs leading to his apartment, and as I softened and surrendered into the pose I also surrendered to the fact that I can't protect him. In Pigeon Pose I noticed that I was holding my muscles tight, so I had to let go.
I continued to stay centered and practice with full awareness, watching the emotions as they moved through my body and mind. I noticed that I felt the need to do a lot of backbends. Backbends are heart openers -- they help create space around the heart so we can remain open and receptive rather than shutting down to protect ourselves. Backbends also stimulate the solar plexus chakra, which brings a surge of inner strength. As I practiced, I actually processed the emotions. I allowed them to move through me, rather than cling to them and let them take up residence inside me. I allowed myself to be fully present to the changing sensations and emotions, to the awareness that life is always changing -- there is always something else coming along as the wheel of life continually turns. I ended my practice with a deep meditation and a delicious savasana and I was grateful to have these coping skills. I will still have waves of sadness as I practice letting go, but I know I will be OK and that all is as it should be.