This is a guest post by Certified Yoga Therapist (C-IAYT) Kim Orr. Kim has provided yoga therapy services at hospitals and in private practice for over 15 years. She also trains yoga teachers in Contemplative Practice Yoga® and in Contemplative Practice Yoga® Therapy. This post contains practices based on some of the therapeutic protocols her clients have found beneficial for working with emotional overwhelm or when facing difficult situations in their lives. Kim is such a gifted teacher who’s changed the lives of so many of her clients and students and I’m thrilled to share her wisdom here!
As a highly sensitive person, you take things in, deeply.
So when you see something disturbing, hear something hurtful, or learn about a terrible situation, strong emotions well up. You can become overpowered by those emotions – crushed by the intensity of what you perceive and feel.
You don’t want to feel overwhelmed and distressed, but you do.
And it feels like there’s nothing you can do but suffer.
So how do you walk that razor’s edge between honoring your emotions and feeling depleted by them?
By stepping off the edge and walking a different path altogether. A path that will take you deeper into your body to dissolve overwhelm.
How Your Body Responds to Emotional Overwhelm
It’s easy to distinguish how differently sadness feels in your body from joy.
But what exactly creates this difference in feeling?
When you’re upset, your body produces surges of certain chemicals. Normally blood flow and the oxygenation of your body would carry those chemicals through and out of your body easily.
But when you are upset, your body does something else. It tenses — your muscles get tight and you hold your breath. The amount of oxygen in your body decreases. Your muscles clamp down on your blood flow. Whatever is in your muscle tissue gets trapped in place.
Emotional overwhelm gets trapped in place.
And it stays locked in place until you release the tension so that blood and oxygen move through your tissues again.
The problem is, most of the things we do in our everyday lives increase tension, instead of release it. Even things you might think are good for tension release actually do the opposite. Things like exercising and lifting weights actually create tension in your body by tightening your muscles thereby preventing you from fully releasing any feelings of overwhelm.
But that doesn’t mean you’re stuck with your overwhelm.
Two Highly Sensitive Traits that Can Free You From Overwhelm
As a highly sensitive person you have two traits that can help you to release tension in your body and free yourself from emotional overwhelm. In fact, you have veritable super powers that can help lead you to a state of calm.
This first is that you are naturally intuitive.
The second is that you are more aware of subtleties than others.
Your gifts of intuition and awareness are usually turned towards others or toward your surroundings.
It’s time to care for yourself by learning to focus your intuition and awareness on yourself and your emotional experience. When you do this, you can calm yourself easily and support others without feeling drained.
Two Practices to Unlock Your Calming Superpowers
Below are two simple practices that will help you to find your calm center whenever you feel overwhelmed by your emotions.
Each practice begins by directing your superpowers – your Intuition and your Awareness – toward yourself.
1st Practice ~ Pause & Attend
At random times throughout your day, pause and notice how you are feeling, positive or negative.
As you pause, turn your intuition and your awareness to what you are feeling. Pay close attention.
Now, name that feeling. Be as specific as you can. You might start with a single word – happy or angry. But then pay closer attention and hone your awareness, just as you would if you were intuiting what someone else is feeling.
There are subtleties of emotional experience you will become aware of as you name your experience. For example, there are many possibilities for states of happiness – jovial, contented, gleeful, cheerful, jubilant, blissful, etc. There are many possibilities for states of anger – enraged, indignant, upset, irate, etc.
Be as clear and specific as you can. Becoming aware of the subtle differences in your emotions is important to the next step.
Specificity matters as different emotions cause different sensations in different parts of your body.
You may notice your emotion as a feeling, a color, a shape, or a temperature. Many people notice grief as a cold spot, or contentedness may feel like warm honey, anger like trapped heat. You may find these in different places at different times: in your forehead, throat, chest, or belly. There’s no right or wrong place, there is only what you notice.
Find the place in your body where your emotion is lodged. As you practice you’ll find that jubilant isn’t in the same place as contented, indignant is located in a different part of your body from irate.
Use your innate awareness of subtleties to find the place in your body where your emotion is lodged.
Once you find it, note where that is.
Now become aware of your body position and your support. You are supported by something – furniture, the floor, the bones of your legs and feet.
In whatever position you find yourself, standing, seated, or lying down, soften into your support. Let your whole body soften.
Now return your awareness to the place in your body where you found your emotion. Bring your awareness to that exact place and soften it. Soften all of your muscles in and around that place.
As you soften your muscles you release tensions in your body. Continue to soften your body in the area where your emotion is located, and continue to soften into your support.
Softening unlocks your secret power for dissolving the anatomical grip an emotion has on you.
Tension clenches your emotion into place in your body. Tension overpowers you with the grip of an emotion. When the tension dissolves, the grip dissolves. Your emotion will still be there, but the power it had over you will be gone.
In the beginning it may take you a while to identify your emotions precisely, locate and soften. But it won’t take much practice for this to become second nature to you. Then when you are faced with a difficult situation you will do these things in an instant, and carry on with calm and compassion.
2nd Practice ~ Double In/Double Out
Your breath is normally one movement. It is an involuntary function of your body – it takes place without your conscious effort.
When you interrupt this involuntary function of your body, you interrupt the transmission of stimuli through your central nervous system. This, in turn, interrupts your thoughts, even when you are not aware of them.
Emotions are embodied responses to your thoughts. You cannot experience an emotion without first having a thought. But your thoughts sometimes come so quickly you don’t even realize you’ve had one before you feel your emotions.
When your thoughts are gently interrupted, emotional responses won’t crush you in their grip because the disturbing thought begins to dissolve before your emotion gains full force.
Your emotion may still be there, but only in a soft way, half formed — no sharp edges, nothing to clench you with.
Here’s how you interrupt your breath effectively.
The Double Inhale/Double Exhale
You can do this anywhere, any time. You can do it quietly so that no one is even aware that you are doing it. You simply breathe in, pause part way through your inhale, and then complete the inhale. You do the same on the exhale – breathe out, pause part way through your exhale, and then complete the exhale.
To hear an audio of this practice ~ Click Here.
Doing this three or four times is usually enough to feel the calming effect. You can do this whenever you feel strong emotions rise, or when you become aware of negative thoughts. You can do it in the moment wherever you are, whatever you may be facing.
Now you are free to honor your emotion and be present with it, without being overwhelmed by it. This gives you clarity of decision and action.
You Can Embody Calm Resiliency
Feeling overwhelmed by your emotions drains you. It can even lead to health issues because your body becomes exhausted. Long term exhaustion causes your body to react to negative stimuli in unpredictable ways.
Sensitive souls need time alone and peaceful spaces to recharge. When you have tools to help you connect to your calm in moments of stress or difficulty, you feel less drained. Then the amount of time you need alone diminishes because your body is less depleted.
You’ll find more enjoyment in social activities because you’ll be able to follow your natural instinct to help others but without giving too much of yourself away.
And if you hear or experience something emotionally distressing, you’ll know how to be present to what is happening without letting it envelop you.
Your sensitivity will shine and your strength will increase. These simple practices will help you truly become a strong sensitive soul.
At a cellular level, learn how to dissolve anxiety and tension in your body, connect to your calm core, and lead a life of consistent emotional clarity. Contemplative Practice Yoga® Therapist Kim Orr shows you how through the Anatomy of Calm™. Receive your free guide to Connect to Your Calm Core on her blog YourMindBodyBreath.com.
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