YS 1.12 abhyasa vairagyam tat nirodhah. Our thought patterns (chitta vrittis) are quieted by practicing detachment.
Emotion is something most of us are familiar with; after all, it is a part of the human condition. Anatomically and energetically, while emotions generally originate in the torso (namely the heart, liver and gut) there is a direct link between emotion and the cranium. The cranium houses the mind, imbuing the emotion with meaning; the pituitary and pineal glands also live in the cranium, giving the emotion power and impacting how we perceive and process our feelings. As we analyse and try to make sense of the the emotion, the the mind takes a hold of the emotion and goes dancing; around and around and every which way until there the emotion and the journey the mind takes with it is perceived as the truth.
The yoga texts tell us that emotion, whether they make us feel temporarily good or bad, are fleeting and therefore are not ‘real’, or part of our true nature. Further, the yoga sutras point out that only through practicing detachment can we cease holding on to these feelings.
It isn’t that we aim not to feel. In fact, the practices of yoga can bring us more in touch with our emotions, even when the purpose is detachment. Through the asana practice, we confront the mind through the body. Using situations on the yoga mat that trigger emotions such as fear, anger, sorrow, and pride, we can learn to become a silent witness (saksi in Sanskrit), a neutral observer of our mind, training ourselves to become dispassionate about the judgement and critique of our emotions which prevents our mind from watering the seeds of the emotion and growing them.
Through practice and over time, the landscape of the body and mind may change to reflect a less excitable reaction to positive and negative emotion, bringing these two opposing forces closer to a central axis of balance. This isn’t to say we will never be thrilled by accomplishment, teary eyed by grief or boiling with anger. Through practice, we will undoubtedly become more aware.
Meditation is a wonderful resource to watch the changing nature of the mind. The longer we can sit with ourselves through anything that may arise, the more we can come to understand our true nature. Emotions and thoughts come up, and they go away. It’s like a farmer throwing out a handful of seeds. Some become implanted into the earth, and with enough nourishment and attention, they grow bigger. Others lie dormant for years on end, but all these seeds may need is the right air or a bit of tilling to give the impetus for growth. Others never produce a seedling. The goal of meditation is simply to watch. By not getting caught up in the story, but by simply observing what is happening, we are more and more skilled at letting go, not getting attached.
I have observed my own emotions changing dramatically over many years, encountering my Self in several traumatic, life or death situations where the practice of asana and meditation have helped me to take refuge in the role of the witness. Don’t get me wrong. I have felt rage, humiliation, joy and abundant love, but tears have been less likely to flow as regularly as the emotion.
Lately I have been contemplating turning 40, how much my family and friends mean to me, how much I love the people I come into contact with through my work, and in general how wonderful, mysterious and magical life can be. In the past, I have fought back tears when provoked, but these days I’m more comfortable with the rivers that stream down my cheek. Rivers flow, and so do our emotions. It is only when we hold back, creating a blockage in the originating organs not unlike a dam, that the mind has plenty of time to become attached, morphing the pure emotion into a delusional story. At some point, the dam bursts open and someone on the receiving end, sometimes undeservingly, is going to get soaked. Other times, these emotions become blocked, sometimes even as physical disease in the intestines, liver, lungs, etc. Trust the streams and rivers of your emotion. Get in touch with what is going on, dont be afraid of the cleansing, purifying nature of a few tears, and give yourself a chance to let go, keeping body and mind in dynamic balance, in a state of wellness.