You are late for work. You drive fast. You fear that large intersection with the eternal red light. You know that making it while the light is green, may actually save your job, your marriage and your grandmother’s operation. Oh boy, the approaching light is a welcoming green, but the car in front of you creeps along inviting the change to red. Your white knuckles leave their perch on the wheel to react. Hand gestures fly. Primal vocalizations spew from your angry, wrinkled face as your car’s battle horn blows. You are not in control. Your emotions drag you around like a 125-pound Rottweiler chasing a squirrel. Hormone levels elevate, and immune function declines, while the heart quivers. Once at work, you yell at your undeserving spouse when she calls to say Hi. Look out kids, Daddy is having a bad day!
Do your knee-jerk reactions leave you feeling like a jerk? Well Cher, you are correct by singing about how we can’t “turn back time”, but we can change our reactions to thought-out responses. You are back in the car, emotions surge as you creep behind the slow station wagon; however within a split second, you have time to choose your response. Understanding that your emotions love playing chicken with brick walls, you accept them and choose to slow down and wait for the light to change. Calmly, you proceed with your day knowing that emotional responses not only fail to yield positive outcomes, but may damage relationships, and cause stress and conflict. This will affect your heart and immune system health. You CAN change behavior that many experts feel contributes to heart disease and cancer.
How can we get our emotional Rottweiler to heel? We first must understand that the difference between pain and peace is a split second. Without this fraction of a time, we are unable to engage the part of our mind that reasons. Time is necessary if a choice is to be made.
Handling our emotions has often been confused with restraining them… an impossible task. I remember years ago sitting in a chiropractic seminar in Atlanta listening to a famous author and motivational speaker. He gave all of us a thick rubber band to wear on our wrists with instructions to snap it when a negative emotion was experienced. Perhaps I took his instructions too literally because I ended the week with a sore wrist and a spot that resembled the red center of a Japanese flag. Once an emotion comes, no matter how hard we exercise the act of suppression, it is as unstoppable as a freight train. All the bands in the world will not buy us the ability to block our emotions once they arise. Our control resides in what action or inaction we take.
How do we create the time needed to replace emotional reactions with thought-out responses? The practice of yoga provides us with answers. We can perform one or several of the below methods when faced with a negative emotion. Each will calm the mind and create the time that is necessary to overcome an undesirable reaction.
Breath Awareness: Become aware of the tip of the nose while you breathe. Notice the warmth when you exhale and the coolness when you inhale.
2:1 Breathing: Inhale at the count of 2, 4 or 8 (depending on comfort) and exhale out twice as long counting 4, 8 or 16.
Third Party: Imagine you are seeing yourself from a distance or on the television. Adding narration enhances this technique. “I am feeling very angry right now. I accept the presence of that emotion, and I choose to respond in a manner that is beneficial to me and the other person.” This technique is best used when you can prepare for it just prior to a known situation that will trigger an emotional response.
With practice and time, these techniques can become second nature. Initially, it is valuable to think about them just before entering specific situations. One may think just prior to confronting a family member: “when he or she speaks about my _________, I will instantly bring my awareness to my breathing, and then choose my response.” If we have a poor emotional response, we must understand the process that we are learning, and gain from the experience. We can imprint it in our minds for the next time. There will be numerous future opportunities for further practice and growth.
Yes, we can empower ourselves by using thought-out responses. We can lessen our own suffering and enhance our level of health. We will build better relationships, and all will benefit. After all, the presence or absence of a split second can create pain and suffering or positive relationships and inner harmony that lasts a lifetime! It is in our hands.