Willpower and feelings

In which downward dog is no longer my friend.

I haven’t done yoga in a while, or much of anything for exercise. I seem to be rather immunocompromised. As far as my body is concerned, anything over a twenty minute brisk walk inevitably ends up with me holed up with some sort of unseemly virus.

My friend/yoga instructor/beachbody coach tells me that I’m in a restorative season where my body needs rest. My doctor wholeheartedly agrees. After your mind and body are put through a prolonged period of trying to survive, your body tends to crash for a while. Bodies need time to regroup and restore themselves so they are able to handle the added stress of exercise.

My body doesn’t seem to know about the part where it’s supposed to recover enough that I can feel like something other than a lazy slug.

My mind doesn’t seem to know about the part where we should listen to the wise people and not push our luck.

On account of this, my mind and body naturally decided that we should once again try an online yoga course. I figured it was going to be nice and easy with lots of relaxing and breathing and kind things because it was posted as a “beginner class.”

Oh my goodness I almost died.

Forty five minutes into this “beginner class” of ALL the positions, I was berating my laptop for deceiving me and leading me down this dark path of horrible posturing.

But I pushed through! I gritted my teeth and uttered the occasional profanity and I completed that video!

Willpower can be a wonderful thing. Self control can push you through wearisome sun salutations and distressing feelings.

However! Willpower and discipline and self control are not the same as healing.

See where I’m going with this? It’s like a continuation from the last blog. Pretty slick huh?!

Anyway, here is my take away…

Willpower can help us move through a difficult moment. When we are confronted with distressing feelings we can draw strength from our willpower and self control to push through the moment.  We can use our willpower to stay engaged, to stay in the moment and get though it.

With willpower you don’t have to look at the difficult, scary feeling. It’s like muscle. You power through the feeling until it’s gone. Maybe you’ve seen this in yourself or in others. You power through your grief by keeping yourself really busy. You push through your anger by doing a ten mile run uphill both ways. You use your willpower to go into that tense meeting with your partner and talk about why you need to leave, or why you need to set boundaries around yourself so you can stay.

Pushing through the feeling is like an anaesthetic. A momentary coping strategy to move us through that hard thing and get us onto the next thing that doesn’t require so much mental or emotional effort.

But that’s not where healing happens.

At a recent session with our psychologist, she told us that that first huge overwhelming burst of a feeling lasts only 90 seconds. Which seems crazy. But it’s weirdly true. Like, we timed it true.

Once the difficult moment is over that we use our willpower or self control to get through, we need to go back and feel the feelings behind the difficult moment, because it’s in feeling the feelings that the healing happens

Try it sometime. The next time you have to push through a difficult moment, instead of moving on with your day, take a few minutes to yourself. Take a few minutes to just stop and feel the feelings. It seems scary but it’s so amazing! Instead of carrying around those yucky feelings and having them affect your thoughts and behaviour for the rest of your day, something else happens.

You are released.

Your unpleasant feelings pass. The anger abates. The grief softens and becomes easier to bear. The embarrassment fades away.

Your heart begins to heal. You are able to process what happened with your mind. And your spirit lets go of the weight you’ve been carrying.

I wish you well in all your healing, and all your sweaty endeavours.


Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

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