There are some moments in life that take our breath away. Unfortunately, not all those moments are of the “I’m so happy” kind.
Sometimes, the breath leaves the body and in its wake arrives all of the emotions we spend so much time trying to avoid.
Pop quiz: When you get emotionally sucker-punched it’s difficult not to
a. Become extremely upset
b. Deny what’s happening
c. Get angry
d. All of the above
Just like SAT questions, D is usually the common answer. Think back to the last time you were blindsided with a negative situation, a loss of a loved one or pet, or news you didn’t expect. It likely happened so fast you didn’t see the car crash — only heard the crunch of metal right before you felt its impact.
Shock feels like nothing and everything at the same time. Nothing, because there’s a distinct urge to want to feel emotions before they arrive. Many people describe shock as feeling guilty for feeling nothing.
The problem is, you’re feeling everything and the result is that no one emotion can take precedence so it feels like nothing is happening.
But everything is happening when you go into shock.
Emotional shock results first in surprise and even delusion (Is this really happening?). When you’re shocked, you reflexively hold your breath as if bracing for impact.
Emotional shock is not that different from medical shock. In medical shock, the oxygen supply becomes scarce for vital organs and blood flow is inadequate, leading to damage to the cardiovascular system and even death.
“Just as the body goes into shock after a physical trauma, so does the human psyche go into shock after the impact of a major loss.” —Anne Grant, poet
In both cases, emotional or physical, it can feel like you’re not truly alive. This is why I consider shock to be life’s most dangerous emotion. If not dealt with, it can lead to lifelessness.
I should have seen it coming.
It was 2010 and my bare feet sandwiched tiny rocks into the cement sidewalk. I crossed my arms in a tight hug to stop my chest from heaving. My relationship was ending, and while I felt the inevitability of it all, I still couldn’t believe it was happening.
To say I was in shock is an understatement.
In the bright sunshine, I grew numb watching the car drive off. “If you leave, I’ll get depressed!” I had foolishly tossed the words out in a desperate and crazy and completely ineffective effort to make someone stay. It was my pain speaking. Don’t leave me, my pain told me. You don’t know life without me.
About a month later, I was attending the Yoga Journal Conference in Estes Park, Colo. In a session about pranayama (breathwork), ParaYoga creator Rod Stryker said,
“If you’re discovering resistance, relax into it. You can’t force through. You either go mad, or you relax.”
It hit me: When I carelessly tossed out my “threat” a month prior, I went mad — at least temporarily. I was applying the only force I knew, my emotions, to try to control an uncontrollable situation.
What would that day and the following weeks have been like had I opened the door, let the relationship walk out and waved goodbye? Because that was what was happening; I just refused to accept it.
Recovering from the pain of shock
We read or hear about shocking, devastating things happening to people every day, but we don’t feel the full impact until it happens to us. Suddenly, the rest of the world fades away. Our perspective becomes completely and totally our own, and we unknowingly put blinders on.
This is how most people live all the time.
One of the greatest blessings about practicing yoga is that your blinders come off. Suddenly, you realize you’re not the only one who has felt this way. This is wonderful if you often feel alone in your troubles.
What doing yoga is not good for: ignoring your problems. The practice digs all the shock and pain up from the depths of our bodies where they’re buried. It’s not uncommon to feel angry in Fire Log Pose (Agnistambasana) or tearful in Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana).
To recover from the pain of shock, you have to scout it in your body. You have to go into the physical places that feel inflexible and flat-out hurt. You have to intimately get to know the pain — it’s size, shape, color, odor. You have to let yoga pry open the door so the pain can walk out.
This is not easy work. It may even be work you don’t realize you need to do.
The longer you ignore the pain, however, the longer you will live in pain. Shock may fade, but its residue is sticky. In order to feel well again, you have to get scrubbing.
You have to say goodbye to those old hurts in order to say hello to a happier you.
6 ways to release emotional pain
The most important time to deal with emotional pain is immediately after it happens. Your actions at that moment determine if a fight or negative conversation will fester, or if you can begin to move it out of your awareness, like an ocean wave breaking on the sand and releasing its pent-up tide.
A regular yoga practice will help you recover faster as you move through life’s emotional ups and downs because you’ll already know deep down: everything is going to be okay.
But that doesn’t mean the waves stop crashing. So the next time you get caught unaware, try these six actions to begin to release the hurt sooner than later.
1. Take a warm shower.
Imagine the stress of the situation washing away with the water, escaping down the drain never to be seen again.
2. List everything you’re grateful for.
When one thing goes awry in your life, don’t lose sight of everything you do have. In The Secret: The Power, Rhonda Byrne recommends spending 10 minutes each day listing everything you’re grateful for — from the obvious to the obscure.
Try this technique I learned two years ago from Rod: Imagine a violinist playing one long note beyond what the length of the bow can create. She gently draws the bow back and forth over the strings, and the note continues with no break during the transition. Mimic this with your inhales and exhales by moving the diaphragm at a consistent speed. Try 10 rounds, releasing the hurt from your body on each exhale and replenishing with gratitude on your inhale.
4. Spend time with a pet.
Animals know when we’re in distress. Pet your dog, cuddle your cat — heck, even talk to your fish. They get it. Let them help you take the pain away.
5. Talk it out.
Seek out an impartial family member or friend who can simply listen to you without trying to fix or change how you feel. This is often difficult to find, so…
6. Write it out.
Type or grab a pen and let it all out like no one’s reading. Because they won’t. This is your sacred place to vent.
7. Do uttanasana (demonstrated below) or child’s pose.
Breathe deeply into the back body and exhale your hurt down through the fingers and palms, releasing it into the ground.
Try this: Uttanasana, Standing Forward Bend
When things get tough, firm up your footing and surrender your emotions into the earth. It’s good to get grounded when you’re in shock, plus this forward fold will bring blood back to your head to help you think clearly.
This forward bend is simple. All you need is to activate your legs and release your upper body to the ground. If your hamstrings are tight, bend your knees significantly to feel your lower back release, rather than round.
- Stand tall and step your feet hip distance, or two fists distance, apart. Active the legs by pulling up the knee caps, lifting and spreading the toes back down and energetically feeling your thighs spiral inward.
- Exhaling, bend the knees and drop your chest to your thighs, letting your arms hang loose. Rock your weight into the balls of your feet.
- Inhale and gently lift your chest away from the thighs, then exhale and sink deeper, tilting your tailbone up and lifting the thighs into the hip creases.
- Begin to straighten the legs without locking the joints. Or stay with bent knees, depending on how open your hamstrings and lower back feel. Release the neck completely. Let the arms hang and imagine any negative emotions dripping off you like water and absorbing into the ground.
- Keep your legs active and your upper body soft as you breathe deeply for 6 or more breaths. Feel free to close your eyes.
- To come out, place your hands on your hips, elbows facing the ceiling. Roll one vertebra at a time to standing. Keep the chin gently tucked to avoid getting dizzy.