If I do not metabolize my experiences, my system becomes congested, lethargic and grumpy. Sound familiar?
noun: The sum of the physical and chemical process in an organism by which its material substance is produced, maintained and destroyed, and by which energy is made available.
Emotional Metabolism & Self Care
We know that emotions impact the body because they often manifest physically through tears, digestive upset and wacky immune responses. So if emotional stress and trauma involve the body, it makes perfect sense that you must consider the body in healing.
Firstly, through breath.
Releasing stored emotion is a physical and chemical process. Through mindful movement we are making chemical change through the stimulation of organs and glands involved in metabolism. Because the breath is a great access point between the inner environment of the body and the outer world we live in, there is a communication between the two. Did you know that the cycle of breath is more than a life sustaining exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide? The breath also aids in the body’s balance of acidity, which must be kept within a certain range to maintain life. When we move our bodies, we ‘disturb’ this balance, and the breath is part of correcting it. Physical movement helps to dislodge and metabolize past experience, the breath is essential in releasing the toxic aspects so that they can no longer poison the system.
Emotional toxicity can feel as euphoric OR as poisonous as physical toxicity. When you remove the toxin, you experience greater energy and space.
I believe that all experience contains both essential nutrients and waste that need managing, and we all go through periods of build up and release.
Ever been “high on life”? Many classify this as a positive thing, but yoga teaches that the high is more problematic than the low. It risks preference and possible addiction to an unsustainable state. By extracting the “nutrients” from difficult experience, we gain greater appreciation for the process over instant gratification and begin to build a framework for the rewards of taking the long way ’round.
In yoga, sometimes anger and frustration arise during practice. This friction is what we call tapas in yoga philosophy and it speeds up the process of emotional metabolism. It’s the reason you sometimes feel different emotions rising up during class, and it’s essential for the metabolic process.
There is a passage in the Upanishads (texts of yoga philosophy), that states: “everyone sees his sport but himself, no one ever sees. One must not wake the sleeping person suddenly.” I interpret this to say that yoga strives to gently awaken the soul through a slow and methodical cleansing of emotional toxicity. Without respect to the pace, we risk throwing the system into crisis, and now the cure becomes the cause for distress.
This concept has been in the forefront of my practice lately, as I recognize times when I am unable to censor my reactiveness to the small stuff. I have not been metabolizing my experiences, which thankfully triggers my return to practice. This passage also reminds me that a true yoga instructor must have some grasp on the mechanism of yoga that fertilizes the soil for personal development. Each practice and each student, will have a different formula for optimal metabolism, and it takes some amount of experience and humility to mentor a student towards their wellness.
Many students will abandon the practice upon their first brush with tapas because in a world of serial pleasure seeking, the friction is so foreign it feels frightening and wrong.
Yet without the friction, we cannot metabolize old experiences that are blocking up and weighing down our physiology. In the absence of reassurance and encouragement, important practices may be abandoned, and emotional metabolism arrested.
Food poisoning means that your body must eliminate a toxin as soon as it is detected; we know that this will involve vomiting and or diarrhea. Neither of which are pleasant, but avoiding it can mean something much more harmful (can you avoid it, really?) Knowing this, we still tend to avoid purging emotional buildup, and when we do engage, we run at the first sign of discomfort. Yoga teaches the practitioner to find comfort in the uncomfortable. It does this through the body, but it’s the mind that learns the deeper lesson through the body’s intelligence.
Our bodies have a wisdom to share that the mind may never fully grasp. By mindfully engaging in practices that promote emotional metabolism, we strengthen our emotional capacity and clear up space for new experiences. I believe we are metabolizing emotions that may go back farther than we can remember, and the beauty is that it can be done through the cells without always having to relive any specific moments. The more we metabolize, the more efficient our systems become at metabolizing.
Have you ever indulged in your favourite treat while heavily involved in another task only realize once it’s too late and the treat is gone, that you gained absolutely no pleasure from it? If we are not present through the process, the craving cannot be satiated and we immediately reach for more.
To be truly efficient, one cannot multi-task emotional metabolism. Self care is a process that demands one’s full attention, otherwise there is nothing caring about it.