All feelings are real
Feelings are real. And feelings have a real, physical impact on us.
It fascinates me that while people suffering from dementia may not be able to remember what just happened, they are able to remember the way what just happened made them feel. The emotions of an event – whether it pleased or angered the person – linger, sometimes for hours, although the memory of the event may not “stick” even for a minute.
This real-life proof of Maya Angelou’s famous statement,
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
is not true just for people with dementia. Even for those of us without memory issues, feelings “stick” with us even as memories fade.
A dementia expert taught me that this is because memories are stored in the part of the brain that is ravaged by dementia – the hippocampus in the temporal lobe. Feelings, however, are stored separately from memory in the amygdala, which is not touched by the disease.
Years of yoga and mindfulness practice have taught me that emotions are also stored in the body. A chronically tight neck, a sore left hip, and even the way we sit in our chairs are patterns that can be caused by significant emotional events including stress, trauma, and grief.
Even more importantly, my practices have proven to me that all the emotions a person feels are real and worthy of honor. In short, feelings are part of us inside and out.
Feelings affect us physically
So how do feelings, negative or positive, affect us physically? Interestingly, it’s the feelings that we don’t feel, the ones we repress or “stuff,” that cause the most havoc. Unfelt feelings can actually make us sick.
According to an article out of the University of Minnesota, unprocessed feelings damage the immune system. Poorly managed or repressed anger can lead to hypertension, cardiovascular disease, digestive disorders, and even infection. To borrow an expression from my kids, “feeling all the feels” can keep us healthy!
What does experiencing a feeling look like?
Now feeling our feelings doesn’t mean we have to act on them – not immediately, at least. It just means we need to experience them. We need to notice their sensations – the cold chill of worry, the hiccup in your heartbeat caused by joy, the warm blush of kindness, the constriction of sorrow.
We also need to notice the impulses our feelings bring up in us. Fear can be accompanied by a twitchy urge to hide or run. Excitement can be partnered with a surge of physical energy or desire to move. Grief can leave us physically curled in on ourselves.
Mindfulness and feelings
Mindfulness practices such as yoga and meditation are extremely helpful in teaching us to recognize our feelings as we have them. Centering prayer, another mindfulness practice, even has a specific technique that invites us to welcome our feelings without judgment or even analysis.
We learn with practice that no feeling is good or bad. They simply are. Accepting that we are experiencing emotions is the first step toward allowing our feelings to flow through us. And this is the key. When we experience our emotions freely – without judgment or attachment – they will flow fluidly through us without impacting our health.
A mindfulness practice can also reveal when feelings are not flowing through us. In other words when we feel stuck. Noticing a pattern like this – when anxiety, sadness, or even just a sense of flatness is not ebbing or flowing – can be an indication that it’s time to ask for some help.
Accepting our feelings is good for everyone around us
Our acceptance of our emotions doesn’t just help us stay healthy. When we allow an emotion to pass through us, we are left with the spaciousness and freedom to determine if the event or circumstance that led to the feeling requires a response. When we mindfully respond, rather than emotionally react, to a situation we have a better chance of positively impacting the world around us.
I invite you to allow yourself the freedom to be emotional. Your feelings are a part of how you respond to life. While you may not choose to act on every feeling you feel, giving yourself the space to feel them can keep you healthy. Letting your feelings flow through you leaves you free to receive and to respond to each moment as it comes.
Go ahead. Feel all the feels.