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Holding the tension of our own emotion

Updated: Jan 22, 2023

I recently went through a 40 hour Yin yoga training. Within this training there was an ideology of holding the tension that was a main focus. Within yin yoga practice itself this is something we are doing both physically, and mentally while holding our bodies in the postures. This whole idea is something that I have found truly transformational, and even despite its raw and challenging circumstances, it is something that deeply feels like it wants to be shared.

During the run up to the course starting, unfortunately my Grandad ended up in hospital with a broken hip after falling during an icy patch in the weather. While in the hospital, he ended up catching covid not long before he was due to be released. It was around about the time of him catching covid that this course began.

For me, I find it hard to tap into emotions and feelings that arise in general, never mind as they arise. I tend to just feel inherently numb, for a long period of time, which goes way way past the event or experience that happened. Bottling everything up, not specifically by choice I was aware i was doing, but as a sort of subconscious coping mechanism. I’ll not exactly help myself out in time like this, i’ll find more ways to aid in the numbing process by busying myself with work, hiding in projects, binge watching shows or even just by scrolling through social media. All until whatever that needs to be dealt with, is “forgotten” and embodied for god knows how long.

For those of you reading who may have practised yoga for a while, you may be aware that when practising, we begin to create space within the body and energy begins to flow more freely. Trapped emotions can begin to show their face and start their “releasing process” as i’ll call it for now. This can be especially potent when spending lots of time in training’s and learning new aspects of yoga, new philosophies and practices that you can sink your teeth into and try to embody. Something I just want to highlight before you continue to read on.

Dealing with this “numbing” is something I’ve worked on for a couple of years through mindfulness, yoga, meditation and by learning to observe my mind and the thoughts and feelings that arise, as they arise, instead of shuffling them down deeper.

At the start of the training, our first meeting online was where we were introduced to “holding the tension”. Becoming aware of when tension arises within our body, and our lives as a whole. To me, tension is also discomfort, that thing you really don’t want to do even though you know you should, for example, having the awkward conversation instead of staying quiet or being blissfully ignorant, admitting when you’ve made a mistake instead of trying to cover it up, or even just staying in the pose that little bit longer instead of backing out to your comfort zone.

The real alchemy me for was when it came to emotion. As I mentioned, I’ve never been good with this stuff. Bringing awareness into tension and holding onto it, digging into it, sitting with it and questioning it was a completely new and what seemed a pretty radical approach. Compared to my usual way of going about things anyway.

I cut back on the classes I was teaching and made more time for myself to sit with this new perspective and try to allow it to sink in and learn all the new content. While this whole process was going on, my Grandad had been released from hospital after been given the all clear, leading to a lessened anxiety and sense of release over the whole scenario, he was still unwell and had his new hip to deal with, but he was out of hospital and back home.

In this time, with holding the tension in mind, i’d been doing cold exposure and having cold showers, building up the time week by week. One thing id noticed during these exposures that the only thing that makes the cold bearable was becoming completely present and accepting of the fact that, yep, guess what, you’re pretty fucking cold, but you’ll be fine, just breathe through it and accept it. Trying to think of different things and distract yourself from the cold, doesn’t work, at least not for me.

On the last weekend of the training, a couple hours before our last online get together on the Friday, my Grandad ended up back in hospital after having a covid relapse, we were pretty much told he only had a couple of hours left, and on that Sunday, he very sadly passed away.

Well, shit. Now what. All signs told me to stop. I had to stop teaching and allow for my practices to see me through and help deal with it all instead of continuing to battle on and numb and distract myself in various ways.

I fully expected when this happened that just like before, id be numb. That I wouldn’t be able to make space for anything to come up and it would instead sink down and become sticky and bitter, making me the complete opposite of present and instead lost in the abyss of my rushing thoughts in complete ignorance of the world and everything else.

The morning after we had heard the news, I continued on with my usual routine in the morning and then went on to the cold shower. Nope. Not today. The amount of resistance I encountered before even turning the shower on was monumental, it was like id grown roots and was unable to move from the spot. This type of resistance for me came under this broad spectrum of tension at the time, and something I needed to sit with, or, in this case, stand in and be present for.

It had almost became something to look forward to, that feeling afterwards of showing up for myself even through the discomfort of the freezing cold. The cold felt different that day. There was complete presence and no distraction, yet the cold droplets of water and the drop in my body temperature felt like ice running through my veins. This was like a complete overload of emotion.

I can honestly say that this was something I’ve never experienced. The combination of my mindfulness practices, awareness of thoughts and on top of that, being able to hold the tension allowed me to actually be able to feel this first layer of grief. Not 2 weeks down the line. Not 6 months or a year later, but right in the moment as the cold water chilled me to the bone. This, despite the extremely sad circumstances around it all, was something as i said before, that I’ve been working towards for a while. Being able to be present with whats going on instead of stuck in that white static and numbness of my busy little mind.

Being able to be present for the good times just as much the sad times is important. I’ve spent far too many days, weeks, maybe even months cumulatively, lost in the space of my mind and thoughts.

With this ideology still being very fresh for myself, I already find it quite hard to express how important this has become for me. With all being said in this post it was a rather difficult thing to write as fresh at it is. Never mind to try and conclude. Life continues to spin on, leaving me extremely thankful for the times me and my family have had with my Grandad, and thankful to also of had someone in our lives who was worthy of so much grief.

The only thing i’d like anyone to take away from this, is this ideology of withholding the tension. Where does tension appear in your life? Can you sit with it? Can you dig deeper into it? Will you continue to brush it under the carpet?

Within yoga, Svadhyaya, the fourth Niyama of Patanjali’s yoga sutras, is the study of the self. I also invite you to spend a little bit of time looking at whats going on underneath the surface.

Building awareness within ourselves and finding ways to be present can create the foundational building blocks for positive change.

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