Title: Yoga for Emotional Balance
Author: Bo Forbes
Release date: March 8, 2011
Genre: Self help; health
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Bo Forbes, a longtime therapist and also a yoga practitioner, struggled with the disconnect she saw between the physical and emotional therapy worlds. Often, she says, “we can feel, rather than think, the emotional experiences that heal us.” Instead of just talking through emotional patterns, she began introducing breathwork and restorative yoga poses into her clients’ therapy plans.
This was a time before the emotionally healing benefits of yoga truly took hold in Western society, and Forbes was amazed by the transformation she saw in her patients. Rather than repeating the same mental “stories” over and over in therapy sessions, her patients began to address—and overcome—their negative emotional patterns by physically incorporating emotional balance.
Restorative yoga is based on the idea that the mind and the body speak to each other more often when we think. It combines the physical motions of yoga with the mental workout of meditation, thereby embodying the emotional healing process.
As Forbes explains (in various parts of the book),
Restorative Yoga helps you develop many of the characteristics of emotional balance, such as the ability to experience emotions without overreacting to them, and the capacity to recover from strong emotions when they occur.
We can feel how emotions ebb and flow—how they really are short-lived, passing states of awareness. With even a brief interlude of not being anxious or depressed, we can begin to suspect that anxiety and depression are not who we are; they are just powerful emotional patterns that draw us in.
By bringing direct experience into the body, we feel the ebb and flow of mental life and the fluctuations of physical existence at the same time. We help the mind learn to be, rather than simply to think.
Forbes presents the medical explanations for why yoga has such an astounding effect on our health, and she introduces five ways to transform one’s emotional patterns: calming the nervous system; regulating the breath; connecting with direct experience; quieting the mind; and changing the narratives you tell yourself that reflect your self-concept and world view.
She then outlines the differences between those who suffer anxiety, depression, or some blend of both. According to the kind of anxiety-depression afflicting you—and this can change as your emotional patterns change—Forbes then recommends restorative poses that will help calm or reinvigorate your nervous system.
I’ve been interested in restorative yoga even before I knew what to call it. Though I enjoy a vigorous, physically challenging yoga practice, I also have a special affinity for deep, relaxing poses that allow me to work out the tension in my mind as well as my body.
The first time I tried a restorative yoga class, I was a little intimidated by the teacher’s frank discussion of emotions, and the new-agey darkened room and softly playing music seemed a bit much. As I eased into a bound, supported face-up pose, I felt… nothing. In fact, I was a little bored. But as my muscles slowly relaxed, I felt intense irritation as my spine adjusted to the pose. I wanted desperately to get up and move, but the teacher, speaking in a low voice, encouraged me to stay in the pose as long as I was not in serious pain. My back ached terribly, and I was about to give up when something funny happened—my back lost its constant tension, and my spine felt more aligned than it had in a long time. In addition, I felt like I had fought a mental battle—and won.
I’ve since become an avid fan of restorative yoga. As a chronic sufferer of anxiety and depression, yoga is the best non-medicinal preventative activity I’ve tried. I just feel better after practicing, but until now, I’ve never been able to explain why.
Forbes brings decades of her therapy experience in contact with centuries of ancient yoga practices. Her medical training gives her a unique view of the physical and emotional benefits of practicing yoga. I learned a lot about the neurological processes that occur when one suffers from depression or anxiety, and it made sense when Forbes explained how yoga allows us to confront our emotional patterns by situating our experiences not in our mind—where we would normally revert to our old, established grooves—but in the body, allowing us to face our issues without feeling forced or mentally threatened.
That’s not to say that yoga therapy is easy. On the contrary, “yoga doesn’t erase difficulty; it illuminates it,” Forbes explains. She insists that the solution to depression and anxiety is stripping away the persona—the outer self we create that is safe to show to others—and discovering the true root of who we are, and why we react the way we do.
Shielding yourself from fully experiencing emotions “starts out as a protective mechanism,” Forbes explains. Our bodies may feel pain or discomfort, so we develop ways to shield ourselves to escape the brunt of the pain. This, Forbes says, is when “we try to ‘leave’ the body, to dissociate. We draw our awareness right out of the body and focus it elsewhere.”
She elaborates on this escape mechanism, and how yoga can re-calibrate our views of ourselves:
We experience how disapproval, potential rejection, and even abandonment come when we disappoint others. So many of us relinquish our self-trust and creativity little by little in favor of the drive to be good. . . Yet, in yoga, there’s no such thing as a “good” practice or a “bad” one. Practice simply means to put something into action and do it frequently.
So much of our anxiety and depression worsens because we live either in the happier days of the past, or the limitless days of the future.
In C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape explains that tempting his patients to look into the past brings limited results; the patients will experience nostalgia and wish for the good ol’ days. Looking to the future is even better, since its possibilities are limitless. As Screwtape explains: “Nearly all vices are rooted in the future. Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead.”
When we dwell on the future in a negative way, we “rehearse” anxiety. We create more of it. In depression, awareness gets stuck in the quicksand of the past more often than it stays centered in the present.
Instead, we must learn to live in the present—a central tenet of yoga.
Like many others who feel emotionally off-kilter in some way, I’m always surprised to hear that I’m not as alone as I feel. Forbes states that the World Health Organization expects depression to be the biggest health problem on our planet by the year 2030.
I’d like to know whether advocates of nasal breathing have a solution for those who suffer chronic allergies or nasal damage; Forbes emphasizes the benefits of nasal breathing, but it’s really impossible for me to do.
Beyond that, however, I truly enjoyed this book. It illuminates the often murky world of emotional imbalance, while also offering simple, no-equipment-required solutions. This review could’ve been a lot longer; I underlined and bookmarked countless passages. I would recommend this to anyone interested in a medicine-free way to ease stress and develop healthy emotional patterns.
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