In a previous article I talked about the bad days, and how it’s important to accept that they will come. (You can find it here).
I concluded with a sentence that you’ve probably heard already, one of those things Yoga teachers say: “Sit with it”.
But what does it mean really?
To sit with it means giving your full attention to that feeling.
THE NATURAL REACTION TO UNPLEASANT SENSATIONS
Here is something I used to -and sometimes still- do when I’m feeling angry, sad, anxious, or any other of the feelings I don’t really enjoy: I numbed myself.
I engaged in any possible activity that would distract me, make me forget about the unpleasantness.
My number one “go to” choices would be mindless scrolling through social media and watching the most random YouTube videos.
While this is totally understandable, since we are wired to avoid unpleasant things, it’s also a bad choice.
WHY IT’S NOT A LONG-TERM GOOD CHOICE
From a sort of poetical point of view, certain things want and need
to be heard.
That’s the only thing that matters for them, doesn’t matter how long it’s going to take.
They’re very patient, and they can wait for a very long time.
That anger that is not socially acceptable to display will wait in your stomach as gastritis.
The burden of not asking for help will fall on top of your whole body as chronic fatigue, the stress of the job you hate will wait in the muscles of your neck and shoulders.
Ignoring the situations that make us uncomfortable doesn’t make them disappear, it just moves them from one part of our body to another one.
THE SCIENTIFIC EXPLANATION
And here is also the scientific explanation: these sorts of feelings (anger, anxiety and so on) are interpreted by our brain as threats. Every time it perceives a threat, your body sets on a whole wonderful and impressive mechanism to protect you, the “fight, flight or freeze” response.
Whichever of these options is gonna start a waterfall of reactions in your whole body, very physical reactions.
DAILY LIFE EXAMPLES
For example, if you’re at work and a colleague says something offensive that makes you angry, your nervous system is going to fire up, let’s say, with a fight response.
A lot of stress hormones are going to flood your body, your muscles will tensen up to prepare you for the fight, your digestive system will be blocked to save energy.
But the colleague is your superior, and you don’t say anything, don’t do anything.
You swallow it and push it out of your mind.
Meanwhile, though, your muscles are tense, your stomach got stopped in the middle of things and you’re full of hormones that are supposed to be expelled from your body.
Moreover, your nervous system didn’t get any real confirmation that the threat is over, since you didn’t fight nor flight.
To be sure then, just in case the threat might still be around, it’s gonna keep on pumping stress hormones through you.
It’s gonna take quite a while for your whole system to go back to normal.
If this happens time and time again, you see how your digestion will certainly suffer, how for your muscles it will be more and more difficult to go back to relaxation.
So, going back to our starting point, to sit with means not to push your anger only out of your mind, but to let it have its course.
BUT HOW DO YOU DO THAT?
I’m not suggesting you engage in a physical fight with your colleague, but definitely a fight of sort.
And it might look very different, and much easier, than you think.
For example you could, very politely, express your point of view.
A good conversation in which you discuss your differences would give you the feeling you’ve taken action to protect yourself, and your NS (nervous system) would start to give the signals the threat is over.
If “fighting” is not an option, flight could be the alternative: you could go for a short run in the company’s courtyard, or run up and down the stairs a few times.
That would serve the double function of:
Giving your NS the signal that you’ve run away from the threat, so that stress hormones would stop being released and your whole system could go back to normal
It would help your body to expel said hormones that, while extremely useful in the short term, shouldn’t linger within your body for too long
And in case of sadness, what would it mean for you to “sit with it”?
Take a moment to think about it.
List in your mind at least one thing you could do to let your sadness run its course without being ignored.
Here is what I have done:
One day I was in the middle of a practice, and started feeling a very intense pain in the back of my thighs. In a matter of minutes it grew so intense that I couldn’t stand, I couldn't sit, I couldn't lie down. There was not a single position in which the pain wouldn’t be excruciating. It’s an old injury that I didn’t allow to heal properly, and now, from time to time, it’s back.
Besides the pain, I was overwhelmed also by anger, “why me?”, guilt, “why didn’t I let it heal properly?”, unworthiness, “doing my best for my body got me here, my best sucks”.
It was overwhelming.
But it was definitely time to sit with it, and my body wouldn’t allow me to do otherwise, literally, cause i couldn’t move.
So I just stayed there, curled up on the floor, crying.
I started crying and I cried for an hour and twenty minutes.
I cried out so many things that had nothing to do with my physical pain of that moment.
And then, at a certain point, I just stopped.
I didn’t have anything left to cry.
My leg was still a bit tense, but most of the pain was gone.
I thought this was a very theatrical sentence to finish with, but i have one last thing to say.
To “sit with it” means allowing the emotion to take over your body, to feel it all without pushing it out of your mind with any sort of distraction, allowing your body to do its thing. Because, if the mind can get out of the way, your body always knows what to do.