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Emotional Yoga

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I have a friend who can go from the 'bird of paradise' yoga position into a 'firefly' and then easily slip into the 'crow' as she happily chats about her day. But ask her to take a different route to work and a sensation of horror envelops her entire existence! When we talk about being 'flexible' it doesn't only refer to our ability to move joints or muscles to naturally surpass the range of motions we think our bodies are capable of. In other words, this suppleness refers not only to physical attributes, but also mental and emotional traits.

All-embracing flexibility means that we let go of resistance, obsessive control, ridged perceptions, stereotypes, generalizations, dogmatic thinking and instead learn to embrace new experiences, eliminate certain behaviors, revisit old thought patterns and not be so guarded to change.

Of course it's easier said than done, especially for those inflexible souls who have happily cruised through life not wanting to modify anything for fears of inviting unpredictability and instability into their world. These people are terrified of what is different and tend to stay safe not only in their actions and behaviors, but also in regard to their beliefs, opinions and judgments. They go to great lengths to set up their lives so that it makes sense to them, they have full control, and leave little to no room for novel adventures or spontaneity. Needless to say, relationships with these folks can sometimes feel like boot camp because of their ridged ways.

'A new restaurant? Why? What's wrong with the one we've been going to for the last 20 years?' 'Visit a new country? Why would we want to go to some unfamiliar foreign land where we could get sick, lost, robbed and have a miserable time?' Sound familiar? I'm sure at some point or another we have come across these taut types and interacting with them isn't easy.

You see we all have our likes and dislikes and don't necessarily need to endlessly try different things to be referred to as emotionally adaptable. However what separates us from the inflexible people is that our frame around growth, development, change and novel experiences is far more elastic than those who are overly ridged and remain set in their ways.

So how might these people learn to become more flexible? The same way we stretch and practice certain physical movements to become more limber and agile. By stretching their perceptions, cognitively wondering into unchartered territories and welcoming new ways of doing things. Ouch.

A good starting point is to learn to carry a metaphoric yoga mat around so that if a situation requires, we symbolically lay it down in our minds and allow our emotions to enjoy a new perspective. Other steps you can take include:

• Evaluate your life and assess areas in which you seem to be most ridged
• Think about alternatives that might be better
• Try some of those alternatives
• Be more open to new ideas and activities
• Monitor your knee jerk reactions such as assumptions and biases - could they be incorrect?
• Release your habitual activities
• Avoid being trapped by familiar factors
• Learn to adjust to situations
• Consider the needs and desires of loved ones
• Your way may not always be the right way
• Listen to the viewpoints of others instead of constantly interrupting them
• Agree to disagree
• Gracefully accept being wrong or making mistakes
• Ask yourself, 'what's the worst that can happen if I try it?'
• Once you have tried something new and decided that you don't like it, you can always go back to the way your used to do things

We can train our mind's to develop a more effective repertoire of behaviors in order to become more flexible, leading to greater psychological well being, ability to adapt to different situations and stronger to respond to life's many ups and downs. Going back to my friend, I was finally able to convince her to try the new route and after much resistance and nagging she's delighted that she's now found a faster less congested way to work. Emotion is motion with an e so the more open and flexible we are to these inevitable movements, the more psychologically healthy we will be.

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