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Responding to Emotional Triggers ~ Action -vs- Reaction

Updated: Dec 19, 2019

While in the state of deep emotion, our body engages the autonomic nervous system (ANS) which is made up of two parts. While in a negative emotional state, The sympathetic system (SNS) puts our body on alert and engages the fight or flight response. While in positive emotional states the parasympathetic nervous system (PsNS) , rest and digest, engages. We need to keep both in balance. When we get stuck in the SNS, the physical reaction of the body is a constant state of stress. This stress causes the immune system to work to exhaustion creating conditions where dis-ease can take root. Learning how to navigate our emotions, puts us in control of them, rather than letting our emotions control us.


Let’s examine how we manage our response


Action is not always a well thought process. Sometimes we are called into action by an event or circumstances. This may bring forth many emotions. Reaction is how we deal with those specific emotions in response to the circumstance.


For example, You’ve take a first aide class and now you are trained on what action to take in an emergency. But what if the emergency involves a loved one? It can be difficult to avoid letting your emotions take over and disrupt the course of action needed.


Action is purposeful intention in a physical way.

Reaction is how we carry out the action or intention as governed by our emotions.


For example, Imagine someone lied to you. You are angry and react by punching a wall. The physical objects of this anger are the wall and your fist. You know that this reaction is a poor choice. You can justify it and say it was the heat of the moment “I was mad and it just happened “. But now you have just fed that negative emotion. You now have the belief that, not only did that other person lie, now they caused you to be physically hurt. Except, the last part is not true. You caused you to be hurt.


Re-Action can in fact be a well thought process. Yoga Nidra is an extremely valuable tool to help us stay in control of our emotions and not let our emotions be in control of us.

After the physical relaxation, or rotation of consciousness as we call it in Yoga Nidra, there is a part of the practice that looks at dualities. First in the physical level such as hot/cold or heavy/light. Next we examine mental dualities such as on-time/late or easy/hard. And then we explore emotion dualities such as peaceful/anxious or content/jealous.


First the positive emotion/feeling is offered where we explore how that emotion feels in our body, and look specifically to where we feel that emotion as well as any visceral connections to it. Next, we set that aside and the negative emotion is introduced. I may ask students to think of a memory when that emotion was present. Then, extract just the sensations for that experience, letting the memory go. Students are guided to move awareness between the two emotions, positive and negative.


By becoming the observer, rather than the participant in the emotion we have a different view point. We are no longer inside the emotion, however, the emotion is still present. In doing so we are able to take control and predetermine a response the next time the negative emotion presents.


Emotions can have very serious influence on our health and well-being. If you are struggling with a particular emotion, try this exercise. It can help you to neutralize negative emotional triggers.


Exercise


Take a few minutes to relax your body and mind.


Choose a negative emotion that you want to explore and name its positive opposite.

(ie Happy/Sad - Joy/Grief)


  • Consider the positive emotion first.

  • Call to mind a time when you experienced this emotion.

  • Just for a moment, be in that memory and extract all of the sensations involved.

  • Then, let go of the memory but hold the sensations.

  • Ask yourself, Where in my body do I feel (happy, joy,...) ?

  • How does this register for me? Do I feel it in my face? My feet?

  • Is there a sound, or a smell associated with this emotion?

  • Allow yourself to explore deeply the visceral connections between the emotion and your body.

  • Next, step back from the positive emotion, release the sensations, putting it to the edge of your awareness.


Take a few breaths to bring yourself back to neutral.


  • Now, consider the opposite negative emotion.

  • Once again, call to mind a time when you experienced that emotion.

  • Just for a moment, be in that memory and extract all of the sensations involved.

  • Then, let go of the memory but hold the sensations.

  • Ask yourself, Where in my body do I feel (sadness, grief...)?

  • How does this register for me? Do I feel it in my hands? My chest?

  • Is there a sound, or a smell associated with this negative emotion?

  • Allow yourself to explore deeply the visceral connections between the negative emotion and your body.

  • Once again, step back from the this emotion, release the sensations, putting it to the edge of your awareness.


Breath yourself back to neutral.


  • Bring back full awareness of the positive emotion for a moment, and then welcome back full awareness of the opposite negative emotion.

  • See if you can move awareness between both positive and negative emotions.

  • Now see if you can hold both of these emotions in awareness simultaneously.

  • Both the positive and negative emotions are present.

  • Begin to move away from these emotions, as if seeing them now in the distance, as objects.

  • Find your breath and rest your focus here for as long as you need.


When you are finished you may decide to journal about this exercise to further explore how these emotions impact your life.