Not long ago, I was having a particularly bad day at the office. My boss dropped a ton of work off at my desk, and then completely disappeared leaving me with no support or guidance on how to complete the assignment. So, naturally, I panicked. The adrenaline kicked in, which in turn kept me up all night, and eventually I completed it for the deadline the next morning. It was done, I was glad it was over, and we moved on to the next day. However, a strong feeling of annoyance stayed with me.
This isn’t the first time I’ve had to work overtime with no support. As a matter of fact, it happens often. Over the years I’ve found ways to deal with the stress and get things done. Yoga is been a great way to bring myself back together at the end of a long workday, with longer sessions on the weekend to fully recover. This time, though, something was different. Time passed, but I couldn’t let go of the irritating feeling of unfairness, frustration and anger that arose inside of me that day. I used my usual techniques: meditating, doing sun salutes and practising prānāyāma, but the feeling stayed.
The Five Emotions of Traditional Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) teacher that there are five main emotions that we experience through life: anger, joy, worry, fear and grief. From a Western perspective, we normally see joy as a positive emotion, and categorize the other four as negative emotions.
To some people, being a yogi means only experiencing the emotions we classify as positive. If life were like the photos in a yoga magazine you might say that a true yogi is:
- Calm and never stressed.
- Always smiling; with both the lips and the eyes.
- An exemplary living being that never gets angry.
This perception is simply not true for those of us living in the modern world. Especially if you’re in a big city like London. It’s hard to stay calm when you have outrageous rent rates to pay, challenging relationships, ambitions for a better future, and a city full of surprises surrounding us. In all of this madness, I like the way TCM looks at emotions.
Balancing The Five Emotions
TCM tells us that in order to live your life to the fullest, it’s necessary to maintain a balance of the five main emotions. Balance also happens to be necessary for your health. Emotional imbalances are viewed as the root of disease in TCM. Each of the five emotions are associated with a vital organ. For example, the liver is associated with anger, your kidneys relate to fear, and the heart is linked to joy.
In a healthy system, energy flows between the organs freely and easily. Emotions in excess can create a blockage in the related organ, and the lack of an emotion can create have a slowing effect on your bodily energy. Any variation of your body’s energetic flow can have a negative impact on the health of your organs, and in turn cause illness
The much newer developments of Western medicine are based on a completely different set of values, but Western practitioners still recognize the importance of this ancient system. Oftentimes, chronic conditions such as lower back pain or lack of energy, which cannot be cured or diagnosed by Western medicine, can be treated successfully through TCM. Let’s look at each of the four ‘negative’ emotions:
1) How Can Anger Be Healthy?
In my experience, all great changes are preceded by chaos. After the deadline incident, I knew I had to do something. I wanted to keep working for that company, but I knew that staying in my current role wasn’t the right answer. The anger I was carrying helped me realise that change was necessary. My anger gave me the strength to move forward and do something about that negative situation. It didn’t happen overnight and it wasn’t easy, but I am now very pleased to be starting a new role within my company next month. Without that anger, I would never have taken the steps and action to make a positive change in my life.
2) Can Worry Be A Good Thing?
Worrying can be good because it keeps us from starving. It gets me out of bed in the morning and motivates me to go to work and make money so that tomorrow night I have something tasty to eat for dinner. Worry is a wise emotion that pushes people to survive. It helps us come up with creative solutions, and encourages us to explore different possibilities and avoid negative consequences.
3) What about Fear?
Fear keeps our hands away from fire so that we don’t burn ourselves. Children don’t know this, and often they will try to put their hand in the fire even if they are told not to. We need to experience pain so we can develop the fear of putting our hands into fire and avoid further hurt.
That’s not to say we learn everything from first-hand experience. Sometimes we learn from others’ experiences, be it through a film, a good book, or someone telling you a story. Building this fear keeps us from jumping off a cliff, walking on train tracks, or swimming too far from the shore. Too much fear keeps us from experiencing life, and too little might shorten your life, but when balanced, fear is a healthy emotion that ultimately protects us.
4) And Finally Grief?
For me, grief is the hardest emotion to understand. What can possibly be healthy about feeling loss? We will all experience this feeling many times in our lives; whether it’s a bad break-up, loss of a pet or death of a loved one. TCM tells us that grief, however unpleasant it may be, is a natural, healthy and important part learning and living.
The lesson I learned from grief is that it must be embraced and fully experienced before we can let it go. It takes a lot of time, and even more deep breaths, but afterwards we can evolve. Like a plant that’s finally been watered after days of thirst, we return stronger than before ready to experience life with the new knowledge we’ve earned.
You can’t stop the future
You can’t rewind the past
The only way to learn the secret
…is to press play.
~Jay Asher, Thirteen Reasons Why
Choose Your Perspective!
All emotions are beautiful and necessary — they’re what makes life worth living! They are the teachers who help us navigate the ups and downs of our daily lives. By accepting them instead of pushing them away, we grow stronger and wiser.
Embrace the feelings of today whether you are having a good or a bad day. Can you find comfort in the sentiment you are feeling today? Can you see the big picture, the learning, the benefit you get from this feeling in a long term?