You gotta feel it to heal it

Published 4:14 pm Sunday, June 4, 2017

stared at the table, bloated and remorseful.

I had just gotten off the phone with my best friend. BF lived next door. We endured pregnancy and new motherhood together, wrote a book together, worked together, got fat or fit together.

Then, BF unexpectedly moved away, and instead of feeling my feelings, I sought comfort in carbohydrates, my drug of choice.

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The table before me had the remains of a giant bowl of pasta, a few crumbs of bread, a press pot of coffee (empty) and a whole carafe of wine (also empty). I couldn’t even remember eating.

Ayurveda, yoga’s sister science, refers to an ancient system of mind-body wellness. Ayurveda reminds us we have to “repair it or repeat it.”

It’s the idea our bodies are connected to our thoughts and feelings, and negative thoughts or painful emotions manifest as physical maladies. Our bodies are constantly communicating what we truly need, but we too often ignore the signals.

Those suppressed emotions are there, in tight shoulders and migraines and poor digestion and extra weight and clenched jaws. Like a bad penny, those inconvenient emotions keep popping up until we deal with them. Ignoring problems doesn’t erase them. Emotions are to be endured, not neglected.

When I don’t want to deal with uncomfortable feelings, I push them down and cover them with food. I don’t want to feel sad that BF is gone. So I eat as a distraction.

The problem is, like a splinter just under the skin, sadness keeps making its way to the surface. And it hurts, making us question this whole being human thing.

Who wants to hurt? It takes enormous courage and vulnerability to truly feel our feelings. We are quite adept at using distraction as an avoidance technique. We figure that if we are not actively thinking about pain, then it isn’t actually happening.

We crave an escape route from inconvenient feelings like sadness, fear, doubt, loneliness, guilt, shame and hopelessness. We resort to some sort of bypass, numbing ourselves from the hurt.

My bypass is drowning my feelings in comfort food. Yours might be work. Gambling. Sex. Exercise. Shopping. Busyness. Social media. Alcohol. Anything used to numb is a bypass.

It’s been conditioned into most of us to think we should be able to get rid of unpleasant feelings. As children, we may have been told not to cry, not to worry, not to be scared. These well-intentioned directives left us feeling there must be something wrong or shameful in these feelings.

We bought into this illusion that adults don’t feel sad, or lonely, or scared. We started favoring intellect over emotions. And we adopted the idea that uncomfortable emotions are something we should flee, not feel.

That numbs us to life in general, since you can’t numb emotional pain without also numbing yourself to the good stuff like joy, wholeness, gratitude and peace.

An illusion is all it is. All feelings are acceptable. Emotions don’t have to dictate our actions. We must fully and mindfully experience them to disempower them. If you accept your feelings without judgment, you give them permission to fall away.

Every 12-step recovery program advises that, “you gotta feel it to heal it.” Rather than trying to avoid those feelings, heal them by fully experiencing them. When we lean into them, we can learn from them. The only way out is in.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Check in with your physical body. Get comfortable and close your eyes. Relax your shoulders, your jaw, the muscles around your eyes. Your breath should be smooth and relaxed. If you notice tension somewhere in your body, try to let it go. Observe any sensations that arise with detached awareness.

2. Let your thoughts and feelings come without judgment. Just be present to whatever comes up. Make space for your thoughts and feelings. No emotion is bad. Notice changes in your physical body as you practice. Sadness always feels like a gnawing in my belly (hence, my tendency to overeat when I’m upset).

When I did this, of course I felt sad. But I also observed that my shoulders were tense and my hands were fisted.

I realized I was also angry that BF left. It felt unfair. So I felt mad until I was ready to let that go, too. I’m not responsible for my thoughts, only for my actions.

3. Repeat numbers 1 and 2 as often as you need. Confront your feelings in an honest way. In this way, you will feel it and heal it.

I’m reminded of a poem by the 13th Century mystical poet Rumi:

“This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival…

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

Meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,

Because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”

Erin Smith is the owner of the OM place in Winchester, the author of “Sensible Wellness for Women” and the online host of a yoga and mindfulness channel for Eppic Films. Send her a shout out at or play along at