Emotional Yoga: From Pain to Purpose

I wished I would die. My life had become an endless cycle of self-inflicted pain. I was a bulimic. After eighteen inpatient hospitalizations for eating disorder treatment, a thousand broken promises to myself and others, there I sat on my bathroom floor crying. I couldn’t stop. My bulimia was killing me. Yet, I could not seem to give it up. I wanted desperately to change. But, I was stuck.

I had been trying to save myself from myself for nearly 12 years, ever since I first began binging and purging. But, my symptoms never lessened. I felt hopeless and helpless and deeply afraid that I’d never get better. I also felt ashamed. Was I so badly broken that I was going to end up dead and alone on my bathroom floor with nothing to show for my life? I didn’t know.

I crawled into my living room, unrolled my yoga mat and tuned in to my battered and broken body. I knew that the only way out was in – in to myself, in to my emotions, in to my experiences. I had to inhabit my body and my life and stop checking out with my bulimic symptoms.

I had been practicing yoga for years, finding that when I sat silently, or when I allowed the movements of my body to be guided by my breath, painful emotions would surface. From deep within my body, there arose the cries of my wounded self. And with yoga I had the opportunity to listen. I used to weep during every yoga class that I took.

That day, in the middle of my living room floor, I sat on my yoga mat in Easy Pose and felt anything but ease. The tears came. I unleashed years of stored pain and shame. I slowly unfurled my body and began going through various yoga asanas. “Let me not run from my pain this time,” I told myself. “Let me feel what I’m feeling and listen to what my body is trying to tell me.” In tree pose, I felt the fear that I had been running from my entire life. The certain belief that my eating disorder had been my way of getting out of my fear of dying, my fear of losing myself, my fear of losing control. I sat down upon the mat and was seized by an uncontrollable desire to binge and purge. I wish I could say I didn’t give in, but I did. Yet, something about that episode was different. Yoga had brought me to the realization that I was trying to purge myself of my fear rather than my food. My body was literally screaming that it was afraid and it was only through yoga that I was able to hear its cries and listen to what my body was telling me. It hurt. I was hurting.

As part of my attempt to heal, I had been practicing the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) sporadically for well over a year. I had come to EFT after exhausting almost every other form of conventional therapy (psychoanalysis, cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, group therapy, psychiatry, and a myriad of other modalities).

The EFT technique was developed by Gary Craig, an engineer. Effectively, EFT is emotional acupressure. It is designed to reduce emotional and physical stress, unblocking energetic meridians by tapping on various pressure points on the body. Generally, the practitioner works with his or her clients to uncover issues through talk therapy followed by this tapping technique.

During my several sessions with certified EFT practitioners, I was able to let go of my attachment to a lot of my emotional anguish and to many of the events of my past. For example, since childhood, I had harbored a deep-seated resentment toward my stepfather for being controlling and cruel to me. Despite years of traditional talk-therapy, I had been unable to make any headway in letting go of my anger. But, in my very first EFT session, I was relieved of my longstanding hatred of him. Likewise, many of my other emotional attachments to past situations and people were released in my work with various EFT practitioners. It had been helping me to let go of some of my anger and angst, but had not lessened my bulimic symptoms. I was still incapable of stopping the cycle of binging and purging and staying stopped. Something was missing.

On that day, spurred by yoga and the pain of my last bulimic episode, I began to look further inward. I became aware that the emotion at the core of my bulimia was fear. Then, I began to ask myself probing questions: Where had that fear come from? Why was I feeling it? When was the first time I felt that fear?

The idea to combine yoga and EFT came to me suddenly. It was in the course of doing this work at the level of the body that I was able to uncover my core fear experienced in my formative years. As a child, I had a series of grand mal seizures and was perpetually in a state of fear that I was going to die. When a painful emotion is too difficult to tolerate, inflicting physical pain becomes a way to escape the feelings. I think that, at some point, I made the subconscious decision to take back control of my body by starving it, over-exercising, binging and purging so that I could step out of life and avoid death. Yoga brought me to the question: What is the emotion that drives your bulimia? My answer was fear. I then asked myself and my body to relive its first memory of that type of fear and the result was the vivid memory of my childhood fears. Every time I binged and purged it was to relieve that panicky feeling. And the reason I couldn’t stop was because bulimia was the only thing that worked. Yoga brought my body to that realization and EFT allowed me to release that fear from my body and my mind. The result was miraculous. This experience occurred immediately following a session of binging and purging. I was surrounded by an apartment full of binge food, having planned on a day of episodic binging and purging. But, the moment after I performed EFT on my fear, some internal shift took place. I was rendered incapable of binging and purging. I remained in my apartment, surrounded by a bulimic buffet, but could not bring myself to binge. The desire was completely gone and has not returned. The experience was deeply spiritual and profound. And lasting. A twelve year cycle of self abuse was undone in a single session of Emotional Yoga. I have not felt a need to binge or purge since. Hence, Emotional Yoga was born.

            Since this life changing experience, I have begun working with others to improve their quality of life and to help them find freedom from the bondage of negative emotions, behaviors, and thoughts. I’ve found that, like me, many people have difficulty accessing their emotions from an intellectual standpoint. Maybe this has to do with our belief that if we’ve examined a situation sufficiently our emotions should have subsided. Maybe it has to do with our preconceived notion that it takes a significant trauma to rattle our emotions. Who knows? What I do know is that the body is wise in ways that transcend the mind. These days, clients come to me in yoga clothes. They sit upon their mats, and I instruct them into a series of yoga postures while asking them to tune into their emotions. I’ve learned that certain parts of the bodies tend to be storehouses for certain emotions, so I help them tune into their bodies while feeling their feelings. This is the emotion within the motion, the period where clients are asked to give voice to what they are feeling and experiencing. And it is amazing what comes up! Sometimes, the emotion can be a day or a week or a month old. Other times, it may go back years. But, it’s there just waiting for us to excavate it from the body. This I do through yoga.

            But, the work cannot stop here. Awareness does not necessarily induce healing. We must “tap it out” using EFT. Suddenly, the body’s energetic imbalance is corrected and healing occurs. Often, the client wasn’t even aware of the impact a problem had upon them until given the opportunity to tap it out.

            One client I worked with came to me because she was experiencing stress at work. During our session, while in Happy Baby pose, she began to cry. She told me that as an infant, she had been a premature baby and no one had held her for the first few months of her life. She never felt nurtured, never experienced love. So we tapped it out. This woman has since reported feeling liberated. She believes her husband now when he tells her he loves her. She has taken up a pottery class because she has finally been able to follow her passions, believing now that she is worthy. And her issues at work are nonexistent. She no longer doubts herself. She trusts that she has value.

            Another client sought me out because he suffered from severe suicidal depression and had not experienced any lasting relief from medication or conventional therapy. He was morose and pessimistic about his chances. He reported several failed suicide attempts and a persistent sense of self hatred. During Pigeon Pose, he felt a wave of grief at having been born and was able to articulate the fact that growing up his parents had told him that he was conceived as an effort to save their marriage. Ever since his parents had divorced, he’d felt purposeless. Since his adolescence, he had subconsciously believed that he was a failure and that his life had no meaning. Despite all his years in therapy, his body was still energetically blocked and he could not reason his way out of his self-hatred. We tapped out this belief using EFT and the change in him has been miraculous. In fact, he wrote to me that for the first time he has been excited by life. He has even begun dating and is enthusiastic about the possibility of developing a meaningful relationship. “Life’s too short not to share it,” he told me. This is a far cry from the man who came to his first session wanting to die and bemoaning his life.

Emotional Yoga is transforming lives one day at a time. I have used the techniques to help clients successfully break free of anxiety, anger, depression, fears, phobias, PTSD, OCD, trauma, addiction, eating disorders, stress, headaches, persistent physical pain and a host of other issues. My belief is that if, as EFT suggests, the cause of all negative emotions is a disruption of the body’s energy system, then the body must be used to both diagnose and treat its issues. Yoga provides access into the body, physically, mentally and emotionally. EFT restores balance to the body’s energy system. Combining the techniques of yoga and EFT has led to fun, flexibility, and freedom for myself and my clients and can be practiced often with immediate and lasting results. This technique saved my life. It could, possibly, save yours as well. Namaste.

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About emotionalyoga

Daralyse Lyons is a Certified Yoga Instructor. She received her Yoga Teacher Training at the Yoga Education Institute (a Registered Yoga Alliance School). She has also been trained in Advanced Level EFT. Her work has been published in From the Inside Out, Yoga Chicago, Complete Yoga, International Association of Yoga Therapists, and Yogi Times Magazines. As a practitioner, she works with individuals, couples, and groups to help people transform themselves and their lives.
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