Here’s a simple exercise to help relieve tension and stress.
Breathe in deeply until you feel a bit of tension in your chest and ribcage, and hold your breath for a count of three. (Don’t create too much tension. If you’re uncomfortable, let some air out before you hold your breath.)
As you breathe out, let your body go limp, relax your chest and shoulders, and feel the tension leaving your body. Let your arms hang loosely, relax your muscles, and let go.
Breathe in deeply again until you feel a slight tension, hold your breath for a count of three, and this time, sigh audibly as you exhale and relax your body. If you feel relaxed and a bit less tense, thank the emotion that helped you. Thank your sadness!
Sadness is a wonderful emotion that helps us let go of things that aren’t working for us … such as tension, muscle tightness, anxiety, and what I call “soldiering on” behaviors. I call sadness The Water Bearer because it brings a kind of fluidity to a tight, tense, and arid body. Sadness is a gorgeous emotion that bring us the irreplaceable gift of letting go.
However, sadness really isn’t welcome in our emotional or social worlds, so most of us tend to soldier on without the relief of sadness. We run our lives with our intensity, our tension, our plans and schemes, and our sheer willpower, but we tend to ignore the need for simple relaxation … letting go, releasing things that aren’t working, and then being able to re-set our priorities in more self-respecting ways.
I have been interested to see the ways that we’ve all socially created a sadness-free world. Relaxation has become compartmentalized, to the extent that we relax on weekends and during vacations, but very rarely during the workday, at school, or in front of other people. Relaxation and deep breathing have also become professionalized, such that we pay masseuses, yoga teachers, and alternative practitioners of all stripes to help us breathe deeply, relax, and let go.
Notice, too, the ways that we disrespect sad people: Gloomy Gus, Crybaby, Weakling, Boys don’t cry, Big girls don’t cry, There’s no use crying over spilled milk, Stop your sniveling, and so on. I know I’m not the only person who has felt that crying in public would be a very dangerous thing, because it can cause us to lose face in our emotionally-stunted world. The message is clear: Crying is not okay, and sadness is something to avoid.
And what a sad, tense world we’ve created because we refuse to honor the gifts of sadness. Without our sadness, we can’t relax, we can’t release our tension in healthy ways, we can’t cry and restore fluidity to our arid psyches, and we can’t let go of things that need to move on.
Without our sadness, tension piles up, unsaid words pile up, muscle tightness adds up, things we don’t need pile up, ideas we don’t believe any longer pile up, relationships that we no longer want or need pile up, and we find ourselves crowded out of our real lives by a bunch of unnecessary debris. When we don’t allow our sadness to do its proper work, we lose a great deal of our liveliness and flow.
So let’s welcome sadness to our lives by remembering to breathe deeply and let the tension go. The questions for sadness are What must be released? and What must be rejuvenated? Many of us, because we’ve had such poor socialization around sadness, think that sadness is only about loss. It’s not. Sadness is also about restoring flow, ease, and relaxation … because when you finally let go of things that just don’t work, you’ll suddenly have room for things that do.
Next time you feel sadness, see if you can breathe in deeply and let go of tension as you exhale. Let your body help you work with your sadness. And the next time you feel like crying (but you can’t because other people are around), observe your reaction. Most of us tense up and get very tight and arid when it’s actually time to cry (this tension makes our inner situation worse, not better!). If it’s not socially safe to cry, see if you can’t at least relax a bit, breathe deeply, and let your body have a felt sense of letting go. It won’t be as healing as a good cry, but it’s better than crushing your sadness under the weight of everything you’ve been holding on to.
Welcome your sadness, and if you have the chance, welcome sadness in other people as well. You have the power to change social rules about emotions, at least in your area of influence, so go you!