Cultivate energy, boundaries and develop intuition.
Whether you’ve always known that you’re an empathetic person, or only discovered this gift quite recently, you deeply sense and resonate with the emotions of others, which often results in you being connected to a wide variety of people, personalities, and situations. As a subject, empathy is rarely discussed unless it’s in terms of how to create more of it for those who don’t have it. But, for those of us that consider ourselves empathetic, how do we handle this gift responsibly?
Often described as putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, empathy is, in fact, a much purer experience of emotion that involves feeling someone else’s emotions as deeply as if they were your very own. The distinction is that empathy lacks the conscious act of doing something to achieve a result. It does not require placing a lens over your eyes so that you may see from someone else’s vantage point. Instead, empathy arises as a deep emotional resonance with someone else’s experience. Empathy is a right-brain, intuitive feeling state, as opposed to a left-brain, analytical process. When you experience empathy, there is no judgment, no externalization of “the other” and no feelings of separation or dualism.
People can experience moments of empathy or can live primarily as empathetic beings, sometimes without being able to control the experience. Most empathetic people share these common traits: intuitively sensing what others are thinking or wanting to communicate and being the glue that holds together tumultuous relationships. People are inexplicably drawn to tell you their secrets, problems, and stories. You are told, time and time again, what a great listener you are, or how amazing your advice is. Yet certain people or situations tend to give you a deep inner “high,” while others utterly exhaust you, and you are often confused by how to create healthy emotional and energetic boundaries.
Living with empathy, however, requires that you establish and maintain healthy boundaries. You must also learn how to replenish your energy when it’s low, and develop your intuition so that you can make conscious, healthy choices. In embracing empathy, this incredible ability to deeply feel and resonate with others, your life can be transformed into rich, meaningful
experiences potent with energetic abundance.
Highs and Lows
Because empathetic people feel both the positive and negative emotions of others, you tend to seek situations that give you an emotional “empathetic high” without knowing how to keep yourself from crashing when you experience an “empathetic low.” Feeling
high is one of empathy’s critical gifts, one that you can use to replenish your energy. Remember when your favorite yoga teacher led an amazing heart-opening yoga practice? As an empathetic person, you connected with everyone else’s heart opening. You “fed” others
with your positive energy, and you were energetically “fed” by experiencing the emotional highs of the class as if they were your own. This positive empathetic experience recharged and emotionally nurtured you.
The lows, however, can just as powerfully deplete your energy. Remember the last time you hung out with an acquaintance who lives with a high degree of stress? It felt exhausting. Your sensitivities are so finely tuned that just being around that person may have felt like an emotional attack, as if that person were yelling into your psyche. If you weren’t aware of how to maintain healthy emotional boundaries, you probably absorbed all that stress in an unconscious attempt to maintain equilibrium. Afterward you were probably desperate for an experience to balance you out. Maybe you turned to yoga. Or maybe you turned to not so healthy habits.
You don’t have to live this vacillating emotional pendulum swinging between huge highs and draining lows, prey to the energy around you. You can learn to balance your inner energy, so that no matter who or what you encounter, you remain conscious of yourself and less vulnerable. The process begins with establishing healthy boundaries.
Maintaining healthy boundaries helps keep you grounded and balanced, and yet, this is one of the most difficult things for an empathetic person to do. Your challenge is emotional. It begins when you allow yourself to delve 100% into someone else’s feelings. You become deeply entrenched in feeling their pain while simultaneously experiencing the immense gratitude they feel in being heard. Even if you receive initial warnings that you’re engaged in an unbalanced exchange of energy, the feeling of both gratitude and pain can be confusing.
In your bewilderment, you may mistakenly confuse boundaries with walls. Walls block out all emotion, whereas boundaries serve as a filter which allows you to feel more for longer, giving you the freedom to sustain your gift of empathy. Without healthy boundaries, you energetically feed other people without yourself being fed. You may become so habituated to resonating with other people’s pain and sorrow that it becomes your de facto sense of normalcy; your ability to feel soon morphs into your ability to absorb and live out other people’s sadness, fear or sorrow. Not only is this perplexing, it is in violation of the principles of yoga, which emphasize the importance of creating balance in body, mind and spirit.
Once you learn how to maintain healthy emotional boundaries, the process of inner and outer balance begins. As yogis, you have beautiful tools to help guide you to create boundaries and monitor your energy and replenish it: commit to a daily practice of pranayama (control of the breath and life-force), asana (physical postures) and dhyana (meditation).
To strengthen your inner fire and release stagnation, combine the pranayama of kappalabhati (heating breath, emphasis on the exhalation) and the practice of uddiyana bandha (lift of the abdominal muscles). The pranayama practice of nadhi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) is good for cultivating balance within the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. If you don’t know these practices, learn from a qualified and experienced teacher. A conscious asana (posture) practice that is right for your body type replaces tension with strength and encourages a healthy somatic experience. And to generate mental and emotional balance, practice meditation. Practice pranayama, asana and meditation as often as you can, with awareness of how you’re feeling in the moment.
Feel the Earth
It is crucial to include physical activities that offer the opportunity to connect to Earth energy, a powerful, and quite literally, grounding force. Go for a walk, hike or surf. Garden. Do anything that puts you in touch with nature to remain calm and balanced.
The Path as a Journey
Existing in balance allows us to cultivate our intuition, or inner voice, guiding us to the path of study that is right for us. We may be drawn to paths including: the various schools of psychology, somatic psychology, the study of psychic energy, shamanism, Buddhism or the eight limbs of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga through self-study, studying with a master teacher or even becoming a professional. The answer lies not in the path itself, but in trusting your intuition to resonate with something that feels right to you.
Your journey into living an energetically conscious life begins with allowing your intuition, or inner voice, to become the most discernable voice in your head. This is the process of developing consciousness. Soon, you will gravitate toward emotional, energetic and physical practices that strengthen your inner self: you will simply know and feel your way through life. Healthy boundaries guide you from emotionally and energetically crashing, and an active yoga practice helps you replenish and maintain your energy. Eventually, you will clear out the inner muck, or resistance to intuition. The less resistance, the deeper your intuition is allowed to blossom. The process takes time, but feeds itself.
In being gifted with the bounty of emotion that empathy brings, the universe does not demand that you feel everything all the time, but that you use intuition to consciously choose what to feel and experience. Your responsibility lies in not shirking your gift out of fear, or draining your energy out of ignorance, but embracing your gift with clarity, awareness and consciousness so that you may live in abundance and be granted even greater gifts to come.
Aria Mayland is a writer, yoga teacher, and mom-to-be living in Los Angeles. She loves exploring, cooking, dancing and being near the ocean. www.yogawitharia.com
By Aria Mayland
Photo by: Adam Latham, www.angeladam.com