Ayurveda encourages seasonal cleansing, called Panchakarma. Because the body and mind are so closely linked, emotional cleansing is also helpful during the physical process of Panchakarma. This is often done through journaling.
This mind-body connection occurs both ways; cleansing and healing the body can heal the mind and emotions, and emotional healing can promote physical healing.
Just as the fires of digestion (agni) are ignited during Panchakarma, the fires of emotional transformation are ignited during an emotional cleanse. I am referring here to a process that parallels physical Panchakarma; like Panchakarma, it is comprehensive and somewhat rigorous.
7 Steps To Emotional Healing
These ideas are based on the work of Dr. David Simon. His work culminated in the book, Free to Love, Free To Heal and workshops he taught through The Chopra Center in Carlsbad, CA. I had the honor and pleasure of participating in the workshop in 2014. I found these strategies to be transformational, freeing, and applicable to many areas in my life. For example, when I notice an area of unforgiveness or rigidity in myself, I return to these strategies to regain my mental/emotional balance.
The journey begins by sitting quietly and committing to being present for whatever comes up during this process. Take responsibility for yourself and your emotional safety. You may choose to ask a friend for support and perhaps invite them to be your “listener” in Step 5.
Sift your memory for an incident to work with. Look for one that is emotionally charged. Notice if you’ve told and retold this story, either to yourself or others. If so, chances are good that this sort of story has shown up in other places in your life, and may be based on limiting beliefs you hold about yourself.
When I say “journal”, please honor the process. Do the work of handwriting it out fully, using pen and paper. This will be more useful for you than just thinking it through or even keyboarding the words.
Step 1: Identify What Happened
Journal the complete story of the incident. Record the facts as though you are a reporter–who, what, where, when, how. Avoid including the emotional content of the story. It may be challenging to tease the facts away from the emotions if you’ve been replaying this story in your mind for a long time.
Step 2: Identify The Emotions And Needs
Now is the time to delve into the feelings. Avoid rushing or skimming the surface in this step. Allow yourself time to let the emotions come up as you reread your factual version of the incident. Record the feelings without editing them or judging yourself for having them. Emotions are just emotions; they ebb and flow. You are not your emotions. Instead of thinking, “I am angry” you might substitute “Anger is flooding through me right now”. In this way you disengage from identifying with–and becoming victimized by–your emotions. After all (despite how it feels sometimes) life is happening for you, it is not happening to you.
Next, note your needs in the given situation, as separate from the facts and the emotions. Your actions probably arose from your needs. Psychologist Abraham Maslow defined human needs on a hierarchy, from the most basic physiological needs, to the need for safety, to the need for love/belonging, to the need for esteem, and finally, the need for self-actualization. The “lower”, more basic needs must be satisfied before the higher needs can be addressed.
Sometimes just asking yourself if you’re truly sure you remember it exactly can open up just enough wiggle room to create space for consciousness. And from that consciousness you might be able to have a conversation in your journal with the emotion. For example, you might ask it, “Why are you here? What do you need? What do you represent?” This, in itself, can begin to soften its hold on you. Keep your pen moving in your journal without editing yourself, and you may be surprised at the answers you receive in this “conversation” with your emotion.
Step 3: Identify Where The Emotion Is In Your Body
As you reread and review your chosen incident, watch to see where the emotion manifests as discomfort/pain in your body. Does your chest constrict? Your throat? Does your stomach feel upset? Note in your journal where the emotion presents itself as physical dis-ease. We use expressions for this mind/body connection so often that they have become cliche: “broken-hearted” “speechless” “it turned my stomach”. How can you apply this to yourself in your chosen situation?
Step 4: Acknowledge The Emotions To Yourself
This may be challenging to accomplish without judging yourself. Remind yourself that you are not your emotions. They are here to teach you something. When you have learned the lesson they offer, they will gently pass on through.
It can be frightening to face your wounds, or even admit you have them. It’s possible to become so comfortable with the familiar hurts that the idea of releasing them seems scary and uncertain. The “known” pain feels safer than the unknown.
As the 13th century poet Rumi wrote, “Keep your gaze on the bandaged place; that’s where the light comes in.” Freedom, lightness, and joy can only enter by gathering your courage and going through it–there is no shortcut or way around it.
Step 5: Acknowledge The Emotions To Another
You may have a friend or loved one who can listen to your story without trying to fix it or offer advice. If not, imagine you are sitting with someone who can simply listen, and tell them out loud what happened, how you felt about it, what you needed, and how it has manifested in your body. Pour your heart out.
The person (or your imaginary person) simply listens, and then responds by saying the following:
“Thank you for sharing your story and feelings with me. I’m so sorry for the pain you experienced. I offer you my love as a balm for your sweet, wounded heart”.
Step 6: Release The Emotion
Rituals mark the transition between two ways of being. Ritual plus meaning equals transformation.
Create a ritual in which you endow an object with your story and then release it. You might find a rock on the beach, spend a few minutes endowing the rock with your story and related emotions, and then throw it into the sea. Or you might burn your written pages in a bonfire, imagining the story in the sparks drifting away.
The essential part is to fully let go of the story which has had such power over you, in order to create an empty place where it used to be. You’ll still have the memory of it but it won’t have any power because it won’t be fueled by strong emotions anymore.
Step 7: Celebrate And Rejuvenate!
Do something that fills that newly empty space with goodness, with joy.
Breathe fully. Dance. Sing. Swim. Find the thing that makes your heart sing and do that.
By intentionally filling yourself with something healthy and joyful you leave no room for the burden of the story to return. You’ll still keep the lesson it had for you, and perhaps gain a new sense of freedom and lightness.
Emotional Cleansing Parallels Physical Panchakarma
As you approach Panchakarma, you gear up your digestion. In this emotional cleanse, you quiet yourself and commit to the process and whatever comes up for you. You sift through your memory, mining it for a story to work with.
In the first phase of Panchakarma, you loosen the ama (undigested matter) with oil and steam. In this emotional cleanse, you loosen the hold the story has on you by identifying the story, the emotions, your needs, and where in your body they reside.
In the next phase of Panchakarma, you release the toxins. In this emotional cleanse, you tell yourself the story, you tell another person the story, and you release the emotions that have held you for so long.
In the final phase of Panchakarma, you rejuvenate by refilling yourself with healthy intake. Perhaps you celebrate having accomplished the process. In this emotional cleanse, you refuel with positive actions, positive thoughts, positive focus. Remember, that which you give attention to will increase, so use your intention to keep your attention on the healthy, positive things you want to create in your life.