By Nicole S. Urdang, MS, NCC, DHM, Holistic Psychotherapy
Just as the body works to maintain homeostasis on a physical, cellular level, I believe the mind strives to create balance emotionally. Both happen unconsciously, though you can accelerate the processes with various interventions.
Just as physical wounds heal more quickly with antibiotic cream and a bandage, psychological injuries heal faster with rational self-talk, breathwork, journaling, therapy, good food, yoga nidra, plenty of sleep, and other supportive strategies.
How the Conscious and Unconscious Affect Emotional Balance
It’s hard to imagine that emotional homeostatic work can be accomplished unconsciously, but how else can sayings such as “Time heals all wounds” be explained? How does the simple passage of time assuage psychic pain? You may not notice incremental improvement, but suddenly, one day, you feel differently about something that previously disturbed you. That’s your unconscious mind processing change over time. Certain practices can support this growth and transformation.
When you choose to pay attention to your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations, you will often speed up the emotional healing process. It does not have to be solely relegated to your unconscious mind. Practices like yoga, meditation, journaling, psychotherapy, yoga nidra, dreamwork, and breathwork can all help soothe the nervous system and make conscious what has been unconscious so it can be safely felt, dealt with, and transcended.
All these interventions may seem challenging or annoying at first because they are unfamiliar, require learning new skills, or bring up unpleasant memories or feelings from the past. With practice, the initial break-in period will pass quickly, and you will begin experiencing a feeling of mastery. These intervention can also serve as healthy tools for future times when you feel anxious, angry, sad, or overwhelmed.
Practices to Move You toward Emotional Homeostasis
Take a close look at your inner landscape. Where are the boulders blocking your path? Are they out in plain sight, or are your obstacles more like potholes, only noticeable when you’re right on top of them?
Some great ways to analyze your internal topography include:
Journaling: Journaling can work show remarkably well for helping people feel more in touch with their emotional well-being and better able to navigate life’s slings and arrows.
Daily check-ins: When you notice an uneasy feeling—a headache, stomach issue, weariness, muscle tension, or other physical pain—try breathing into that space and ask yourself what it is trying to tell you. Acknowledge it, monitor it, and then relax.
Five minutes of breath meditation: The simplest (but not easiest) exercise to work toward emotional balance is watching your breathing. Notice the length of your inhalation and exhalation, its temperature, where you first feel it entering your body, and how it moves through your lungs.
Virtual alternate breathing with counting: I am partial to this activity. It is wonderfully relaxing and focuses the mind while relieving it of most distractions. This calming breath work engages the parasympathetic nervous system, improves rest and digestion, and increases vagal tone. Here is how it’s done:
Take a deep, slow breath through both nostrils and exhale.
Take a close look at your inner landscape. Where are the boulders blocking your path? Are they out in plain sight, or are your obstacles more like potholes, only noticeable when you’re right on top of them?Now, without touching your nose, focus on inhaling through the left nostril and count ONE.
Exhale though the right and count ONE.
Inhale through the right. Count TWO.
Exhale through the left. Count TWO.
Inhale through the left. Count THREE.
Exhale through the right. Count THREE.
Inhale through the right. Count FOUR.
Exhale through the left. Count FOUR.
Inhale through both nostrils. Count FIVE.
Exhale through both nostrils. Count FIVE.
Inhale through the left. Count SIX.
Exhale through the right. Count SIX.
Continue in this manner and inhale and exhale through both nostrils on every multiple of five. If you lose count, go back to the beginning and start with one. If you would like a beautiful explanation and walkthrough of this technique, check out Swami Janakananda’s CD, Experience Yoga Nidra.
Like all good habits, the benefits from these practices accrue over time. In addition, doing yoga nidra, an ancient passive guided meditation, can strengthen your emotional resilience and nervous system, allowing for more easy switching from fight-flight-freeze mode to rest and digest.
Some other excellent yoga nidra sources I recommend:
Amy Weintraub’s 40-minute yoga nidra
Richard Miller’s book Yoga Nidra: The Meditative Heart of Yoga
© Copyright 2015 by Nicole Urdang, MS, NCC, DHM, therapist in Buffalo, NY. All Rights Reserved.
Professional Development Resources is approved by the American Psychological Association (APA) to sponsor continuing education for psychologists; by the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC) to offer home study continuing education for NCCs (#5590); the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB#1046, ACE Program); the California Board of Behavioral Sciences (#PCE1625); the Florida Boards of Clinical Social Work, Marriage & Family Therapy, and Mental Health Counseling (#BAP346) and Psychology & School Psychology (#50-1635); the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board (#RCST100501); the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs (#193); and the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists (#114) and State Board of Social Worker Examiners (#5678).