I recently started a cleanse with the hope of clearing stagnation and any buildup of toxins in my body. It was meant to be a physical cleansing, but as mind and body are connected, I quickly realized that release was also occurring at deeper levels within my mental and emotional states.
The cleanse is not complicated. It consists of a clean diet with the use of oils and powdered herbs as medicine. I also engage in a daily yoga practice and focused breathing exercises otherwise known as pranayama.
Physically, I am feeling lighter. Mentally and emotionally, there is some resistance. I have noticed patterns in this resistance. It would start with a feeling of compression in my chest. The compression would grow and grow until it would hit what would appear to be its limit, and then, if I stayed with it and allowed for it to happen, there would be a release.
The first time this happened, it was completely unexpected. But as I continue with my cleanse and the releases increase in number, I can only express gratitude each and every time.
With every release, the tears stream down my face. There is often a sense of sadness. Sometimes, it is frustration. Occasionally, there is a shaking of a limb.
A year ago, this type of experience would have knocked me out for hours. Today, with my mindfulness practice, I allow myself to sit and observe these feelings, embrace and accept them, knowing that eventually they will pass.
They always do.
Instead of taking an entire evening (most often continuing late into the night), it can be a matter of minutes before I am feeling calm again. Sometimes, it takes an hour or so.
Today, when I am in an emotional state, it feels different.
Before I Practiced Mindfulness Meditation
I used to be consumed by my emotions. I used to feel totally out of control when I was in a state of anger, frustration, or sadness.
I grew up not knowing how to manage my emotions. I did not feel free to express them. When I did try to express them, I did not feel heard or understood.
So I would bottle them up.
When I felt like I could not hold them in any longer, I would run to my little corner in my room, and let it all flow out.
Feeling despair. Feeling like I was completely alone.
My lack of emotional regulation proved to be troublesome in my personal relationships. I did not know how to express my emotions in a manner that was compassionate, kind, or loving.
Instead, I would feel hurt, lash out, and then remain stuck in my negative emotional state, bringing those I loved most down with me.
When I was in my final years of naturopathic medical school, I came to a realization. Before I could help anyone else, I had to tend to my own wounds and suffering first. I share more about this experience here where I write about my first mindfulness retreat with Viet Wake Up.
This first retreat changed my life.
The Power is in the Breath
Breathing is seemingly simple. So simple in fact that I truly believe we often take it for granted.
Yet, it is so vital.
When I need to focus my mind, I turn to my breath. When I need to clear my mind, I turn to my breath.
When I am entering an emotional state and know that it will be a difficult process, I turn to my breath.
Turning to my breath is my saving grace.
Seemingly simple as it is, it can be the hardest thing to focus on when I am in a state of anger, hurt, or frustration. It used to feel this way. It used to require all of my strength to push through the resistance, to push through feeling stuck. I used to remain stuck because as negative as they may be, these emotions served a purpose. Anger made me feel powerful. Hurt allowed me to remain a victim and not take responsibility for my own reactions. Frustration made me feel self-important.
Now, as soon as I am aware, I focus on my breath and allow my emotions to flow through me without attachment. I become the observer. I give them the space to be expressed.
They no longer consume me.
Learning to Let Go
These changes did not happen overnight. I struggled for a while. It took time to break through my habit energies. But I knew I had to continue with my practice of breathing. To save my relationships, and myself, there was no other way.
Having a Sangha to practice with and to share my practice has been invaluable. It has allowed me to express my thoughts, and emotions freely, and without judgment. In between my own practice, being in the presence of the Sangha has been extremely nourishing.
Focusing on my breath now feels comforting, like returning home. I no longer feel out of control. My challenge right now is learning to let go. With each release, I feel a weight off my shoulders. It is an incredible feeling.
As it is evident from my cleanse, I am not done healing. As I am writing this, I struggle with feelings of stress. At times, I still feel overwhelmed.
But I trust in my practice. I have already witnessed the changes and growth within myself, and for that I am forever grateful.
For as long as I am living, I am breathing. My breath really is my lifeline. I cherish it now more than ever. Regardless of where I am, I can always rely on my breath.
So here’s to breathing, cleansing, letting go, and finding peace. So simple, yet so powerful.
May we all learn to breathe with ease.
Mai Linh attended her first Viet Wake Up retreat in Toronto in 2015 and that experience changed her life. For the last two years, her practice has focused on self-love, acceptance, and letting go. She is a strong advocate for mindfulness meditation in both her personal and professional life as a naturopathic doctor. She truly believes that if everyone made the conscious decision to meditate, the world will be a more loving and compassionate home for us all to cherish and enjoy.