This is probable the most well-known of techniques for releasing pent up emotions. Whether you choose a dedicated notebook for writing about feelings (my recommendation) or include them as part of a bigger exercise, getting words onto paper is incredibly freeing. I sometimes think of it as literally releasing the words that were circling inside my head and getting rid of any power them hold over me by becoming physical words.
Experiment with how you do this. One way which is very popular and is adapted from the Morning Pages (from the wonderful Artist’s Way book by Julia Cameron) is to write down your feelings each day on waking. It’s like a brain dump – but the idea is that all your thoughts get onto the page whether they make sense or not. You just fill a set number of pages in your notebook (Cameron recommends three pages) and then get on with your day. The intention is not to analyse your thoughts (at least not initially) but to release them.
If you’re not attracted by this idea, consider writing out your feelings when you have an opportunity – maybe carry around a notebook with you, and write them out when you’re feeling particularly strong emotions. This both serves as an anchor when you’re feeling a bit lost, but also validates that you are having the feeling at all – something that might be very important if you were told as a child that what you felt didn’t count.
There are many different ways we can release emotions from our body. If we have a lot of pent up anger or rage, we may need to undertake quite strenuous exercise to get it out of our system. Of course, the level of exertion depends on your physical fitness, but something that makes you sweat and feel a bit out of breath not only focuses your attention in the body but also has the effect of making you feel that something is coming out of it (ie sweat!).
Some exercises that people find useful include:
- Doing heavy duty gardening
- Lifting weights
- Circuit training (you can do this at home with just a skipping rope, press ups, squats and lifting two bags of flour!)
There’s also an exercise programme that was originally devised for the armed forces who had experienced post-traumatic stress disorder after conflict. The thinking behind it is that the body stores trauma and stress in the tissues, and that a way to release this trauma is by inducing shaking and tremoring in the muscles. You can find instructors who can take you through this on your own, if you have a lot of abuse or trauma to work through, but if you are simply wanting to relieve stress, you can watch one of a number of helpful videos on YouTube.
Restorative or yin yoga
All forms of yoga are good for the body and mind, but if you’re feeling particularly raw or exhausted and want the body equivalent of a gentle hug, it’s worth experimenting with restorative or yin yoga. These are both slow forms of yoga, but with different backgrounds and effects. Restorative yoga is what it sounds like – very gentle, supported poses (with lots of pillows and blankets) that you hold for 20 minutes at a time, giving the body a chance to full let go and relax. Yin yoga has a strong link with acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine and works a little like acupuncture by pulling on the connective tissues during long held poses. You can practice both of these by DVD, get a book on the subject (I particularly enjoy the ones by Judith Lasater and Sarah Powers) or attend a class in person.