Dear Beautiful Human,

You know that feeling when something really upsetting happens and you instantly feel the pit of your stomach, or your heart starts racing or everything comes to a standstill? Maybe you are overcome with anger. You’ve been “triggered” and often the first thing you want to do is react and react quickly.

Let’s look at that moment from a yogic perspective. When we experience such an instant and strong response to something that sends us into emotional upheaval, it’s a signal that something much deeper is going on. What is “triggered” is actually something from our past. We are instantaneously shot back into something hurtful or upsetting from a previous experience. Triggers pull us into the past emotionally, but we don’t usually recognize it because we are reacting to something in the present.This is called a “samskara” or old impression buried deep within the mind. The new event triggers it to rise to the surface.

One of the biggest benefits of a consistent yoga and meditation practice, is becoming more aware of ourselves in our day to day lives. If we react to things with little or no awareness, we are likely to cause more harm, make difficult situations worse or just keep repeating the same old stories over and over again.

Here is something I have learned from my yoga practice about dealing with triggers:

  • When something hits me hard and I feel instant stress, fear or hurt I try to catch it and pause. I am now acutely aware that something has me in a fight or flight mode. I used to have zero awareness that this was happening. I now know this is signaling something deeper going on. I know it’s not a good time to shoot off an angry email or text. I know I might say something mean or hurtful so I stop and breathe. The first step is recognizing something deeper is happening and stopping to get present and feel.
  • The next step is to try to make a connection. Why is this upsetting me so? What is the feeling and can I connect it to something else very hurtful or upsetting from my past? Sometimes I can and it makes it easier to understand what’s happening. Sometimes I can’t right away. It may take a while for the deeper awareness to rise to the surface and for me to connect the dots. Often the samskara or old impression will reveal itself. Either way, I allow myself to feel the old whatever and not let it dictate how I respond to the present situation. I separate the old from the new, the past from the present.
  • Now, I step into the present moment and look at the situation with more clarity. What is the issue at hand? What are the best, highest and most personally empowering ways to respond? I really try to look at the problem from all angles. This is viveka or discernment. What outcome am I looking for? Of course, it depends on the specific situation. I may need to speak my peace. I may choose not to respond at all. I may need to ask questions. I may need to engage in a difficult conversation. The point is, I can respond from an empowered and present vantage point, not from fear, hurt, anger or reactivity. I am way more likely to reduce increased negativity or hurt or misunderstanding. This in yogic terms is reducing negative karma. I am more conscious of my words and actions.

The next time you are triggered, can you pause, recognize what is happening and stop yourself from reacting instantly? This is self-awareness. This is svadyaya or self-study in yoga. This is an essential part of a yoga practice that is applied to every day life.

It’s very easy to be positive, peaceful and happy when everything is going our way, but how do we handle the hard stuff? A complete and comprehensive yoga practice asks us to take our awareness on the mat into the stuff of real life where it counts. Yoga is “skill in action” according to the Bhagavad Gita.

Join me tomorrow (Wednesday August 5th) for a facebook live at 11am PT where I talk more about triggers from a yogic perspective. I will share a personal story that literally had me triggered for days!!! The situation gave me a ton of anxiety and I had to use all my tools not to overreact. My Facebook Yoga Page is here