Olympic Emotions:The emotional and psychological counterparts to physical expression.
My daughter is training with the United States National Women's Rowing Team at the ARCO Olympic Training Center in San Diego, California. This team of professional athletes has been working together for four years in preparation for the upcoming summer Olympics in Beijing. The women on the National Team train rigorously and pay a lot of attention to their physical strength; they work out three times a day at least six, if not seven days weekly. In June, the official team will be named. Not all the girls who have been committed to this elite athletic opportunity will be going to China in August.
As the summer Olympics approach, I have been noticing the increasing emotional stress on my daughter and other members of the team. I gave a lecture at the training center about the anatomy of the human energy field. I explained the energy centers in the body and their respective physical, emotional, and psychological counterparts. What I witnessed when I worked with individuals to demonstrate the correlations, was an outpouring of emotion.
This paper will review some basics concepts of the energetic relationship between the emotions and the physical body (Brennan, 1993, Chopra, 1990, Lowen, 1975). Watson and Clark (as cited in Ekman & Davidson, 1994, p. 401) mention how affect is elevated with intense physical activity and also in response to stressful events. They suggest that negative affect is likely when exposed to evaluation and scrutiny by others and in response to criticism or the threat of failure. This elite athletic team is under stress, scrutiny and major evaluation; their emotions are getting a work out too. There is the potential that this paper will be distributed to the team as a working tool to help them learn to manage their emotions, reduce destructive emotions and consequently maintain their physical integrity.
"It's the language of emotion that speaks
The Human Energy FieldDowsing rods were used to demonstrate the influence on the electro magnetic field, commonly called the aura, that surrounds the human body (Brennan, 1987; Bruyere, 1991; Pierrakos, 1987; Raknes, 1971). The rods are simple pieces of copper bent at a right angle with a sleeve of copper over the end that is held in the hand, to facilitate easy movement of the rod. Typically used to search for underground water, one can set the intention for the rods to open when a change in the electro magnetic frequency (Bird, 1998, p. 257) or in the aura is detected.
As I approached a volunteer the rods responded to the outer edge of her auric field by opening about 3 feet from her body. This is the average diameter of an auric field. I then heartily introduced the volunteer as my sister who just had her second grandchild, and talked about her son who is a renowned musician. When I asked the team to welcome and applaud her, then measured her field again, it had expanded to a radius of about 10 feet from her physical body. Finally, when I asked the audience to point their fingers at her for a sustained time, which I find to be a blaming or accusing gesture, her auric field shrunk to less than a foot from her body. I used this exercise to demonstrate how the energy field is not necessarily visible to the naked eye, and how our reactions to one another have powerful ramifications on the energy field. For a team, the unspoken interactions between members can profoundly impact the team members. As is suggested in Goleman's audio book "Destructive Emotions", the way we are treated by others effects how we feel about ourselves.
The lesson was to demonstrate how the auric field changes according to outside influences; when there are negative vibes coming at us, we react in a protective mode. Averill suggests, "we monitor our emotional behavior to conform to socially acceptable standards"(as cited in Ekman and Davidson, p. 267). This is important for team members to keep in mind since how they view one another, even in silence, effects the other and could in turn affect their performance. Professional athletes get pumped up with positive affect due to their strenuous activity; but are simultaneously under intense scrutiny by the coach, their colleagues, competitors and probably mostly, by themselves. As Capra reminds us "Living organisms are not isolated from their environment. They interact with it continually" (2002, p. 85).
The aura is the electromagnetic field surrounding the body; it is also referred to as the human energy field (Brennan, 1993, p.4). There are traditionally seven chakras, which are energy vortexes, located at specific locations on the body that create and control the auric field (Bruyere, 1991, p. 55 - 59). Each chakra has physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects; tensions or injuries to a physical part of the body are associated with corresponding emotional, mental and spiritual states (Brennan, 1987, p.43-54). Physical tension or injury is not separate from the rest of the being, but in fact represents emotions, mental disposition and spiritual beliefs. Lowen (1975) states "Mind, spirit and soul are aspects of every living body. The emotions are bodily events: they are literally movements or motions within the body that generally result in some outward action" (p. 54-55). The body's expression is a "reflection of its internal qualities" (Lowen, 1971, p.390). Addressing a physical pain on the physical level (with massage, physical therapy, medication, etc.) is only touching on part of the problem. To heal the physical, it is helpful to access the respective emotions (Brennan, 1987; Chopra, 1990; Weil, 1988).
"Positive and negative experiences register a memory in cell tissue as well as
The physical and emotional aspects of the ChakrasElite athletes can definitely relate to their physical bodies, so explaining the chakras of the energy field to them as related to areas on the body got their attention. Since our bodies respond with muscular patterning when we experience emotions (Marrone, 1990, p. 73) we can use physical symptoms to lead us to some of the underlying emotional and psychological features of that symptom. Schweder (in Ekman, 1994) proposes,
A somatic or affective experience is an invitation to wonder why, to ask what those feelings reveal, to investigate various orders of reality (biochemical, interpersonal, moral), to diagnose ones' biochemical, interpersonal, and moral standing in the world, and to make plans accordingly. (p. 42)
Understanding some of the common factors related to areas of the body can help guide us to the complementary emotions, fears and issues. I use the energetic centers of the chakras as guideposts to glean that understanding. "When we pause and reflect, attending to our intention, we are creating the foundation for internal attunement" (Siegel, 2007, p.178). The following is a brief description of the seven major chakras. The first or root chakra relates to the physical body, the will to live in physical reality, our family, our group identity, and sense of belonging. If there is a tension or injury in the legs or feet, or if our immune system is weak, we might investigate if there is a feeling of isolation or homesickness from the family, or if there is a question about the physical commitment or loyalty of being an athlete. Bringing deep attention to the entirety of what is presenting physically can lead us to the associated emotional facets of an injury. Athletes who are away from their homes at the training center need to take care to create comfortable surroundings for themselves, to make frequent contact with their families and pay attention to the basic needs of their physical bodies (in a way other than working out!).
The abdominal area, hips, sexual, hormonal and elimination organs are related to the second chakra. "The hormonal state of our bodies and the tension of our muscles in our limbs, torso, and face, each contribute directly to how our interior world shapes our feelings" (Siegel, 2007, p.122). This area of the body is also related to our sexual power, sexual drive and desire for sexual union and partnership; it is the home of the emotions, and the source of our vitality and personal power (Brennan, 1987, p.73). Fear of loss of control, of betrayal or abandonment by our colleagues and the fear around finances is housed in this energy center (Myss, 1996, p. 130). Our emotional relationship with ourselves or the positive and negative feelings we have about ourselves is carried in the second chakra (Brennan, 1993, p.134). Our creativity also resides in our second chakra, so one might consider how or if they are expressing their creative side. Women rowers can frequently experience hip pain or alignment difficulties. It might be helpful to look at how one is managing their sexuality and their money, feelings they have about themselves and their ethics, as these are the primary issues associated with the second chakra. Carolyn Myss (1996) suggests "Each of us an individual needs to explore our relationship to physical power. We need to learn how and when we are controlled by external power and, if so, the type of power to which we are most vulnerable (p. 161). If there is chronic stress in the abdominal region, it is important to look at issues of self-acceptance and self- love.
We often displace some of our emotions to the mental, intellectual, third chakra in order to dissipate them. The solar plexus or third energy center is home to our thoughts, opinions and judgments and is where self-judgment forms. This judgment acts to suppress our emotions. "We transfer the negative energy that would normally be expressed in terms of negative emotions up to the third level of the field, where it turns into self-judgment that in turn suppresses the negative emotions" (Brennan, 1993, p134). The third chakra is related to how we present to the world, our sense of self and the feeling that we belong. It is filled with personal ambition, respect for our strengths and weaknesses and our sense of responsibility. "The illnesses that originate here are activated by issues related to self-responsibility, self-esteem, fear of rejection, and an oversensitivity to criticism" (Myss, 1196, p. 167). Even though this is a mental center, it is deeply related to the emotional life as it is the mental understanding of emotions that results in a deeply fulfilling emotional life that is not overwhelming (Brennan, 1987, p.74). The primary fears associated with this area of the body are related to physical appearance, of failing to meet one's responsibilities and the fear of rejection or criticism (Myss, 1996, p. 168). Our gut responses, our intuition and our capacity to take risks are generated by the energy in the third center. This chakra also represents how we are taking care of ourselves. So, if there are symptoms like gastric distress, stomachaches, or pain in the mid-back, there may well be self-judgment, self-neglect, or over thinking correlates. "It's human feeling and emotion that affect the stuff our reality is made of--it's our inner language that changes the atoms, electrons, and photons of the outer world" (Braden, 2007, p.84).
Centered in the chest, the heart chakra is the center of love, relationship, how others see us in the world, and the personal ego. How we go after what we want in the world, our capacity for compassion, inspiration and hope come from the heart. The primary fears of this chakra are loneliness, fear of commitment, of betrayal and of following one's heart. Weakness in the heart can lead to jealousy, bitterness, anger and an inability to forgive others or the self (Myss, 1996, p.198). Loving oneself is the path toward loving others. Who do you want to spend time with, who are you uncomfortable around and how can you say no to them? Athletes may experience difficulty breathing after a race or other respiratory problems, may suffer from rib stress fractures, and may be prone to issues in relationships that keep them separated from their beloveds. The level of commitment to the team can demand putting relationships on the back burner and if ignored, this may contribute to injuries or stress in this area of the body.
The throat center is about our ability to receive nourishment and taking responsibility for our needs. The strengths of the fifth chakra are of faith, self- knowledge, the capacity to make decisions, and to speak ones truth. The emotional struggle here is about the power of choice, surrender, and honesty. The challenge is the will - whether one feels others have power over them, if one employs his personal will as if he is the final authority, or if there is an alignment and trust with a divinity that is larger than the personality. "If the mind and heart are not communicating clearly with each other, one will dominate the other" (Myss, 1996, p. 229). Headaches, sore throats, muscular tension, ear troubles, and thyroid problems are common symptoms. Is there something you need to say? Are you able to accept help from others as well as helping? Is there a way you are not expressing yourself? Gerald Clore (in Ekman& Davidson, 1994) explains,
When one expresses the circumstances of one's distress to another, the act of framing that distress into a communication may make the associated affective reactions more likely to be seen as part of a particular time, place and environment. Conversely, not talking about the event may keep the person from separating the emotional experience from subsequent experiences. (p. 104-5)
The throat center is also related to professional life and a person's sense of self within the society and with peers (Brennan, 1987, p.77). This center can be distorted with fears of failure, over work, or discomfort in the work arena. With internal competition between athletes and the intensity of their training yet lack of professional esteem, strains to the neck, shoulders and arms can be common with national level rowers.
"The forehead center is associated with the capacity to visualize and understand mental concepts. This includes the person's concept of reality and the universe or how he sees the world and how he thinking the world is likely to respond to him" (Brennan, 1987, p.78). The sixth chakra is the center of our psyche, intuition and inspiration; it is where we learn to act on internal directions and employ our wisdom. The fear is of fear itself, and an unwillingness to look within for answers or to seek counsel from others or from a divine source. Carolyn Myss describes consciousness as "the ability to release the old and embrace the new with the awareness that all things end at the appropriate time and that all things begin at the appropriate time" (1996, p.241). The sixth center is where the heart and mind come together with faith and love to guide and comfort our lives. It is the place of consciousness. If there are physical concerns involving eyesight or pain in the forehead, or if there is a lot of negative thinking, or an inability to follow through with creative idea, one might ask self-reflective questions like: Am I taking care of myself spiritually? Am I handling the changes in my life? What are my spiritual needs? How do I deal with my fear? How am I seeking truth and what do I mean by that?
The crown chakra is located on the top of the head and "is related to the person's connection to his spirituality and the integration of his whole being, physical, emotional, mental and spiritual" (Brennan, 1978, p.79). This is the transpersonal center; the center of prayer, of mystical connections, of transcendence and it's all about the relationship to the divine. The fear associated with this chakra is one of spiritual separation, of losing one's identity or feeling a total lack of connection with people, life or spirit. This is a higher spiritual center that is about your own Godliness and your connection with the universe. A sense of wholeness, faith and peace prevail when this center is healthy. Disturbances at this level are more likely to be dissociative states or other mental illnesses.
Raising the consciousness of the emotional and mental features of a physical expression is likely to facilitate its resolve. When the athletes asked about certain physical distresses they were experiencing, I asked permission to work with them energetically. Touching the area of suffering or the associated chakra, I allowed my consciousness to synchronize what was going on for them. My empathic healing touch brought the related emotions to the surface. As they talked about the parallel emotional turmoil, and most often discharged with tears, the pain began to subside. The opportunity for emotional recognition and release is sparse with these Olympians, but that doesn't mean the emotions aren't there. They spoke about not being able to walk around crying all the time and the need to maintain emotional composure. Frijda concurs that emotions serve as social regulators; there is joy in sharing positive affect but also a fear of uncontrolled emotional display (Ekman, 2003, p. 117). The workshop clearly demonstrated how the physical pain had respective emotions. When the emotions were expressed, the physical pain subsided.
SuppressionRobert Leveson (in Ekman & Davidson, 1994) notices that there are plenty of situations where we are motivated to inhibit signs of how we are feeling; suppression is a common form of emotional control (p.273). However, he also suggests that the inhibition of outward gestures of emotional expression doesn't affect the intensity of the subjective experience, and that such external inhibition may involve a heightened level of activation elsewhere in the body (Ekman & Davidson, 1994, p. 276). Levenson (in Ekman & Davidson, 1994) states there are times when "emotion and rational thought can sometimes work at cross purposes," and that there are times when it is more appropriate to respond emotionally than to deliberate mentally. One of the functions of emotions is to set aside the cumbersome act of thinking and obsessing (p. 124). Simply put, there are times when it is important to fully feel, express and externalize our emotions; there are times when keeping our emotions private is most helpful; and there are times when we can utilize tools to have our emotions yet manage them.
Emotional ManagementSpeaking on the phone with my daughter recently tugged at my heart strings as she sobbed and sobbed about how hard she is trying and for the first time in her career as an athlete is not performing to her standard. She knows she is trying too hard, but her frustration and fear of not making the cut for the Olympics looms larger than her rational mind. She is attempting to employ her will to make herself perform, and it is clearly not working. She is having nightmares, feeling guilty for doing anything to take care of herself that is not working out, and her body is hurting. Anna is trying so hard that she thinks she is actually impeding her progress. The pressure is on for the whole team. They have only three more weeks at the training center before the race season begins. So what can the athletes do to address their mounting tensions?
Siegel (2007) advises, "The way we pay attention in the present moment can directly improve the functioning of body and brain, subjective mental life with its feelings and thoughts, and interpersonal relationships" (p.3). With a willingness to explore introspectively and a little knowledge about the energy centers associated with physical tensions, there may be some self-help tools the women's team can utilize. As Goleman and the Dali Lama (2003) mention in their talk, it is unlikely that we will learn to not be emotional; the emotions are a natural part of the human psyche and there is nothing bad about them. But emotions that cause harm to ourselves or others are destructive, especially when they disrupt the equilibrium of the mind, and we can learn to manage them. We can actually gain knowledge of ourselves from our emotions; we can investigate the reason and origin of our emotions and can then practice re-shaping our response so the emotions is no longer causing us pain. (Goleman, 2003).
P.D. Ouspensky (1979) believes that will is the result of strong desires, and can be seen when we either strongly want to do something or don't want to do something (p.97). He goes on to suggest that we can't decide to make something happen or to change something. We must engage the mind, think about what is important and what is not, and begin to sincerely see ourselves by practicing self-reflection. Ouspensky (1979) says, "You must know exactly what you want" before change can actually happen: for until we see ourselves, we cannot instigate change or will anything to happen (p. 103-4).
Negative emotions are those of depression or violence and include self-pity, fear, suspicion, anger, annoyance, etc. (Ouspensky, 1979, p. 118). These types of emotions control many peoples' lives. It is through awareness of oneself, of what one feels and thinks, and who one is in the present that works on negative or destructive emotions. The consciousness necessary for managing emotions refers "to a state of greater consciousness than our ordinary waking state" (Ouspensky, 1979, p. 120). Struggling with negative emotions can lead us to greater self understanding and remembering who we are. "The causes of negative emotions are not in external reasons, they are in ourselves" (Ouspensky, 1979, p. 123). The way through the emotions is to develop a right mental attitude toward them, not when you are in the emotional state, but when you are quiet, in between the emotions. Ouspensky (1979) proposes that right thinking can take the power from the negative emotions (p.128). We have control over our thoughts, and can use our thoughts to develop a right attitude by studying ourselves and our lives (Ouspensky, 1979, p. 134). Brennan (1991) concurs "one of the most powerful paths of self-healing is to enter into a positive emotional relationship with yourself" (p.131).
One of the roads to having a positive emotional relationship with the self and of developing a right attitude is through mindfulness. "Mindfulness involves attuning our attention to our own intention. Mindfulness is an intentional state." (Siegel, 2007, p.164) Paying attention to our internal state, to who we are in the moment, to what we are feeling and how we are being in relation with ourselves is a tool not only for managing the emotions, but managing life! When we set our intention to be in the moment, to be mindful of ourselves with a sense of curiosity, openness, acceptance and love, we are freed to resonate with our own authentic experience (Siegel, 2007, p.131).
The Dali Lama (with Goleman, 2002) insists "meditation is an antidote to the mind's proclivity toward destructive emotions". In meditation, we move toward being present in the moment. Pausing, reflecting, checking in with ourselves and bringing awareness to our awareness is approaching presence. With presence we can track our emotional responses, we can notice our thinking patterns and witness ourselves experiencing our lives. We will begin to recognize "Thought isn't different from emotion; emotion is influenced by thought and thoughts are tremendously influenced by emotions" (Bohm, 1992, p.7). As we gain the tools of quieting the mind, being introspective, and being aware of ourselves, we will increase our intimacy with our emotional habits and thereby augment our self-acceptance and resilience. "A resilient way of being includes the capacity to rebound from negative states, not to eliminate them completely from our lives" (Siegel, 2007, p.223).
Bringing intentional attention to the emotions of these dear women athletes for the past couple of weeks has been a transformative experience for me as the author. My conversation with my daughter this morning provided positive evidence of the benefits of her emotional expression, our discussions about her emotional state and her new practice of mindfulness. There is more ease, her performance has improved, her mood is elevated and she has the ring of happiness in her voice again. I wish these athletes success, emotional health and presence.
"A living system maintains the freedom to decide what to notice and what will disturb it" (F. Capra, 2002, p.36)
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