Have you ever felt so full of emotion that you didn’t know what to do, found yourself repeating the same emotional patterns over and over again, or been frustrated that analyzing your feelings didn’t work for you?
If so, it’s not your fault.
When most people talk about emotion, they miss the most important piece. And without addressing it, your emotions can never fully shift.
The most important thing to know is this:
Emotion often needs to be physically moved through your body in an intentional, deeply connected way in order to actually release it.
This can include specific body movements for each emotion, breathing techniques, and making sound, all of which I’ll go into more fully in this piece.
Animals in the wild don’t get traumatized the way humans do. This is because when they go through a stressful experience, they physically move the feeling through their bodies – you’ll see them shake their entire bodies after running away from a predator, for example.
When we have an experience where our fight/flight response gets activated, our body starts to go into a stress cycle. But in our society, it’s not usually appropriate – or even possible – to run or fight back when we feel triggered. We might freeze instead, which is what happens when our body doesn’t see any other option.
If we can’t complete the stress cycle – which is resolved by a processing of the feeling and a return to safety – it will get stuck in the body.
And simply thinking about it won’t work to shift it, because you’re not addressing the part of the brain where the response actually began: your “emotional brain” (your primal brain and your limbic system combined).
That’s why movement matters. It allows us to access deeper parts of the brain, and it allows us to complete the stress cycle.
Fetal position, talked about in the “sadness” section.
How learning to process emotions this way helped me:
When I was 19, my brother was in a car accident, in a coma, and left with a traumatic brain injury. I spent 6 months sleeping in hospitals and rehab centers. Brain injury is a strange thing – it felt like the brother I had had died, but also my brother was still there, and he could die again at any moment.
For the next 6 years of my life, I felt anxious that someone I loved was going to die. I would get triggered when I was in a car, when someone didn’t answer a text, or when I saw a missed call from a family member.
I often relived the accident, and my body would go into panic in response. I thought this was normal. I felt waves of depression, and I had crashes of intense emotion that felt unpredictable to me. I didn’t know what to do with them besides sob.
I went through a multitude of other losses, and I began to believe that anything good happening in my life would be taken away.
I tried a lot of things to deal with my emotions – I have, by nature, always been a pretty emotionally intelligent person. I went to yoga, I went to talk therapy, and I cried a lot. Those things helped a little, but nothing ever really shifted that dramatically.
I started to feel like maybe I was broken, because I felt like I was “feeling my feelings” as I was supposed to, but it wasn’t really helping.
It wasn’t until I learned the practices outlined below that I was finally able to regulate my nervous system.
I rarely experience anxiety today. I immediately notice when I’m feeling something in my body and know how to move it effectively through my system.
I still occasionally grieve the loss of my brother, but I feel empowered around it, because it doesn’t rule my life and I know how to process it when it comes up.
Today, I choose how I react to my emotions.
When you have stuck emotion, it blocks your sense of aliveness and joy in your everyday life. You will see the world through that filter, and your body will be constantly reacting to your environment. It’s not fun, because you don’t have control over your own experience.
When you’re able to move emotion through your body, on the other hand, you’ll experience more pleasure, an inner sense of peace, and have much more capacity to feel alive.
And that’s what I’m going to teach you today.
Bookmark this page, come back to it often. If you implement these pieces, you will absolutely notice a shift in your day-to-day emotional life.
(A formal disclaimer: Some of these practices are contraindicated if you are pregnant, have asthma or epilepsy, diagnosed mental illness, or other medical conditions. I am not a medical doctor; please consult one before trying these practices, particularly the breathwork.)
Please, please read through this entire article before implementing any of these practices. Do not skip to a practice without reading the entire thing.
These practices work very deeply within the body, and because of that, it’s important that you keep yourself safe. You can do that by learning these 4 things:
Hitting pillows, as described in the “anger” section.
The 4 most important things to understand before you process emotion:
A “resource” is something that helps bring your nervous system into a state of relaxation. A resource can be anything constructive – it can be a happy song, taking a walk, or a good memory – but for this purpose, your resource is going to be a place in your body that feels good.
You can find your resource by closing your eyes (if that feels okay) and scanning through your body, seeing if you can find somewhere that feels either pleasurable or safe. It can be anywhere – your shoulders, your feet, your belly, etc.
I often resource into the feeling of my hair touching my shoulders, because that feels reliably good to me.
If you can’t find a place in your body that feels safe or good, try touching yourself, like giving yourself a hug or gently stroking your arm.
If none of those work, you can resource into the feeling of someone you love or a happy memory – but if possible you want to find a physical place in your body.
This is because we’ll be working physically with the body, and you ultimately want your body to learn that you can feel safe within yourself.
To resource: Find a place in your body that feels good, and then bring your awareness to that place.
I suggest practicing resourcing often. If it comes easily to you, then you can move ahead into emotional expression; if it doesn’t, I suggest practicing it regularly, for a few minutes a few times throughout the day until it starts to feel more regular for your body to enter that space.
Outside of emotional expression, resourcing is a good thing to practice regardless, because eventually it will become an automatic behavior.
So when you’re out in the world and something triggers you, and you feel overwhelmingly sad, anxious, or angry (providing you are not actually in danger) your brain will automatically remind you to resource, and that will help your nervous system relax.
Your resource can change each time you do a practice, but you always want to make sure you have one before you start.
2. Allow yourself to heal and process slowly.
Trauma* is a life-threatening or perceived life-threatening situation that doesn’t fully sequence out of the body.
Trauma happens because everything feels like too much, too fast, too soon – we can’t process it (this is why two different people can experience the same event and one can be traumatized while the other won’t be – our nervous systems are all different, and what can feel like too much to process for one person won’t be for another).
We do not want to heal in the same way that trauma is created.
This means that if you are forcing yourself into healing quickly, you are most likely just retraumatizing your body.
Healing should ideally happen slowly. This gives your body time to integrate everything that is happening, and it will prevent your nervous system from becoming overwhelmed.
*a quick note on the difference between trauma and emotional experiences – trauma is defined above, but not all emotional experiences are traumatic by definition. These practices work for both. If somebody rejected you when you were little, you might have not been affected by it at all – but another person will remember that in their bodies and it will affect them, and the pattern will continue to play out in their lives. We could argue all day about whether that person was “traumatized,” but I don’t think it is useful to get caught up in a hierarchy of wounding. Your body can hold emotion whether it was a big traumatic event or not, and these practices help move stuck emotion through your body.
“Pillow fucking,” as described in the “sexual energy” section.
3. Stay present inside your body.
Most of us live all day inside our minds, up in our heads. But especially when doing these practices, the absolute most important thing is that you stay connected to your body.
If you don’t know for sure what that means, consider “being present” to mean “staying very connected to your senses.”
Being present with your body means your sense of awareness is inside your whole body, not only up in your mind. It means you’re aware of the ways your body is touching what you’re sitting on, the temperature of the room, that it’s the current time and current year.
If the idea of being present in your body is new to you, I would start by making sure you understand that before doing anything else in this article – a body scan meditation can be a good thing to try.
Staying present in your body accomplishes three things. One is that it prevents you from retraumatizing your body.
If you’re doing an emotional expression practice and you leave your body to go into a past story, your body will not realize it’s still in the present moment, and it will think the experience is happening to it again. This is not the end of the world (our bodies are pretty resilient), but it is definitely counterproductive.
Another thing staying present accomplishes is that you’ll then be actually able to process emotions through your body.
You know the way you can be reading a book, but then you tune out, and by the time you realize it your eyes have moved down the page but you have no clue what you read at all? It’s like that.
If you tune out while you’re doing these practices, they won’t work.
Staying present in our bodies also keeps us from getting/staying addicted to the emotions. Our bodies actually like feeling emotion – people like drama, that’s why we only watch movies where there’s some amount of conflict.
While some people have a hard time connecting with their emotions, other people are very good at feeling emotion already. Usually, though, it’s still while they’re staying in their heads.
I had a dream one night that I was willingly having sex with a really gross man who (upon waking) clearly symbolized my shadow self. In the dream, I had a really intense moment of “waking up” and thinking, “Wait, what am I doing? I don’t want to be doing this at all.”
Most of us basically live our lives fucking our own shadows, instead of separating ourselves from the dream and doing something productive.
This is why you can cry for days and not feel much better – if you’re not staying present with your body while you’re crying, and you’re not feeling the sensations happening inside of your body, then you’re not doing much besides letting yourself fuck your own shadow.
4. Let your body lead you.
Bodies are intelligent. Your body actually knows everything it already needs to know in order to process emotion and heal itself.
But in our society, movements like these aren’t allowed. They aren’t encouraged – in fact, they’re demonized. The only time we see shaking and growling in our society is in a scary movie when a person is possessed.
It’s time to reclaim these movements.
How these things all come together:
If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed when doing a practice, pause and connect back to your resource. If the practice becomes too much, be kind to your body and don’t push it – let it know that that’s enough for today. Most of us have spent a lifetime ignoring the signals of our bodies, and as a result of that, our bodies don’t trust us.
In doing these practices, you and your body will become friends. You’ll be able to understand what you’re feeling at the level of your cortical, “thinking” brain, and by doing the practices, you’ll process them at the level of your “emotional brain” (your primal brain and limbic system combined).
If you struggle with any of these, I’ve addressed some FAQs at the bottom of this post (there are also detailed videos and guided practices in my Falling in Love with Yourself online course).
3 Ways to Process Emotion that Will Change Your Life
The “holding shake,” as described in the “fear” section.
1. Cathartic Movements:
Catharsis is defined as the process of releasing strong or repressed emotions.
These movements are physical movements that help you release specific emotions.
We’ll discuss movements for 5 emotions today: Anger, sadness, fear, sexual energy, and disgust.
Even though you might not typically think of sexual energy as an “emotion,” it can still be very significant to feel and release from the body, which I’ll talk more about in that section.
A good way to try these practices is to take one movement from each section, put on some music, and do each movement for around a minute or two each. In between each movement, take a minute to sit in silence and notice what your body is feeling.
You could do this a few times a week with different movements in order to try them all, practice them, and understand which ones feel most effective for your body.
You could also start with one emotion, and do all the movements from that emotion that day, then move onto a different emotion another day. (Keep in mind, though, that emotions aren’t nicely boxed items – often one blends into/brings up another).
There is no one “right way” to do these practices – the idea is to bring these movements into your body’s physical vocabulary. Practicing them the way I described also allows you to do a kind of “clearing out” of your emotions, and if you’ve never tried anything like this I suggest trying it a few times a week for a few weeks and noticing what comes up.
Doing all of these movements on the same day might feel intense, and I don’t recommend doing that much at once without guidance (remember, we want to heal slowly).
The most important things to remember when doing these movements are to stay connected to and present inside your body (see the 4 most important things above).
The movements can be big or small, and they don’t need to look one specific way. I’m giving you these movements as a template – but remember the “letting your body lead you” piece I talked about above? Your body will eventually come into its own way of doing each movement, and however that looks is fine – the key is not in the shape of the movement, it’s in what the movement allows your body to feel.
Music can be key here, too, because it can help you bring out some of these emotions – here’s one of my playlists I use for these movements.
A quick note on sound:
Sound is one of the most liberating ways to free stuck emotion in our body. The range of sounds we make in our day-to-day lives is so repressed, and because of this, sounding is a big part of doing many of these movements.
I encourage you to let your body make sounds that feel unattractive, crazy, weird, or bizarre – and go into them fully.
Okay, on to the emotions!
Throwing a tantrum, as described below.
Oooh, anger is my favorite emotion to process. It can feel positively ecstatic, powerful, and liberating to express.
Unfortunately, most women have been taught that anger is undesirable, unattractive, and the antithesis of femininity.
And while many men tend to feel more “allowed” to express anger than other more shamed emotions, some men, too, have been taught that their anger is dangerous and hurts others.
Keep in mind that if we go against what we’ve been taught is “acceptable,” our bodies can register this subconsciously as “if I express this emotion, I’ll be rejected and unloved, and that means death.”
So be gentle with yourself if it feels difficult. Let yourself know that it’s okay if it feels weird, or hard, or strange, and like you can’t do it.
Some of my absolute favorite moments on coaching calls are when women who couldn’t let themselves scream the first time end up growling and screaming by the end of our sessions – it always brings my body chills, because I know that this, this is the expression of a woman returning to her full power.
It’s great to start with anger, because anger tends to be an emotion that sits on top of others. You might notice that your anger is laying on top of sadness or fear. That doesn’t mean it’s an unimportant emotion, and it also doesn’t mean you can bypass it (many women especially will claim they feel sadness or tiredness instead of anger; this is addressed in the FAQs at the bottom). But it is a good emotion to begin with.
Movements for Anger:
Throwing a tantrum
Yes, literally like a little kid throwing a tantrum, this movement means that you lie on your back and you scream, stomp the floor (or preferably a bed/something soft) with your feet and hands, kick and punch the air, and let your body do what it wants. If your screaming is going to panic others, either warn them ahead of time, or blast music and scream into a pillow.
Sound is so important for moving and releasing energy from our bodies. When is the last time you screamed – when you were ten on a roller coaster? You can scream in any position that feels good to you, just make sure you stay present inside your body while you do it.
One way of screaming I really like is a “hand scream” – basically, just covering your mouth with your hands and screaming that way. It can bring up extra emotion because it can register a bit like being muffled by someone else.
If you can’t find anywhere to scream (like you live in a small apartment with children that are always home, for example), a pretty sound-proof way to scream is in a car. I used to get into the backseat of my parked truck, turn on the music, and scream into my hands.
Stack up a bunch of pillows on your bed, and hit them over and over again. I like to combine this with screaming into the pillows. You can interlace your fingers and hit them, or hit with both hands, or even use your elbows. Make sure you have enough pillows – it can hurt if what you’re hitting isn’t soft and receptive enough.
Kind of like the stand-up version of throwing a tantrum, stomping is great. Just stand up, bring your feet wider than you think you need to, and stomp the floor. If that will make too much noise, you can try to bring the full energy of your anger into the stomping without actually hitting the floor too hard, but if you have an opportunity to try it out fully I highly recommend it. You can combine stomping with jumping up and down, making very angry faces, and growling.
Sadness can be a bit strange, because while many of us are used to expressing sadness (eg. crying), we usually put a stop to it before it gets to the point where it becomes really beneficial, especially if we’re crying around others.
So even if you feel like you’re good with expressing sadness, there’s a high chance you’re not feeling it completely. And if you are feeling it completely, there’s still a good chance you’re not doing it while staying connected to the physical sensations happening in your body.
For men especially, sadness can be one of the most difficult emotions to express, simply because it’s been deemed wrong for so many years (kind of like anger is for women). My boyfriend, for example, likes to get in touch with sadness before he cries by listening to sad music or watching a sad movie.
It’s okay to start with external sources (like I said, music especially can be great), just watch getting caught up in a story as opposed to feeling the physical sensations that are present inside of your body.
Especially if you’ve experienced loss, purposely feeling sadness can be so powerful, because we rarely get to properly grieve in our society. These movements let you feel where that sadness might still be sitting in your body, and you can connect to it to release it.
The “grieving wail,” as described below.
Movements for sadness:
I love this movement a lot, mostly because I love the hollow sounds that tend to come out of me while I do it – it really allows you to access your heart especially, and opens up our bodies where we tend to feel constricted.
To do it, you’ll start standing on your knees, bringing them about as wide as your hips, or a little wider. Bring your arms down by your sides and them move them out laterally a foot or so, your palms facing in front of you. You can close your eyes if that feels comfortable, and then take a deep breath, connect to any physical sensations you feel in your body (especially in your heart/torso), and let out a wail.
This movement is essentially the same position as above, except this time you’ll place your hands on your lower belly (below your belly button). Our lower belly is where we tend to register safety, so processing emotion from this place of the body can help you feel safer in the world. If you have a womb, you can place your hands over your womb – our wombs hold so, so much energy, and I find that they particularly can hold a lot of sadness.
You’ll breathe and sound the same way, this time connecting to any sensations you feel in your lower belly. See if you can make sounds that come from that place – if the feelings in that place could make a sound, what kind of sound would they make?
Because we literally begin our lives in fetal position, this can register as a safe place for our bodies to access and release emotion. I like to curl up on my side really fully and see what that brings up in my body – you can make sounds or release tears as they come up.
I’ll note here too that sometimes it isn’t the biggest or loudest movements and sounds that are most effective. I’ve gotten a lot of release from simply laying in fetal position and making little whimpers. You want to find the balance between not resisting or holding yourself back, and also listening to what your body wants to do.
Fear is what we feel when our bodies perceive a threat. At the same time that fear causes our adrenaline to spike, our cortical brains are deciding whether the fear is real or not.
What I think is most interesting about processing fear is that many of us feel low-level fear throughout our day-to-day existence, but we rarely take a moment to fully acknowledge it and process it. Sometimes we let it take over without processing it (eg. anxiety), sometimes we brush it to the side (“this isn’t important”), or we push it down into our subconscious where it then gets to rule our lives and the decisions we make (see: every time a person puts off making a decision that would transform their life).
Processing fear around these situations is really important. Processing fear gives us the opportunity to acknowledge and allow our fear to exist, which is actually the first step toward making it go away.
An additional note on anxiety: anxiety is often caused by unprocessed emotions and unresolved stress responses from past experiences, plus negative self-talk. Processing every emotion on this list can help with anxiety. And if you can get in touch with why you’re feeling anxious, see if you can fully allow that to be okay and acceptable, as often as possible.
Shaking, as described below.
Movements for fear:
Animals in the wild do not become traumatized because they know how to process their physiological responses through their bodies. A significant way they do that is shaking. Since you are also an animal, you, too, are going to shake.
You can stand up and shake your entire body; you can also shake while lying down. TRE exercises were also developed for this purpose.
In snaking, you’ll move your body like a snake – basically, your hips and shoulders both move side to side. Try it at different speeds to see what feels most effective for you. You might find that moving super slowly allows you to be able to feel sensation in your body more easily, or you might notice that moving quickly brings it up in a different way. You can make sounds while doing this, too.
Another one to try is wrapping your arms around yourself and shivering and shaking. I like to do this standing and cowering a bit, kind of the way you might if you were facing something really scary. Whimpering (think a scared and shaking puppy) is often helpful with this, too.
4. Sexual Energy
Luckily, scientists haven’t really decided what exactly defines an emotion, so I’m going to refer to sexual energy as one for this purpose.
Because sex is still so taboo in our society, we store a lot of wounding in this area of our bodies. We – and the world around us – are rarely in full approval of our sexual energy. Our desires are made wrong, our bodies are taken advantage of or not listened to, and we aren’t taught about how to relate to it.
Pretty much all of us have stored sadness, aggression, anger, grief, and fear in connection with this energy, and aside from actually having sex, we rarely ever connect with this part of our bodies.
So it’s helpful to have specific movements that connect us with our entire pelvic area. Your sexual energy is your creative energy, your life-force energy. If it’s blocked, it will show up in your entire life.
“Pillow fucking,” as described below.
Movements for Sexual Energy:
Doing hip circles very slowly, in a way where you’re totally connected to the sensation you’re feeling in your pussy/penis/groin area, is a great way to wake up and move sexual energy. Notice the feelings that come up as you do this; you might feel purely pleasure, or you might notice emotions like sadness or anger. You can do them standing, kneeling, or even on all fours.
This can feel funny to do, but it can also move a lot of energy. You’ll do exactly what it sounds like. Stack up a few pillows, lay on top of them, prop yourself up on your forearms, and act like you’re fucking the pillows (the way you would if you had a penis).
Let yourself be really aggressive here, too (you can even growl or yell), and stay connected to the sensations you feel in your body. See if you can feel the energy in your body being moved into the pillows.
This is the same concept as shaking above, but this time you’ll only be shaking your pelvis. So you’ll lie on your back, put your feet on the floor, and quickly lift your hips up (just a tiny bit!) and down.
As you do this, again, connect to the sensations you feel in your body, and make sound.
Same as above – just this time, you’ll only be moving your pelvis side to side – think almost like a sexy belly dancer. As you do it, connect to the physical sensations you’re feeling in that area, and sound out the feeling.
Just like the full body snaking, try this at different speeds to see the way that’s most effective for you to connect with that energy.
I think of disgust as a bonus emotion that is very powerful to work with. The reason for this is that disgust can be an intensely “charged” feeling – like repulsion, we feel strongly about it.
I will tell you a very short version of a very interesting story: for all of my teenage life, I was heavily disgusted by my body. I hated how much my skin broke out, I hated how sensitive my stomach was, and I hated how I looked.
I thought I had healed most of that insecurity as I got older. That is… until I was doing practices like these, and I connected with the emotion of disgust.
I was immediately overwhelmed, incredibly nauseous, and horrified, because I realized I was still holding reserves of it inside my body.
On top of that, I eventually realized that a part of me actually loved feeling like my body was gross. That sensation – the bodily sensation caused by the thoughts “I’m gross” – elicited a strange, erotic type of charge. And as I connected to it, I had an energetic orgasm.
And what’s so interesting about things that we feel so strongly about – the things we hate soooo much that we can’t stand it – is that they are often partially desired by a part of our consciousness. (You’ve heard about those Catholic priests who condemn queerness only to end up being gay themselves, yes?)
Many people feel disgust about parts of themselves and their lives without consciously noticing it. And that’s bad news – because if we aren’t aware of it and don’t feel that disgust, we can’t release it. Which means it’ll just keep attracting the things we hate so much into our lives.
If you’ve ever felt hatred or insecurity about a part of your body, your choices, or disgust around other people’s bodies or choices (which is usually just a reflection of your own), you probably have a good amount of disgust that’s worth exploring.
Movements for disgust:
Standing up, make faces, stick out your tongue, make sounds, and hunch over, as if you were facing the grossest thing that ever existed. Really let your body do what it wants to do with this. If you actually throw up, great (read the FAQs below for more about this).
If you’re not immediately connecting to it, it can help to keep in mind something specific that you feel a lot of disgust around – just stay connected to the physical sensations inside your body.
Okay! Those are all the cathartic movements I’m going to share for today. On to the next emotional expression!
2. Intuitive Movement
Many people teach versions of this, but I actually came upon it quite organically myself, so I’m just going to describe it in the way I relate to it.
Like I’ve been saying, your body already has all the tools it has ever needed to have in order to process and release emotion.
This is an unlearning, rather than a learning.
One of the best things you will ever do for your body will be to cut off the chains of restriction on the types of movements and sounds it wants to make.
Now, not all of it will be socially appropriate (though if you want to shake and scream in public, go for it, you just might scare some people) – which is fine, because you can just do it at home.
Moving intuitively is like a type of dance. It’s just that the dance is not trying to look attractive or accomplish anything other than allowing your emotions to process through your body.
It’s very basic, though it’s not easy: you’ll put on music (if you want, but I think it makes it easier), and you’ll allow your body to move however it wants to move to the music. You will stay connected to the physical sensations in your body the entire time.
At first, it will probably feel like your thinking mind is moving your body. That’s fine – that’s what you’ve been taught to do most of your life, so why would it initially be any different?
The most important thing I can emphasize about this practice is that it is a practice, and that if you keep up with it, it will eventually shift into such a beautiful, transformative kind of organic movement where it feels like your body is moving itself, and your mind isn’t present.
It might look like any combination of: flowy movements, shaking, movements on only one side of the body, jerking parts of your body, stomping, jumping, screaming, sitting still, swaying… if your body wants to do it, that is what you do.
I don’t have any studies to prove this, but my hunch is that the space my brain goes into during this type of movement is similar to the space it’s proven to go into during hypnosis or breathwork – which is that the cortical control of the brain lowers, and you’re accessing more of your emotional brain. (This also can happen through sex).
If this doesn’t feel accessible, try the cathartic movements first – they provide a bit more of a template than moving intuitively does.
Breathwork has single-handedly helped me heal a lot of trauma and rewire my nervous system, and I only mention it last because I think it is the least accessible for someone new to it to do alone at home (though, I am going to give you something you can try).
There are many, many types of breathwork. Not all breathwork does the same thing. The type of breathwork I do with clients is a connected breath – which means there are no pauses in between the inhales and the exhales.
This type of continuous breathing, when done for long enough periods of time, lowers the level of cortical control in the brain and allows stress cycles to be completed in the body.
The reason you want to be cautious when trying breathwork on your own is because you can enter into past trauma cycles, become overwhelmed with not knowing how to process them, and retraumatize your body.
If someone experienced is there to guide you, they will be able to help you process it, and they’ll also be able to guide you deeper than you’d be able to go on your own. Many people teach breathwork, and they teach many different types – I suggest doing research and making sure that the person you’re doing it with is trained in working with trauma (even if you don’t think you carry trauma).
So I want you to feel cautious about it, intrigued to seek out people who can lead you into it… and also to understand that you can do a smaller version of it yourself at home, if you treat your body gently.
If you want to try it alone, I suggest breathing slowly, not doing it for longer than 15 minutes, and making sure that you’re really familiar with resourcing yourself (mentioned earlier in this article) before you start.
Basically, it will go like this: you’ll lie on your back on a comfortable surface and in a comfortable position. You can cover your eyes with something to make the room dark if you want to. You also might want to have lip balm on (so your lips don’t get dry while you breathe) and water nearby.
You can put on a playlist if you want – I really like curating a playlist for breathwork to the mood I’m in. For your first one, I suggest songs that feel calm and soothing to you.
Either set a timer for 15 minutes, or have your playlist end at around that time.
Set an intention for this practice, too. It can be to nourish your body, to release some sadness, or whatever comes to you.
Once you’re ready, you’ll begin the connected breath: taking long, slow, deep breaths in and out through your mouth. No pauses between the inhales and the exhales. Kind of like a “second wind” in running, you might notice some resistance at first, and then your body will soften into it. You want to have a stronger inhale, and a relaxed exhale (no need to force the exhale out).
Stay connected to the physical sensations present in your body, and breathe into those spaces.
See what happens if you make sounds on the exhales – just like in the cathartic movements, if those feelings could make a sound, what would they sound like?
You might find that your body cycles through different speeds of breathing, different emotions, and different sounds of expression.
In longer breathwork sessions, I’ve experienced tingling, visions, nausea, puking, crying, screaming, hysterical laughter, strange noises I didn’t know my body could make, and more.
All of this is part of the body processing emotions and past experiences through your system.
In a 15-minute session, you might experience different emotions come up in lighter ways that don’t feel overwhelming. You can liberate these through sound and movement – same as with intuitive movement, if your body has an impulse to kick or punch the air, you can follow it.
You will probably also experience tingling, which is totally fine and just comes from the oxygenation of your blood.
Another thing that can happen is tetany (though most likely won’t from 15 minutes), which is also okay and normal but can feel scary. With tetany, your hands clench up involuntarily, and it can feel like they’re paralyzed. Scientists are not positive about why this happens, but it always goes away, and it can help to both slow your breath down, take bigger inhales, and to allow it to exist.
If you have a particular area of your body where you know you tend to store emotion, you can do an entire breathwork session focused on what you’re feeling in that space.
I do not recommend breathing for longer than 15-20 minutes on your own without any other form of support, teaching, or guidance.
Hitting pillows, as described in the “anger” section.
Some FAQs about emotional expression:
Q: What if I can’t feel anything?
A: Give your body time. If you don’t regularly feel or process your emotions, most of these things will probably not come easily or naturally to you. But be gentle with yourself about it – the reason they don’t come naturally for you isn’t your fault, it’s because of the experiences you’ve had throughout the rest of your life. Your past self deserves a lot of compassion for that, and if you fully allow your experience while you keep trying, you eventually will start feeling something.
Q: I don’t have one of the emotions listed.
A: Nobody truly “doesn’t have” a particular emotion (barring brain injury, etc). Even if you personally don’t have any reason to feel sadness or anger or fear about any area of your life, you also as a human being have access to the collective feelings on our planet.
If there is an emotion that you feel resistance to, I invite you to get really curious about that particular emotion – were you ever taught that you weren’t allowed to feel it? Who do you think of when you think about that emotion? – because there is probably something significant to explore in it for you.
Q: When I try to feel anger, I just feel tired or sad. Why?
A: This is resistance to the anger, and it usually comes from past experiences around being taught not to feel anger. Try going through the movements anyway, and giving your body full permission to feel however you’re feeling about it. You can also try feeling angry about the fact that you don’t feel angry.
This is super common for women especially – understand that it comes from centuries of being taught that anger is unsafe and wrong to feel. You might notice that on some level, you’re also afraid of your own power.
It isn’t true that it’s unsafe to express anger, but right now your body might believe that is true – so the key to being able to express it will be to teach your body slowly that it is, in fact, safe to feel and express your anger. And that really just comes from continuing to practice with a sense of compassion – basically, by doing it anyway.
Q: Why do I feel nauseous or throw up when processing certain emotions?
A: This might never happen to some people, but for me, my body tends to process things very physically, and it happens to me constantly. I don’t know that this has ever been scientifically studied, but it is present throughout many traditions that nausea and vomiting are results of moving energy through the body and releasing it from the body.
I definitely don’t advocate for any forced puking (for me, whether or not I actually throw up as opposed to dry heave seems mostly dependent on how recently I’ve eaten), but if you feel really nauseous and feel it come up, let it out – I’ve had some of my most significant releases and energetic processes that way. Also know that you can stop it if you really want to, just by slowing down or pausing, and connecting to your resource.
If you have any questions about this article that would also be helpful for others, you can email them to me and I’ll update this article with the answers, as long as the answers will benefit others.
You’ve reached the end!
If you do some of these practices regularly, you will absolutely transform the way you experience your entire life.
You will feel more empowered and more in control over your emotions, because you’ll understand how to relate to them and process them, instead of letting them rule over you. You’ll feel more comfortable expressing how you feel to others. And you’ll feel more elation and joy – because opening up one side of the spectrum always opens up the other.
Ultimately, every emotion can feel pleasurable to feel, because feeling emotion is part of the beautiful experience of being alive.
And that’s my wish for you – to feel fully, wonderfully, exquisitely alive.