Literally, sometimes it comes on like a wave. Completely unexpected. Uncalled for. And truly throws you into an internal and external fit of not knowing what to do. Have you ever had this feeling come on while watching the news about a particular crime? Or maybe while reading someone’s personal story about a trauma they’ve experienced? Or maybe you’ve had this unexpected feeling come on while in conversation with a colleague who holds limiting perceptions of particular groups of people, or even at lunch with your mother because she thinks you could be doing better.
And just maybe, you’ve had this feeling in a yoga class, right at the end when you’re being asked to close your eyes and take Savasana in a room of strangers.
Do you know what I’m talking about? It’s called being triggered. That wave of unexpected, unsettling, consuming rush of anxiety, panic, fight or flight is called being triggered. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US HAS FELT TRIGGERED! And it’s okay and there is no shame in feeling triggered.
Here’s the thing about being triggered – we have conscious and unconscious understandings of what triggers us. I know from my personal experience, my mother’s way of genuinely expressing interest is to ask me a lot of questions and give me new things to think about in an effort to push me to new heights.
Although I am aware of how my mother expresses interest and support, in my mind, I hear her questioning nudges as, “I am not good enough. She knows I’m not good enough and is telling me so right now. And any successes I’ve had to date are meaningless because I need to be doing more.”
My mother without knowing unearths that wave of triggering emotions and one of two things happens: I shut down and push her away, or, I lash out at her and do my diligence to try to make her upset. Neither of these are good strategies for me or her.
The thing about feeling triggered is someone or something is able to unearth a feeling we haven’t quite dealt with or have made a choice to suppress. In my case, the feeling is insecurity and a sense of low worthiness or low value ascribed to my successes.
Now, I recognize having this conversation with my mother would be beneficial for both of us (and when she reads this, naturally a conversation will ensue). But, I have to stop and take care of myself first, before I can have an effective conversation with my mother or anyone who causes me to feel triggered (or to deal with an event that caused me to feel triggered – like being in a room of strangers with my eyes closed during Savasana).
So how do I that? Yoga! All of the yoga! Sure, going to a power yoga class will make me feel better. But, feelings of being triggered can linger on after I attend a class.
These triggering emotions are necessary, as Thich Nhat Hanh, spiritual leader and Buddhist monk, teaches us. He teaches us that these emotions arise and need to be treated with the same love, care, and affection as you would treat a baby. Once we learn to accept and treat our emotions with loving kindness, their power fades and an emotional healing process can begin. Remember – there is no personal growth without discomfort.
Here are four meditation and pranyama practices I do when I notice my triggers. Next time you feel yourself being triggered emotionally, you can easily do one of these practices in your office, your car, at home, or anywhere else you choose:
1. Loving Kindness & Self Love Meditation
Begin in a comfortable seated position (in a chair, on bar stool, on a bolster, wherever), with your eyes preferable open. Fix your gaze on something and place one hand on your heart and the other on your belly. Breathe in deeply through your nose and as you exhale, audibly let the air out of your mouth. Do this about five times. As you engage in this breathing exercise say to yourself the following mantra, “I am light. I am love. I am okay.”
2. Power In The Present Moment Meditation
Begin lying on the floor face down and place a bolster or a thick pillow underneath you – right around your navel (solar plexus chakra). Next stretch your arms out overhead and take a V-position with your legs. You want to resemble a starfish on your stomach. Turn your head to one side (with eyes opened or closed), breathe in through your nose and hold for a slow count of four, and exhale out of your mouth for a slow count of four. While in this pose say to yourself the following mantra, “Today is today. Tomorrow is tomorrow. I am in control of my present.”
3. Acceptance Meditation
Take Supta Baddha Konasana or Reclining Bound Angle pose with a bolster or thick pillow right between your shoulder blades. Place your arms out to the side (If you are at work or somewhere you can take seat, take this pose by placing both hands behind you on your low back, puff your chest out, and lift your head towards the ceiling).
While in this position, choose a fixed point on the ceiling and see who or what it is that has triggered you. Next, speak into the silence, “I feel triggered because…Although, I feel triggered, my heart is open to my discomfort and I am okay.”
4. Inner Strength Meditation
The last and final pose, I find to be helpful when I’m feeling triggered is taking a power stance. The pose is similar to Extended Mountain pose or Upward Salute pose, but instead you look like a vertical starfish. To do this, take your arms overhead, spread wide, and stand firmly grounded with your legs hip width apart. Take a slight backbend and allow your heart to shine towards the ceiling. Bring to mind what has just triggered you – take a deep inhale and audibly exhale. Say to yourself, “I felt triggered because…but, I am taking my power back. I am love. I am power.”
Treat what triggers you with love, patience, and understanding because you are okay and you are powerful!
Valin S. Jordan Ed.D. is an Assistant Professor of Diversity Education at University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Dr. Jordan’s work focuses on teacher identity and narrative as having particular implication for classroom practice. Dr. Jordan engages in contemplative pedagogy through the practice of yoga, she has founded an organization called, Yoga4SocialJustice. The organization is committed to mind and body connection through engagements of social justice and equity principles. More information can be found on Instagram @yoga4socialjustice or on the website https://www.yoga4socialjustice.org/.