“A philosophy of life is a bundle of wisdom you have gathered from your reading and experience. It is not a rigid ideology that allows no development and complexity. It’s a living thing, a developing idea about life that belongs to you alone.”
– Thomas Moore, Dark Nights of the Soul
A good yoga teacher is one who’s capable of reading the energy within the room and adapting the lesson to accommodate the current environment and shift its energy. Teachers, nurses, therapists, RMT’s, hair stylists, parents; these roles are alike in creating experiences that make people feel good about themselves. Whenever we come into contact with another person, we enter a tacit agreement of giving and receiving. Empaths are people who feel what others feel on a visceral level. Without the knowledge of how to set boundaries, an empath may take on someone else’s emotions.
Whenever we come into a relationship, it’s important to understand what’s ours and what isn’t, be it with a student, friend, sibling, parent, or significant other. It is important for us to learn how to clear negative energy, set healthy boundaries, and process intense emotions. Without an awareness of how we are affected by others and how we take up space, we may not recognize when we are holding onto a story or emotion that doesn’t serve or if we’re taking on energy or emotion that isn’t ours.
This week in our discussion, Clara Roberts-Oss shared tools for empaths with methods on how to set boundaries as we learn all the ways we give and receive.
Interview with Clara on Tools for Empaths
Clara: An empath or an empathic person is someone who can feel the feelings that other people are feeling when they come into a shared space. So you walk into a room where you step into someone’s field and all of a sudden you feel like crying, or you feel a strong emotion that you realize is not yours.
Stephanie: You mentioned the different ways to purge energy if you’re an empath and if you’re picking up stuff that isn’t yours in how washing your hands or touching the ground are powerful ways to clear. Can you elaborate on some of the other methods?
Clara: I feel like a lot of empaths go into the healing modalities because we have this automatic urge to take away or shift people’s pain. And then that’s why I find a lot of healers burn out because they don’t know how to cleanse the energy that they’re picking up. My martial arts teacher, Constantine Darling, shared a technique where you literally feel your feet on the ground and you allow the emotion to wash down into the earth because the earth, at least in the martial arts, can take every energy and transform it.
I’m very tactile so I like moving my toes and feeling the ground underneath me and then envisioning that I’m literally washing the emotion down my legs and into the earth. I also recommend washing your hands. Water is very, very healing. And the other thing you can do is you can shake. Shaking is something that animals will naturally do after a traumatic experience, they start to shake. Shanking releases the energy and moves the experience out.
Stephanie: How do you work with energy when you’re teaching yoga?
Clara: As somebody who can walk into a room and feel what everyone is feeling, I need to stay grounded in myself. This is the work for all empaths. Feeling my feet and my physical body, or hearing my own breath, are all ways I ground and stay connected to myself. And widening my awareness to kind of feel the people around me and to recognize what is mine and what isn’t mine. And then also to be able to feel what other people are feeling without letting it shake me on a deeper level.
I got this technique from my martial arts teacher who works a lot with energy, which is why I loved him so much.
The practice is to choose a giver and receiver, and the giver essentially thinks of a shape or a color and sends it off to the receiver and the receiver tries to envision it. In this practice, we play with different ways of sending the image through your mind’s eye or sending the image through your heart or imagining it’s moving through your hands.
I did a lot of that kind of work for a couple of years with him. I feel like that really helped me understand what is mine and what isn’t mine. I feel like therapy really does that too.
Therapies have been a big one and self-reflective practices like meditation helped me understand how I give and receive, but it was mostly the martial arts work that I did.
We’re constantly giving and receiving, knowingly and unknowingly. Every time you come into interaction with somebody else or you come into interaction with an environment, we give and receive. And so there’s no way around it One thing that was cool about this exercise with my martial arts teacher is to recognize: am I a stronger giver or a stronger receiver? Meaning, when I come into the room, do I take up space? Do people know how I’m feeling? When I walk into the room, can I feel what everybody else is feeling? It’s an important one to understand because it also helps you get clear around your boundaries.
Stephanie: What can you say about setting boundaries?
Clara: The biggest work is how to come back. The important part is how quickly we’re able to come back to neutral and how quickly we can forgive and let things go. This for me has been a very big lesson in my own boundary work.
People love to hold the hot coal. The coal is the anger or the conflict. And that’s a choice, to hold the coal. The coal is the story that you tell yourself, that you’re unwilling to put down. We have the choice to put the coal down whenever we want, but we keep holding onto it until all of a sudden we’re burning and we are the ones in pain. So the practice is, how quickly can I put the coal down? I feel like, at least for me, that a lot of my boundary work is to let the story go, to put down the coal, and let it go. And now in this moment, forgive myself, forgive the person across from me and ask: how do we move forward?
Stephanie: So non-attachment, to the story, conflict, or emotion.
Clara: The other part that’s also important, and I’m also working on for myself, is transparency. Just being fully transparent in sharing with others whatever it is that I’m feeling. Giving and receiving is such a fascinating one, it’s this interaction, this play between you and whatever it is outside of you.
“During the dark night, there is no choice but to surrender control, give in to unknowing, and stop and listen to whatever signals of wisdom might come along. It’s a time of enforced retreat and perhaps unwilling withdrawal. The dark night is more than a learning experience; it’s a profound initiation into a realm that nothing in the culture, so preoccupied with external concerns and material success, prepares you for.” – Thomas Moore. Dark Night of the Soul
Clara: The dark night is when we are in something intense and when we are in shadow. When we’re in a place that is uncomfortable and unknown.
Stephanie: Thomas Moore is celebrating the idea of being in our sadness to learn more about ourselves instead of calling it sadness. And allowing yourself to be in that experience.
Clara: As long as you have the tools. I feel like the problem that happens for a lot of people and why we shy away from those strong emotions is we haven’t ever given them the space to be fully expressed. So anger is a great indicator that there’s something stronger going on. It’s usually covering a deeper emotion, like sadness or grief. Anger shows up because anger allows us to stay in control.
Anger is one of my favorites because I love being in control. And so it’s a wonderful indicator for me. We’re not in control. Anger is in control, We have to be vulnerable in order for all of the emotions to be felt.
And that’s generally a lot harder for somebody who loves control.
Stephanie: What are some of the things that you do to you move through your anger or acknowledge your sadness?
Clara: The biggest thing that I need I do for myself is to step away. I need to step out of the situation, whatever that situation is. I need space to soften, to let go and breathe, and ideally be quiet. And then I start to kind of chew on what’s really going on or what is it about the other person that really triggered me?
Generally, I find if something triggers me, there’s something there for me to learn. Reflection is key.
I write it out through journaling or the other way I process and reflect is I speak it out, either with my therapist or with a close friend. Another way would be through meditation or through movement itself. But I find these days, I prefer just sitting and kind of observing and asking, why am I affected by this?