Over the last few years, the term “Toxic Positivity” has gained relevance all around us, and for good reason. Messages such as “finding the bright side in everything”, “every situation has a silver lining”, “whatever happens, happens for a reason” can be harmful if they encourage people to suppress their real feelings by focusing on the “positives.”
In simple terms, Toxic Positivity can be defined as the excessive generalization of the happy, optimistic, or positive state across all and different life situations. The process of positive toxicity vastly undermines the authentic and real human emotional experience and paves way for denial, resentment and suppression of feelings. Just like anything else, when positivity is used in excess to silence or mask real emotions, it ends up becoming toxic.
The fact is, human beings are multi-faceted. We experience anger, fear, guilt, sadness, happiness, jealously and an entire range of emotions. To experience the entirety of life, it’s important we accept and validate all emotions for a genuine human experience, rather than trying to suppress them under the notion of “positive vibes only”.
Signs of Toxic Positivity:
- Finding ways to distract ourselves from our emotions
- Minimizing or inadvertently invalidating other people’s emotions with “feel good” and “it’s all in your head” statements.
- Trying to think our way out of our feelings with statements like, “Get over it.” “Move on.” “It doesn’t really matter,” or, “It could be worse.”
- Pushing down feelings of pain, anger and fear
- Shaming others for expressing feelings of frustrations or pain
- Feeling guilty for having negative emotions
There must be a sound balance between gratitude, positive thinking and our ability to sit in difficult human emotion without trying to escape from it. The question we have to ask ourselves is, “Am I using the positive to suppress the so-called negative?” Many of the mental health issues we face today have to do with suppression and denial of real feelings which, when left to fester over time, create significant issues. The more we can develop a healthy relationship with all parts of life, not just the parts we like or want to experience, the better off we’ll be. We need to learn not just how to feel good, but also how to get comfortable with feeling bad.
In truth, our ability to sit with and encounter our challenging feelings is a mirror image of our ability to fully experience the things that bring us delight, pleasure and joy. The beauty of life is revealed through its opposites. That is where Yoga Nidra comes in, to provide balance at the core rather than just the periphery; to be balanced in the midst of ALL human experience.
Yoga Nidra teaches us that life is defined through polarities. We only know happy because we experience sadness, we only know up because we experience down. The mind wants to divide these two and call one “good” and the other “bad.” But the truth is they are both just natural states of life. The more we can develop a relationship with the whole of life – and every emotion in it, the more we can find lasting peace in the midst of it all. Yoga Nidra takes you to the ultimate place of peace beyond both positive and negative. A place from which you can experience peace amidst all the notes of the human experience.
Life is Musical!
Imagine life is like music and made up of an infinite variety of notes. Instead of embracing, enjoying and celebrating every note of life – even the tender and painful ones — our tendency is to only choose the notes of life we want to feel while trying to block out the rest. But how would a song turn out if we restricted it to only happy, pleasurable and cheerful notes? Wouldn’t it be boring? Aren’t the best songs the ones which make us feel something deep inside of ourselves? Would we even know these were happy notes without the contrast of the sad? And wouldn’t endless pleasure in itself eventually become painful?
Nevertheless, instead of devoting our attention to living our life and experiencing the fullness of it, we opt to devote our life to not feeling pain. Before we know it, we can define our lives as a lifelong project of circumventing pain, conflict and any emotion which might bring us a hint of discomfort. We rob ourselves of the sweetness of every human note. Without even noticing it, we start avoiding, protecting and shutting down to parts of life until the scope and richness of the tapestry of life becomes smaller and smaller – only willing to live within a small range of notes for fear of experiencing anything else.
Balancing out Toxic Positivity with Yoga Nidra
As you practice Yoga Nidra more and more, you come in contact with yourself as a total person. A person who embraces the full range of emotions and experiences. A person who receives life without conditions – as a bittersweet yet fulfilling journey.
This change has to happen at the core of our being. We can’t just superficially change our mindset with will alone and tell ourselves we’ve done the hard work. Eventually, if left unattended, our deeper, unresolved feelings will bubble to the surface. Anything less than practices that heal us, make us aware and challenge us will only be temporary solution for happiness.
How Does Yoga Nidra Help?
Yoga Nidra naturally and gently surfaces unprocessed emotions, thoughts, and feelings. Giving yourself this time to detoxify your mind and emotions helps prevent an accumulated backlog of undigested experience which can eventually imbalance the mind and emotions.
Through the use of intention, you can develop a healthy positive relationship with life. One that helps you develop a constructive relationship with all its notes. Rather than using the positive to suppress the negative, we can focus on developing a constructive relationship with what we would normally avoid. In order to phase out of toxic positivity, this is precisely the skill we need to develop.
We all know that we can put attention on areas of our lives that we typically want to grow and expand – such as love, connection, abundance or creativity. What we may not know is that we can also create an intention around accepting the parts our lives that we normally avoid; like feeling sad, angry or lonely. Whatever your intention is, be conscious that you are not using your intention to deny a part of life. For example, if you really just need to feel sad, avoid an intention such as “I am happy.” That is just using the “positive” as an agent of suppression. Instead, you would be better off having an intention such as, “I sit with my sadness.”
Yoga Nidra combined with intention allows us to make these shifts from beyond the wilful mind. While the mind alone can pretend to feel one way while really feeling another way, Yoga Nidra allows us to make shifts deeper in the core of our consciousness where every part of our being says, “Yes.” Here our constructive intentions, designed to create a functional relationship with all of life, are received at the core of our being. As a result, the changes we experience are genuine rather than superficial.
Ultimately the purpose of Yoga Nidra is to take you beyond both positivity and negativity – to the place where all experiences are simply received as they are, without being labelled as good or bad. After all, why do we feel we need to be positive? Because we feel negatively about something deep inside. Once you begin to see things as they are, you don’t label any experience as good or bad – it just is. As this grows within you through the practice of Yoga Nidra, you won’t have to actively seek the positive because the negative is no longer perceived as negative.
Positivity is a middle step.
That said, moving from a negative to positive outlook has its place. Cultivating helpful attitudes towards life are needed and important. If you are lost in negative self talk or despair, shifting those attitudes are needed — but we don’t stop there. We consciously expand to include a healthy relationship with the things we don’t want to feel or tend to suppress. We widen our capacity to experience all the notes in life.
Eventually, yoga takes us to the the place that transcends both positivity and negativity. In that place, we can be at peace whether negativity or positivity is present. That is the ultimate freedom and the place where practices like Yoga Nidra, meditation and yoga are designed to take us. Can you find contentment when things aren’t just going your way, but even when they are not? That is the ultimate positivity.
How Can we Develop a Healthy Relationship with Our Emotions?
The only way out is through. We cannot avoid, suppress, deny or escape our human experience. Until we fully feel and acknowledge any feeling for the truth of what it is, it will stay in one form or the other.
When practicing conscious feeling, get out of your story about it, who caused it or where it came from. That is the external circumstance that triggered you. What you are actually feeling as an emotion is a sensation inside of you and that is what you need to pay attention to. Instead of focusing on the circumstances, ask yourself where you feel that whole event or circumstance in your body as sensation. If it is more than one place, begin with the place that draws your attention the most. Attune to the place in the body. Once you have located it, do what you would do with physical intensity in a yoga pose; Breath, Relax and Allow. Be willing to allow the physical sensation of the emotion to be present in your body without any agenda to get rid of it. Every time you want to get back into the story about it, redirect your attention to breathing and allowing the feeling as sensation in your body. As the emotion clears, often insight, perspective or knowing will emerge – and with it, a natural sense of contentment peace and happiness that naturally emanates from within. This is the happiness that you didn’t have to talk yourself into. It is the peace that comes when the storm is allowed to pass.
This is one of my favorite quotes of Krishnamurti from his book, “The Years of Fulfillment”:
There are various forms of escape but there is only one way of meeting sorrow. The escapes we are familiar with are really ways of avoiding the greatness of sorrow. The only way to avoid sorrow is to be without any resistance, to be without any movement away from sorrow, outwardly or inwardly, to remain totally with sorrow without wanting to go beyond it.”
This is what the practices of Yoga and Yoga Nidra teach us. How to be with the sorrow, to allow it, to acknowledge it..to simply allow it to be in the sky of awareness without any need to make it anything other than it is – yet knowing we are always more than it. We are the sky behind it all and we are always okay. It is this paradoxical state that meditation and yoga nidra bring us to; the place where we find peace in the midst of our humanity.
When you take a few moments to sit with yourself in Yoga Nidra or any other meditative practice that suits you, something amazing begins to happen:
- You become a lot more real. You feel liberated despite moments of pain. You become true to yourself.
- You tap into the bittersweetness of every emotion and sensation life has to offer. This brings you closer to a sense of happiness that emanates from within you regardless of the circumstances in your life.
- You are less attached to what you want and less afraid of what you don’t want.
- Your window of tolerance widens. This helps you to realize you can get through anything that life throws at you and develops inner faith and self-trust.
- You become empathetic of other people’s painful experiences. You become compassionate and help others see the richness of life.
- You heal parts of yourself you may not have even realized existed.
- Your capacity to enjoy the entire range of life increases while feeling at peace in the midst of it all. With it you actually feel happier more of the time!
For more information on Yoga Nidra, you can find guided I AM Yoga Nidra experiences on YouTube or on a convenient app such as this one: I AM Yoga Nidra for Apple and Android.
You can take an online course to help yourself become aware, challenge and make peace with every emotion you have.
- Positivity has its place, but becomes toxic when it is used to cover up the negative.
- We only feel we have to be positive about things we first feel negative about.
- With the practice of Yoga, Meditation and Yoga Nidra, begin by shifting negative attitudes to more helpful ones. Then by expanding your capacity to feel what you normally avoid. Eventually you naturally return to the peace behind it all.
- Intention combined with Yoga Nidra helps foster a healthy and constructive relationship with the emotions and feelings we don’t like to feel.
- Yoga Nidra detoxifies the mind and emotions of suppressed and unprocessed emotions that are affecting our health and state of mind.
- Focus on experiencing emotions consciously by stepping out of your story about them and allowing them to pass as pure sensation in the body. In order for this to work, you need to let go of any agenda to get rid of the feeling. Just be with it and breath with it. Only when it is fully acknowledged and felt, will it pass.
Kamini Desai PhD is the Author of Yoga Nidra: The Art of Transformational Sleep.
Originally published online at www.kaminidesai.com on June 24, 2021