My intention is to share my personal thoughts and experiences around how yoga can improve your emotional intelligence in a clear and thought out way.
I’ve been practicing yoga for about 2 years, and I’ve been teaching yoga for almost a year now. A week ago, I came across an emotional intelligence post on Medium titled “The 10 Qualities of An Emotionally Intelligent Person.” It was a good article, but I was disappointed.
Truthfully, I am a bit annoyed after reading because there are hundreds of articles on this topic. As there is not much consistency, I was inspired to fully break down the concept by writing this piece connecting:
Yoga and Emotional Intelligence (EQ)
How many articles, books, or podcasts have you read on this topic? I’ve probably read somewhere between 40–60 in the last 3 years. Respected authors who emphasize the importance of EQ to name only a few are Dr. Travis Bradburry, Gary Vaynerchuck, and Ariana Huffington’s Thrive Global.
The majority of content on EQ on the internet is made up of two concepts: “What are the qualities of emotionally intelligent people” and “How do you use emotional intelligence”.
I’m serious. Google and see what pops up: 200,000,000 search results.
Personally and for argumentative sake, I will choose the Wikipedia definition for EQ:
“The capability of individuals to recognize their own emotions and those of others, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goals”
There are two major points to this definition:
1. Recognize emotion
2. Manage emotion
If you read articles from the google search results I mentioned previously, you read about the various qualities of emotionally intelligent people. You should be self-aware, empathetic, motivated. You are positive, open for feedback, helpful, you think about your feelings. You are caring, compassionate, and mindful.
The list goes on.
Why is it that there are so many qualities or personalities you should have just for the two major points of the EQ definition?
What does being positive or motivated have to do with recognizing emotion? How does being open for feedback relate to managing emotion? Truthfully, I believe the reason why so many people write about EQ in this way is for two reasons: it’s relatable and easier to explain.
I believe in a different approach to Emotional Intelligence.
Part 1: Recognize Emotion
How do you recognize emotion?
By being present.
Practicing yoga teaches you to be present. During yoga, you are connecting your movements with your breathing. Even though some professionals may disagree, I experience yoga as a movement meditation. During a movement meditation, there is nothing more present than the connection between your breath and body. The first step in recognizing emotion is by being present with the emotion.
By practicing yoga, you will slowly start to understand your emotions with more clarity, compassion, and help build overall self-awareness.
I want to catch myself here. Yes, I just used characteristics and qualities that other articles have stated: compassion, self-awareness, etc. However, these are qualities that require time and practice to develop.
I am emphasizing the HOW behind the process in achieving an ability to recognize emotion, and I am not telling you WHAT you need change to recognize emotion.
Practicing yoga gives you the lessons you need to Recognize Emotion.
Part 2: Manage Emotion
Managing emotion is a bit more complicated to explain. I believe this is why you see so many articles on the personality or qualities you need to have in order to be emotionally intelligent.
Let’s break the definition down.
Manage = To Control or To Handle Emotion = A state of response created by the autnomic nervous system (limbic system) originating from an event or experience
One of the biggest misconceptions of around feelings and thoughts is that humans think first, feel second. Humans are feeling beings that think.
“We are supposed to live in our bodies and use our thoughts as a tool, we live in our minds and use our bodies as tools.” Therefore:
Managing emotion is to control a nervous system response that comes from an experience or an event.
That sounds impossible. My point in breaking down the concept of EQ like this is to show why there are so many different thought leaders around this concept. It is not easy to digest, understand, and then state how to practice the concept.
Therefore, the work we have to do around managing emotion is not the emotion part — it’s the managing part. Emotions are natural biological responses in the body, and recognizing emotion comes from our ability to be present.
How Do We Manage Our Emotions?
Managing is similar to doing yoga — it must be practiced. To manage our emotions, we gather information, process information, and then make a decision based on the information.
Gather Information: What am I feeling? Label the emotion.Process Information: What does this emotion mean? What is the significance? How is this emotion affect me at this moment?Make a Decision: Choosing to show up in a way that aligns with your goals.
Our feelings come first. Our thoughts come second. Convince yourself of this process and your ability to manage emotion will strengthen.
Emotional Intelligence is a Value, not a Personality Trait
First, practicing yoga increases your ability to be present. By being present, you can recognize your emotions more clearly. You can sit with your emotions in a state of more openness and curiosity.
Secondly, managing emotion is an iterative process that comes after every stimulating event that triggers a feeling. Sometimes you will manage emotions successfully (i.e., make the correct choice that aligns with your goals) and sometimes you may fail.
However, yoga is your backbone to embrace the failure of managing emotion. How many times are you frustrated with an outcome? How many times are you upset that you are not moving forward in your career? Do you feel triggered by someone else’s actions? Sometimes, we cannot control these outcomes. Perhaps, it is because we processed an emotion correctly, but made a poor decision because of it.
Practicing yoga will help strengthen your resilience when you fail. As cliche as this sounds, we all fail sometimes, and it’s perfectly normal.
Yoga will increase your patience, self-compassion, and your overall processing power. You do not have to be a yoga teacher to tap into your emotional strength. The art of practicing yoga gives you an opportunity to explore yourself in new ways.
Yoga gives you an opportunity to better recognize your emotion and an opportunity to be self-compassionate around the practice of managing emotion.
View emotional intelligence as a process that requires practice, not a quality or personality trait.