Originally published in Live Mint Lounge on 02 January 2024.
How do you relate to your emotions? Here is a simple test. As you read this question, make a mental note of where your focus and awareness are shifting to. The question is, “How are you feeling right now?”
Take a pause. Pay attention to yourself. What is happening? Write down the 3 words that came to your mind about how you are feeling right now. If the words you jotted down did not have ‘okay’, ‘better’, ‘think’, ‘tired’, or ‘hungry’, you are amongst the few who are able to identify their feelings without intellectualising it. Surprisingly, many people end up ‘thinking’ and articulating their thoughts even when invited to share how they are feeling.
“Emotions are energy in motion. They need to move through us, be felt fully and expressed. Otherwise, they get stored in different parts of our body, and repressed emotions, over time, affect not just our health but also our relationships, work, and the ability to enjoy and live life fully. Unfortunately, as a society we are neither taught emotional intelligence nor encouraged to practice it as children.”, says Akanksha Thakore, a mental well-being professional and founder of Ripple Effect based in Mumbai.
Emotional intelligence is broadly defined as a person’s ability to recognize and contextualise their emotions and the emotions of others.1 It is, therefore, both intra-personal intelligence and inter-personal intelligence. While the rational intelligence focus on facts and logical reasoning, emotional intelligence relates to how facts and reasoning are applied. The corner stones of emotional intelligence are self-awareness, self-management, and social awareness.
Organisational Psychologist Tasha Eurich found in her research that 95 percent of people think they are self-aware, but only 10-15 percent actually are. She found that working with team members who are not self-aware can cut a team’s success in half leading to high stress and low motivation levels.
Self-awareness needs to be complimented with a conscious cultivation of the ability to respond to the emotions that arise in different contexts in life. In the absence of this response capability, one would end up reacting to situations leading to dysfunctions in relationship and organisational spaces. Leaders who lack this capacity often show up as reactionary to their peers and associates at workplace.
Social awareness or contextual intelligence is the ability to tune into and understand the emotions of other people around you and the organisational dynamics. What is described as an experience of empathy by people is often a consequence of practising social awareness. This allows a person to make a choice being aware of both how they feel within themselves as well as a sense of the other person’s emotional location. This is critical for leaders to create a resonance with those with whom they engage with.
A Yogic Perspective
I was first introduced to the power of the emotional landscapes within me through a set of programs designed by my mentor Sri Raghu Ananthanarayanan, a behavioural scientist and co-founder of Ritambhara Ashram. Being part of these programs enabled me to discover the deeper connection between emotions, healing and well-being for myself. It also introduced me to practices from Yoga and Nātya śāstra which transformed the way I looked at emotional intelligence and well-being.
Over the years, I’ve observed both in therapeutic as well as coaching engagements that many ailments in people often begin with a suppression or repression of their natural feelings. Social conditioning while growing up plays an important part in this. Growing up, children often introject certain social norms into their minds leading to giving permission to experience certain emotions and blocking themselves from feeling fully certain other emotions. Some of the most common ways in which this kind of suppression or repression happen is when elders in family or educational institutions make statements such as “Boys do not cry”, “Girls do not laugh out loud.”, or “To show anger is to be a bad person.” etc.
Both Yoga and Nātya śāstra encourages one to celebrate and feel all the rasas. In Indian aesthetics, nava rasas is given as a lens to look at the world of feelings and emotions. According to Nātya śāstra, the eight primary emotions have their base in the ninth, śānta. The nava rasas are vīra (courage), śṛṇgāra (love), raudra (wrath), bībhatsa (disgust), hāsya (mirth or humour), kāruṇya (compassion), adbhuta (wonder), bhayānaka (fear), and śānta (tranquility).
An alignment between the inner experience at a being level with the outer expression is necessary for one to experience greater response capability and choicefulness in action. Abhinay Darpana of Nandikeśvara has a beautiful verse that reflect this alignment.
“Yatho Hasta Thatho Drishti, Yatho Drishti Thatho Manah,
Yatho Manas Thatho Bhavo, Yatho Bhavo Thatho Rasah”
“Wherever the hand goes there should the eyes, wherever the eyes are there should be the mind, where there is mind involved there evolves the bhāva, and where there is bhāva there is rasa.”
Renowned Yoga Achārya Sri T Krishnamacharya once said that, “A healthy individual is one who is able to all the rasās as it arises in them and return to a state of śāntam after the emotional experience.” How many of us can experience all our rasas in this manner?
Living with Emotional Intelligence
Music, arts, and theatre can help one access the emotions at a deeper and subtler level. During the Covid lock down years, I had designed an inner work program, Rāga Yoga, with two musicians Shruti Bode and Aarti Sivakumar, where we explored different rāgās of Indian classical music to evoke different rasās in the participants. This opened the possibility for them to work with the patterns of their emotional expressions and experiences in a safe space, and discover newer possibilities in life.
“I found myself going through a plethora of emotions ranging from ecstasy and joy to a deep melancholy. I realise how freeing it is when you explore the patterns in life from a space of curiosity, rather than fear.”, says an IT professional from Bangalore at the end of a Rāga Yoga retreat in Bir Billing in Himachal Pradesh.
Perhaps, none puts it better than the eight-year-old Zara who tagged along with her mom for my retreat in the mountains. “Emotions have a mind of their own. When you have too many big feelings your emotional brain takes over. It does not function like our ordinary brain. If you feel something, the feeling goes through your emotional brain and comes out as action.”, says Zara.
Leading with Emotional Intelligence
Research shows that every unaddressed conflict can waste about eight hours of company time in gossip and other unproductive activities, lowering morale and resources for the firm. “Getting in touch with the sensations of the body, labelling your feelings, creating a safe space for yourself to vent the emotions, and validating and accepting what you are feeling before thinking how to deal with them, are some simple practices anyone can adopt in their daily routine to nurture emotional intelligence.”, says Akanksha.
In a globalised world where most of us are geographically mobile and in culturally diverse contexts, nurturing and practicing emotional intelligence is critical in building trust and developing deeply nourishing human connections.