Tonglen

Saturday, October 22, 2016


Tonglen


In yoga teacher training this weekend, the focus is on a practice of meditation called Tonglen, or giving and receiving.

Through Tonglen, we learn how to sit with our most distressing emotions, so that we can choose something different. If we are afraid, we take in our fear and transform it into courage. If we are sad, we take in that sadness, and let it hurt long enough to transform into joy. 

But we are not eradicating or “getting rid” of the fear or sadness. Instead, we are giving ourselves the space to feel it so deeply and so completely that it no longer has any power over us. And then, from that point, we can consciously take over and choose it’s opposite.

Often times in our lives, we avoid our troubling feelings. We don’t want to feel. So we numb ourselves to the pain, to the fear, to the sadness, and anger. We bury our feelings with our addictions: food, television, drugs, sleep, sex, etc… 

Until eventually, we implode. 

Tonglen is the practice of sitting with the discomfort of our emotions, so we can deal with them constructively and healthily. 

And this practice is not just limited to our own emotions, either. We can easily heal others through our practice by making the practice for them. We know our friend is grieving the loss of a loved one, so we breathe in her grief. We may have to recall a time when we felt a loss of our own to do this, and we let ourselves feel it fully. So fully, in fact, that it becomes transformed by the infinite love and joy within us all.

In yoga, we believe our natural state is one of boundless wisdom, compassion, love, and joy. Each and every one of us is connected by this truth of our existence, and any idea of separateness is just an illusion. The hurt of another, is our own hurt as well.

And through Tonglen, we find healing.

I encourage you to try it. Here’s how:

Tonglen Meditation


  1. Find a comfortable seat. Lengthen through your spine, and take a few breaths to relax any areas of tension in your body: shoulders, jaw, neck, abdomen, etc…
  2. Bring awareness to your breath. Start to lengthen your inhales and deepen your exhales. Feel your chest and abdomen rise and fall with the breath. Feel your lungs expand on the inhale. Feel the emptiness at the bottom of your exhale. Spend time with your breath.
  3. With your mind relaxed, allow any thoughts and emotions to surface. What comes up for you? Notice it without attaching a story to it. You don’t need to figure out why you feel something. Just feel it.
  4. Breathe in your feeling, whatever it is. Visualize it riding your breath as it enters your body. If it is anger, what does anger look like? If it is sadness, what does sadness look like? Use your imagination, and ignore any judgements. Your visualizations can be as weird as you like. This is your practice. You’re the only one who will see them.
  5. Pause and hold your breath at the top of your inhale. Feel the space in the center of your chest. Feel the stinging emotion to it’s fullest capacity. Allow it to be transformed in a washing-machine like experience into something different. 
  6. Exhale, and breath out the transformed emotion. Again, visualize this emotion as it leaves your body. What does peace look like? Or joy? Or love? Feel this emotion as it leaves your body.
  7. Repeat as many times as you need.

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