Photo of a stacked rock cairn in a stream

A healing practice for sadness

Your sadness can help you relieve tension

Sadness is a healing emotion that helps you let go of things that aren’t working anyway. If you can learn to relax and let go, you can connect to the healing heart of sadness.

Sadly, many of us don’t  to approach sadness in this way, and when it arises, we tend to lose our way. So let’s get comfortable and lean into the healing gifts of sadness.

A simple sadness practice

Breathe in until you feel a bit of tension in your chest and rib cage, and hold your breath for a count of 3. (Don’t create too much tension. If you’re uncomfortable, let some air out before you hold your breath.)

After the count of 3, breathe out, let your body go limp, relax your chest and shoulders, and feel the tension leaving your body. Let your arms hang loose, relax your body, and let go.

Breathe in again until you feel a slight tension, hold your breath for a count of 3, and this time, sigh audibly as you exhale and relax your body.

Inhale one more time, and sigh out loud as you exhale and let go. If you feel relaxed and a bit less tense, thank the emotion that helped you. Thank your sadness!

I intentionally evoked your sadness by creating something that didn’t work or feel right — which is the tension you felt when you held your breath. And then, I intentionally had you perform the actions your sadness requires, which involve relaxing, releasing, and letting go. Simple.

Sadness is a simply wonderful emotion that helps you let go of things that aren’t working for you … such as tension, muscle tightness, anxiety, and what I call “soldiering on” behaviors.

Relying on your inner flow

In The Language of Emotions, I call sadness The Water Bearer because it brings fluidity to a tight, tense, or arid body. Sadness is a gorgeous emotion that brings you the irreplaceable gift of letting go.

However, sadness really isn’t welcome in our emotional world or our social world, and so most of us tend to soldier on without the relief of sadness. 

I’ve been interested to see the ways that we’ve created a sadness-avoidant world. Relaxation has become severely compartmentalized, to the extent that we relax on weekends and during vacations, but very rarely during the workday, at school, or in front of other people.

Relaxation and even breathing have also become professionalized, such that many of us pay masseuses, yoga teachers, and alternative practitioners of all stripes to help us breathe, relax, and let go.

But your sadness belongs to you

You may be able to pay people to help you relax, but you can also relax on your own with the help of your sadness.

Small waterfall in a green rock faceYou can welcome sadness in your life by remembering to breathe in and let your tension go. You can listen to sadness instead of swatting it away or soldiering through it.

When sadness arises, you can look for things that aren’t working anyway, and let them go.

The questions for sadness are What must be released? and What must be rejuvenated?

The next time you feel sad, see if you can breathe in and let go of tension as you exhale. The breathing technique above is a sadness-based exercise, and it will help you learn how to access your sadness with ease.

This practice will also help you learn how to work with your sadness internally — so that even when you’re in a situation where honestly expressing your sadness would be socially dangerous, you can still take good care of yourself.

The next time you feel like crying (but you can’t cry because the people around you can’t deal with sadness), observe your reaction. Most of us tense up and get very tight and rigid when it’s time to cry (this reaction often makes our inner situation worse, not better!).

If it’s not safe to cry, see if you can at least relax a bit, breathe in gently, and let your body have a felt sense of letting go.

It’s not the same thing as a good cry, but it’s better than becoming rigid and inflexible, or crushing your sadness under the weight of everything you’ve been holding on to.

Observe the ways you’ve learn to treat your sadness

As you move into a closer relationship with your healing sadness, be aware of your habitual responses to hectic situations.

Do you distract yourself when your tears and sadness attempt to come forward? Or do you respond to tension and your honest need to let go by trying to bring more joy to your life? Sadly, that won’t work, because flow, relaxation, and rejuvenation are the gifts of sadness; they’re not the gifts of joy!

Joy and its comrades (happiness and contentment) are lovely states, but they don’t work in the way sadness does. Manufacturing joy, or chasing happiness, contentment, or exhilaration when it’s actually time to work with sadness – these are all distractions and avoidance behaviors that can get in your way.

When you require deep relaxation and deep release, you can rely on the healing influence of your sadness. 

Welcome your sadness, breathe, and relax into yourself. Sadness doesn’t come to steal your stuff!

Sadness arises when you’re holding on to something that doesn’t work anyway. Let go. Welcome your sadness, let go, relax, and then more forward with clearer eyes and a stronger vision of what works for you now.

And make more space for sadness in the world

What do most of us do when people around us are sad?

The first thing most of us do when we’re confronted with sadness is to smile and put on a cheery attitude. This is often a response to the way people behave when they’re sad, which is to apologize and feel ashamed of themselves. So we try to make it better, and help the sad people repress their honest sadness.

The more skilled among us might be able to listen supportively, but eventually, we’ll probably try to put a happy face on the sadness we encounter.

As you learn to work with your own sadness, see if you can find ways to welcome sadness in other people as well. If people around you need to cry, don’t stop them or turn away in embarrassment. Just breathe in, relax, and create a space for the real emotions of the people around you.

Many of us have learned to be emotion-challenged and sadness-avoidant, but you have the power to change unworkable social rules about emotions, at least in your area of influence.

Letting go of things that don’t work anyway is one of the many gifts of sadness.

Thank you for making room for sadness, and for bringing more emotional awareness and more empathy to our waiting world.


4 Responses

  1. Leigh
    | Reply

    Reading this this taught me something about how I view sadness. It’s hard thinking or feeling something random, going to the internet for an explanation of that thought/emotion, and actually getting an answer you resonate with. As I reads this my sadness embodied me and I felt a sincere connection between the sadness and acceptance.

    The answer to my sadness was that simple. Just letting go of things that don’t work. What I was feeling was the result of something minor, but it was cherry on top. As you said, I was fighting the sadness and was trying to bring the joy in my life. Now that!! Omg why was that my solution before even reading this.

    Thank you for you for writing this. ❤️

    • Karla McLaren
      | Reply

      Welcome Leigh.

      Isn’t sadness marvelous, and wouldn’t life be sweeter if we were able to listen to all of our emotions as easily as you just listened to your sadness?

      Thanks for your comment.

  2. Ilana
    | Reply

    Your journey towards emotional healing is truly inspiring.

    • Karla McLaren
      | Reply

      Thank you! I give all credit to the emotions — especially the ones that we’re told are “negative.”

      The emotions contain more healing wisdom that most people can even imagine!

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