I remember chuckling to myself a good few years back when my yoga teacher was talking about the link between yoga and our emotions. I mean, who cries on their yoga mat? Ha! Not me, I thought. I’m far too ‘together’ for that. Nope, you won’t catch me sniffling in savasana, or welling up in wheel pose…
Then during my first teacher training, it happened. There I was just chilling out in child’s pose when one of the teachers pressed down on my back. It was as though she had found the switch for my tear ducts. It took me completely by surprise…I mean, tough old me? Who would have thought!
Over the last three and a half years of teaching, I have seen firsthand the rollercoaster of emotions that yoga practice can bring about; from hysterical laughter in backbends and anger in pigeon pose, to floods of tears in final resting savasana. So what makes us laugh or cry…and what does yoga have to do with it all? Renowned yogi Max Strom sums it up nicely in his book, ‘A Life Worth Breathing.’ “Nothing happens in the mind that doesn’t happen in the body. They are one. Within our bodies we hold the mental, emotional and tactile experiences of our past and present. By manipulating the body through yoga we release buried emotions…”
Even if you don’t practice yoga, think about the last time you had a really good massage. Or perhaps a good old cracking at the chiropractor. Chances are you may have felt a little release of emotion then, even if you can’t quite put your finger on exactly what it was!
It is often said that our hips carry the brunt of our negative emotions. As American teacher, Stephanie Snyder says, our pelvis is like the ‘junk drawer’ for all the feelings or experiences that you do not know what to do with. Coming up to my ‘ladies holiday’ (girls you know what I mean), I often experience a slight wave of emotion – sometimes it only takes supta baddha konasana to set me off! (See my picture for more details). Forward bends can also have the same effect. Emotionally they are introspective, grounding and calming and can help us to process negative feelings, or simply work towards letting go of the weight of whatever is bothering us.
Backbends are a different ball game. Said to release vital energy, these awaken and stimulate the central nervous system. By opening the chest – even simply by deep breathing – we can help promote positive feelings such as joy, compassion and love, by breaking through the amour that many of us carry around our heart centre.
Inversions are also another excellent way to shake up negative emotions. Literally taking our world and turning it upside down can help us to see things from a different perspective. Physically, poses like handstand, headstand and forearm balance invigorate the body, promoting courage and mental clarity. I never fail to feel a little happier after some time spent upside down!
Still a little dubious? That’s ok! Not all of us will churn up emotions during our yoga practice. As Max Strom says: “Who you are and what your current issues are will determine which emotions you experience.” But next time, why not take a little space between poses to close your eyes and observe how they make you feel. Without striving for an emotional outcome, just turn up, roll out your mat and see what surfaces!
This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
…a poem by Rumi