Find UR flow
Occasionally some yoga participants can experience a bubbling up of emotions during or after their practice, as tears flow or frustration rises related to things entirely outside of their practice. More often, yogis will leave practice feeling uplifted, lighter and even invigorated. Personally, I find yoga to be my ‘reset’ button, it allows me to let things go and gives me a clear slate to start afresh.
Although experiencing negative emotions may at first appear to be an unwanted outcome, it is something quite different, that may lead to a deeper understanding of ourselves, a more conscious awareness and ultimately healing physically, emotionally and/or mentally.
Yoga classes are commonly known as non-judgemental, supportive community environments where people can come to practice with like-minded others and feel a part of something bigger than themselves, without having the pressure or anxiety experienced in other public settings where conversations or social anxiety may be triggered. This in itself can be of significant importance as the deep primal need to connect with other people is met.
During yoga practice breath work (pranayama) and concentration inward helps us to become more calm and relaxed diverting attention away from the stresses and endless busyness of everyday life. With our superficial mind focused on maintaining postures, the deeper mind is able to look towards addressing the issues you have pushed aside and below the surface such as stress, anger or suffering.
Joan Shivarpita Harrigan Ph.D and Psychologist says “anytime you are working with the body you are also working with the mind and the energy system – which is the bridge between the mind and the body… the holistic system of yoga was designed so that these emotional breakthroughs can occur safely.” These breakthroughs can be seen as personal progress on the road to personal and spiritual growth.
I have experienced this both personally during my own practice and also as a teacher witnessing students. Personally, I credit yoga and meditation along with breathing techniques to helping me immensely during life threatening health crises including a stroke and cancer, before and after surgeries and also in my day to day life to relax me and ease pain. Following surgery earlier this year the Anaesthetist (who had worked with me during an operation a few months earlier) replied to the nurse who was puzzled that I hadn’t required pain relief said “she’s a yogi and meditator, I remember her from last time, she doesn’t need it, she is so calm I can even tell during the operations and in her recovery, I wish everyone did it!”.
As a teacher I recall vividly one such incidence where a student had become completely overwhelmed with emotion towards the end of the class. As I sat and comforted her throughout the remainder of the session she felt safe enough to open up (once other participants had left) about a childhood trauma she had never shared with anyone in her 50 plus years. In that moment she felt ready to finally acknowledge, address and get professional support and felt empowered to do so that very day. When I saw her next she had sincere gratitude to have finally been able to take steps to work through the events of her past to find peace and healing.
As we work through our yoga practice our mind and body connection is strengthened and parts of ourselves that we never consciously think about or notice are awakened. For centuries in some cultures, it has been believed that our minds, bodies and soul are intrinsically connected and when we work on one aspect the others are ultimately affected. From a holistic view point it is also understood that every experience, from joyful to traumatic, will be held within our bodies. It is commonly accepted that we hold tension in our bodies from a physical or stressful day at work for example. In more traumatic cases as we experience something our bodies go into protective and defensive mode, shutting parts down or tensing. These processes can remain active long after the event, sometimes years, and can be pushed deep down out of our conscious awareness. Over recent years more scientific evidence of mental and emotional conditions affecting the body physically and the mind-body connection are proving to be very real.
During our physical practice these feelings can be touched upon and released when stretching and opening the hips or offering open the more vulnerable front sides of our bodies (our heart and internal organs) when practicing back bends. If you do find you experience an emotional release it is recommended that you aim to use the breath to calm you and relax into the pose or come into another supportive or relaxing pose comfortable to you until you feel ready to resume. You may like to repeat a mantra, something like “I am safe, all is well” over and over to yourself. Signalling your teacher who can offer quiet support is always available to you too.
With this stretching and releasing of our muscles, joints, organs and tissues we can utilise the calming benefits of yogic breathing techniques to aid the release of emotions, erroneous self-beliefs along with deep fears and sadness. For some this new awareness may require further exploration outside of their practice and even require some assistance or support by trusted friends, family or professionals.
I would encourage anyone to see this as a gift, as they begin the process of healing. Although it may be challenging at times, I’d urge them to be gentle with themselves as they work through it, with forgiveness, love and kindness. Trust in the process, access additional support if needed, it will lead to a genuine healing on all levels and bring you deep satisfaction and relief. This is not something that you want to force or even to seek when you come to your mat, it is something that may or may not eventuate, with change and personal growth happening only as a natural process.
Not all emotions that are experienced on the mat are what we often look at as being negative (frustration, dread, despair, sadness), they are more often positive with feelings of invigoration, elation, joy and peacefulness; a lightness to both mind and body. There is also the overcoming of fear and the emotional delight as we build confidence when our yoga practice develops and progresses.
Ultimately see your practice as a journey, there is no end destination, it is a process of constant change, growth and personal development for your mind, body and spirit and it truly is a gift.