Yoga & Your Emotions
By Kyle Roderick
Every time you laugh, cry, or tense your muscles, your body expresses the truth of your emotional life. “On the mat and off, many of us wonder how to experience anger, sadness, PMS, or the resurfacing of past emotions without feeling overwhelmed or suppressing them,” says yoga teacher Hala Khouri (who has an MA in psychology and teaches at Sacred Movement Center for Yoga and Healing in Venice, California.)
“Yoga and Your Emotions,” Khouri’s recent one-day retreat at Los Angeles’s Yoga Works Larchmont Center for Yoga, explored how to manage deep feelings that arise during yoga and everyday situations. Incorporating discussion and vinyasa, Khouri taught techniques that help orient, ground, and center the mind/body during emotional storms.
“Just feel what you’re feeling without judging it. Name the emotion in a safe context without getting gripped by its energy,” advised Khouri. “We are only overwhelmed when thinking about the future, the past, or when we are in immediate danger.” In order to work with our emotions, Khouri taught emotional self-management techniques based on Somatic Experiencing (SE), a short-term, naturalistic approach to the resolution and healing of trauma developed by Peter Levine, Ph.D.
SE is based upon Levine’s observation that wild prey animals, though frequently threatened, are rarely traumatized (unlike many humans who experience trauma in far less stressful situations). Instead, animals’ innate behavioral mechanisms regulate and discharge intense energies triggered by survival behaviors. These mechanisms provide animals with trauma recovery skills that enable them to regain mind/body balance following life-threatening experiences.
For example, when overwhelmed by sudden emotion during a heart-opening backbend, Khouri suggests doing what a wild animal would do—orient yourself in time and space.
“Orienting can discharge emotions, keep you from freezing, and help create calm,” she says. Here’s how: “Move your head loosely from side to side. This promotes deep breathing, which helps regulate emotions and physical functions. As you gaze in both directions, realize that you are free from danger. Spend a minute or two using the physical environment as a resource to prove that you are safe.”
Grounding is another tool for dissipating intense emotions. When you feel like you are losing balance in a yoga pose or in everyday life, “ask yourself how your emotions, feet, and legs feel,” Khouri says. “How does the ground feel underneath your feet? Answering these questions with your body helps dispel anxiety and fear so that you feel totally grounded and strong in your body and on earth.”
During tense times, Khouri suggests practicing certain yoga poses to help release negative emotions in order to feel more physically and mentally balanced. For example, forward bends can calm an angry or tense mood and help you relax, while asanas such as ustrasana (camel) open and stretch the heart, lungs, rib cage, and spine, enhancing blood circulation and oxygen flow.
Finally, Khouri recommends centering the self by connecting to the solar plexus, located slightly above the navel. “Feel the core of your body as you register your emotion,” she advises. “Yoga teaches us that our body can be a resource for the mind, and vice versa.” The value of Khouri’s retreat flowed from the direct experience of this fact, along with the body-centered feeling of managing challenging emotions through orienting, grounding, and centering.