Most of us have Experienced Emotional Yoga – All the Feels, Both High and Low, Provoked by Our Practice.
A lot of people express that after a yoga practice, they leave feeling a surge of happiness, peace, and joy. It’s commonly referred to as ‘yoga high’. But what isn’t as commonly discussed is the fact that yoga brings up all kinds of emotions. It’s not at all uncommon to witness someone crying while practicing, and they may have felt absolutely fine when they stepped on their mat.
“On and off the mat, many of us wonder how to best 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.)
Khouri explores the way that yoga affects our emotions and how to manage deep feelings that arise during yoga and everyday situations.Her goals are to help students orient, ground, and center their minds and body during emotional storms. We communicate so much of how we feel without verbally expressing it. Our practice on a given day bears witness to what we’re feeling and how we’re coping.
Your body expresses the truth of your emotional life
“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 teaches 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 and maintain a sense of calm and awareness.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 you? Answering these questions with your body helps dispel anxiety and fear so that you feel grounded, safe, and strong in your body and on earth.” Grounding is restorative, and what’s so great about it is that you can take a few moments anywhere you are and practice.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 camel pose open and stretch the heart, lungs, rib cage, and spine, enhancing blood circulation and oxygen flow. Experiencing emotional yoga is actually kind of the goal. We come to our mats to feel and heal. We don’t come to block energy, no matter what it is. Recognizing it, feeling it, and moving through it is how we can actually achieve the ever popular instruction of ‘letting go’.
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.” Using our resources wisely and effectively is how we find balance in all of the emotional reactions our yoga practice offers.