As a yoga instructor, I have the rare opportunity to be a witness to very intimate moments in peoples’ lives. These intimate moments are often wet with tears or exuberantly alive with laughter. Often these moments arise as the yoga practitioners move deeper into a pose such as Salamba Kapotasana (Pigeon Pose) or relax into Savasana (Corpse Pose). And frequently tears come after the practice as the bodymind (bodymind is what I am referring to as the interrelated mind, body, spirit, and emotional system) acclimates itself to the effects of the yoga practice. I have personally experienced the emotional release of tears during Balasana (Childs Pose) and the exhilarate “yoga high” after a good practice.
So what is it about the asana practice that allows very emotionally controlled people to experience emotional highs and lows? Speaking from my personal experience as a yoga practitioner, teacher, and avid reader of yoga, science, and psychology subjects, I believe this emotional release is healthy and that there are clear reasons why this happens.
In yoga we are continually given the opportunity to be “present”.
“Emotion arises at the place where mind and body meet. It is the body’s reaction to your mind — or you might say, a reflection of your mind in the body.” Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now
Our yoga practice promotes being conscious of the present moment by redirecting our thoughts from the continual mind-chatter to focusing on the bodymind connection. As we develop a one pointed focus on the breath (pranayama) and the internal sensations that arise in our practice, we no longer have the mind space to entertain thought. Just try to think of your grocery list while holding the body still and calmly breathing in Warrior III with bound Eagle Arms! This ceasing of mind-chatter brings the practitioner into the present moment, no longer telling and retelling their story, but fully conscious of the “now”. When the “now” is experienced, emotions can present themselves without the filter of judgement. Thus, during our asana practice we often unearth unapologetically raw emotions that were buried under years or decades of ceaseless mindchatter and storytelling.
Our bodies are a storage house and reflection of our emotions.
Notice the depressed woman with sloped shoulders and a tight heart center. Or the overweight teenager whose extra pounds have become a coping strategy to cover up his extreme shyness and anxiety. Why is it that type A personalities have a high chance of developing heart disease? All of these characteristics are the emotions presenting themselves in physical form.
A few years ago I read a book that opened my mind up to the concept of the “emotional body”. The book was “Molecules of Emotion” by Candace Pert PhD. http://www.amazon.com/Molecules-Emotion-Science-Mind-Body-Medicine/dp/0684846349 Dr Pert has found in her research of neuro-peptides that distinct groups of these molecules have been shown to correspond to emotional states, for example anger. She shows that there is no difference between body and emotion and that the whole body is actually run by emotions. This modern research validates the ancient principle that our bodies, emotions, thoughts and self are all inextricably linked. I won’t get into all the details here, but what this means for us as yoga practitioners is that we are given the opportunity to “reprogram” our emotional body by releasing old poisonous emotions. And we also have the opportunity to establish healthy emotional processing so that the body can process and release emotions without the body holding onto any toxic emotional residue. As you start to experience emotions in your practice do not label them as “good” or “bad”. Just allow the process to take place. Allow the emotions to arise, experience them in their fullness, and then release them.
Asanas allow the body to open up blocked energy flow (prana) and allow the healing expression of deep held beliefs and emotions.
“My research has shown me that when emotions are expressed–which is to say that the biochemicals that are the substrate of emotion are flowing freely–all systems are united and made whole. When emotions are repressed, denied, not allowed to be whatever they may be, our network pathways get blocked, stopping the flow of the vital feel-good, unifying chemicals that run both our biology and our behavior.” Candace Pert
I often tell my students that a tight body usually leads to a tight mind. And visa versa. When the vital energy is blocked the bodymind is stagnate, growing in heaviness both in physical weight and emotional weight. We become unable to free ourselves from the constant mind chatter thus unable to experience life in the now. Over time, we become stuck in a negative life pattern and disease sets in.
So how do we free our bodyminds? How can we promote the flow of vital energy? We can do this by establishing a regular yoga practice that allows us to open up areas of the body where detrimental emotions are typically stored. For example, the hips are known to hold emotions such as anger, disappointment, and fear. If these emotions are not processed in a timely manner, tightness sets in. Because the hips are large joints that are surrounded by muscles that attach to the back, abdomen, hamstrings, and quadriceps; they affect the health and vital energy flow of a large area of the bodymind. Asanas open the body, keep the vital energy flowing, promoting the health of the entire bodymind system.
If you find tears flowing down while you are flowing thru your practice do not be embarrassed or move away from being present. Embrace the moment and process the emotion by fully experiencing what the moment has to offer. Use the emotion as a way to continue to stay engaged and become an observer to how the bodymind reacts. Does your breath cycle shorten? What muscle groups tighten? Does your heart rate increase? By noticing the changes of the bodymind you will develop acute body awareness which will deepen your understanding of yourself and enrich your yoga practice.
From my open heart to yours,