By Sarah Powers, courtesy of Yoga Journal.
Lately during my yoga classes, I find myself feeling very emotional. Several times I have felt my eyes fill up with tears during a pose. This has happened even on good days. Why is this, and is it normal?
Sarah Powers' reply:
Emotional reactions during yoga sessions are very common. When we commit to the yogic path through the physical asana practice, we are doing much more than just exercising our bodies. Although it is slowly becoming more accepted in the West, it is much more common in Asian thought to recognize the inseparability of the body, mind, and emotions. Chinese doctors insist that our organs are linked to our emotions, which affects our overall health, while Indian Ayurvedic doctors and yogis inform us of the interconnection between our state of mind, our breath, and our bodies. So, it naturally follows that the emotional impact of our experiences are imprinted into our bodies, affecting the balance of our vital energy and the harmony (or disharmony) of our whole system.
Both our inherited constitution and all that we have digested in the manner of food and life experience is continually forming and reforming in our ever-changing bodies. During a yoga session, as we stretch and strengthen our muscles, organs, joints, and bones, we release blocked or stagnant energy--both physical/energetic and emotional. The body's energy is in constant motion, but through habitual protection, unaware living, trauma, or disposition, this constant flow stagnates in certain areas of the body. Without a practice to supplement this deficiency of flowing vital energy, we can end up physically sick or become closed off to deeper feeling tones, leaving us unable to access the immediacy of life in its moments.
In addition to the physical and energetic impact of yoga practice, it is also an awareness discipline that is not merely focused on moving the body with a physical goal in mind as in sports, dance, or calisthenics. Our willfulness when playing sports may override our emotions, but in yoga asana we have a precious opportunity to welcome in all states, uncensored and free of expectations or analysis. For this reason, you may notice a release of emotional energy seemingly unrelated to the specific moment at hand. As you become mindful of your emotions, you will be able to include a broader range of feeling states to be metabolized as they are happening, which is called spontaneous mindfulness.
But this is a process, and we have developed conditioned patterns that remain held in the body. Yoga is a great way of moving these patterns through you. I suggest neither blocking nor seeking to mentally figure out these feelings as they emerge during your practice. Simply stay with the feeling-tone itself and notice the way it affects your experience in your body.
Depending on the shade of the emotion, you might experience sensations like a change in breath rhythm, tightness in the belly or restrictions in the chest. You might also feel waves of chills through the spine, contraction in the shoulders, or a heaviness of heart with tears in the eyes. Often accompanying these experiences are uninvestigated beliefs and assumptions going on in the mind.
We may be playing out a story in our heads about ourselves or someone else that we assume to be true. Awareness practice teaches us to diminish feeding the story line, which greatly stimulates the emotional tenor, creating a whole chemical reaction in the body. This can then cycle us into more fragmented thoughts, wild emotions, and further disconnection from our bodies. There is nothing wrong with emotional release during our yoga poses--this is healing.
The problem occurs when we either unskillfully indulge in or ignore what is arising for us presently. The best way to practice is to stay with what is true this moment and to let go of holding on or pushing away any aspect of your experience. Stay curious of the process, while relaxing any expectation that something other than what is happening should be happening. Whenever you are persistently overwhelmed by these emotions, I suggest you seek out a spiritual friend or mentor with whom to process the storm.
Sarah Powers blends the insights of yoga and Buddhism in her practice and teaching. She incorporates both a Yin style of holding poses and a Vinyasa style of moving with the breath, blending essential aspects of the Iyengar, Ashtanga, and Viniyoga traditions. Pranayama and meditation are always included in her practice and classes. Sarah has been a student of Buddhism in both Asia and the U.S. and draws inspiration from teachers such as Jack Kornfield, Toni Packer, and Tsoknyi Rinpoche. Sarah also draws inspiration from the Self Inquiry (Atma Vichara) of the Advaita Vedanta philosophy. She lives in Marin, California where she home schools her daughter and teaches classes. For more information go to www.sarahpowers.com.
Please consult your physician before starting this or any exercise program.
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