Yoga and Emotions

Leaving class the other day I overheard something both beautiful and curious. A student who was leaving the class I just taught said to someone who hadn’t, something like “I want to go home and have a good cry.”  The other person (I’ll call them “Chris”) said “I know, I always feel like that after his class, that’s why I stopped going.”

I posted this as my FB status and got a lot of interesting responses, which has had me sit down and think about it.  These are my thoughts, I’d love to hear yours.

I had been wondering why “Chris” had stopped coming to class. Were they hurt?  Offended?  I was glad to know they were moved.  That is my intent – and I believe a huge piece of the purpose of a yoga practice – for practitioners to take a moment to feel what’s going on inside – joy, fear, anger, sadness – to simply take a moment and get real.

Thinking about why that would deter “Chris” from coming back, I realized that “Chris” is one of the most together, productive people I know.  Someone who is incredibly effective, generative, friendly, generous, warm, and efficient.  I thought about how when I’m feeling emotional it can be hard for me to generate, to take care of what needs to be done, like I have to put my emotions aside, pull myself together, and get back to work.

And that’s the thing – when we pull ourselves together we often create tension in our bodies to hold ourselves together.  When we step onto our mats and start creating postures that we can only possibly get into by lengthening what was tense, we start to undo what was holding those emotions back that we associate with our worldly functionality and efficiency.

I imagine for “Chris” that the prospect of my mid-day class might mean ineffectiveness.

So, what can we do with this in our practice?

One option is to use the asana (posture) practice to strengthen our vessel so that we can be strong enough to fully encounter all that life has to offer.  So we can practice in a way that we can both feel the emotions and keep ourselves together.

Another option is to use the practice as a pressure release: like a soda bottle that’s been shaken – to simply relieve some, but not all, of the holding.  Really, does holding our chest tight actually reduce the heartache?  Does gripping our neck and shoulders actually help us get through the work deadlines we are facing?  Can we hold the emotions in a way that we are not overwhelmed without carrying excess tension in our bodies?

Yet another option is to practice and acknowledge that yes, some part of the resistance/tension is simply around not being ready to feel something today, and consciously decide whether or not to go there.  When I forget that some part of the resistance is emotional, I might think some combination of something is wrong, something is out of alignment, there’s damage in my joint, etc.  It starts to seem like there’s something broken for me to fix.  Honestly, it is likely some combination of the emotional resistance mixed together with any of those things.  However, when I remember that some part of it is emotional, I can be softer with myself, I can allow myself to be patient and not push the physical in spite of the emotional, to honor my fullness, my position where I’m at, to decide whether today’s the day to let go and feel what’s underneath, or to bookmark it’s location so I can find it again when I am ready for that release.

I’ve verified that our bodies become totally flexible when we are sedated for surgery.  Our muscles are not too short or too tight to achieve any posture, the truth is we tighten our muscles to avoid real or imagined pain.  It is important to avoid real pain and injury.  It is important to avoid that pain and injury without creating new tensions that lead to future pain and injury.

What do you think?

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