I was in Yoga class doing Ustrasana (Camel pose), a heart opening pose. I started to feel my heart beating more quickly, my stomach was tied up in knots. I easily could have thrown up. The panic forced me out of the pose and onto my heels. I shrugged it off thinking that maybe I just needed some water. After a quick drink, I continued. Class ended with Savasana (Corpse pose). Again, in Savasana, I started to feel my heart racing, my stomach tightening, and this time, tears welling up in my eyes. What was going on? Whatever it was, it was powerful; the tears kept coming, and I had no explanation for them.
I later realized that I was experiencing the release of trapped emotions in my body. This is a common phenomen in yoga. Corpse pose is deceptively simple. You lay on your back in a relaxed state for several minutes. The intent is to let go of worries and almost be meditative. In the midst of busy lives, it can be difficult to allow that level of relaxation. In that moment, I needed to purge myself of emotional stressors, and my body had a physical response to that release, something I've experienced multiple times since then.
No one is immune to emotional baggage. We carry around pain, sadness, rejection, contempt, etc. Have you ever thought about where you store all of these emotions? Yoga teaches that we carry them in our body. That mind, body, and spirit connection is incredibly interwoven and immeasurably powerful.
So many of us are on medication to control our emotional responses. Medication can be an important jumping off point for healing, but there's something to be said for allowing ourselves to feel. It's important to sometimes sit with our emotions, to observe them. Heartbreak, love, joy, sadness, grief, failure, and accomplishment all have places in everyone's lives. Giving our attention to the sensations accompanying those emotions and letting ourselves sit with them is part of processing our lives. It's how we build coping skills, so that we can push on in the face of emotional obstacles. It seems that some people are robbed of the opportunity to do so by the emotional numbness that can occur with medication. We can't be expected to feel everything intensely, we have to be functional in our lives, but we do need to achieve some level of balance.
My yoga practice continues to bring me to this place of balance; a place where I can feel my emotions in my body and not judge them. As you go through your day, I urge you to observe what you're feeling without getting overly drawn in to the emotional response. Here are some things that have helped me on and off my mat.
1. Be present- I know, easier said than done. I so get the struggle in this. I have been trying to be present ever since I heard what being present was all about! It’s a continual battle in an overwhelming world with constant stimuli. We play so many roles, we take on so much, we go and go and go. Living mindfully all the time isn't realistic but reminding myself in the moments that it really counts is possible, like when I'm with my husband or children. There are times when it's far more difficult, such as the morning rush to drop off the kids, or when my mother calls me to find out where I am (for the third time in three hours), love you, Mom! When does it count for you? Aim to be present, to just be in the moment, to not judge, to not fix. JUST BE. Being present allows you to feel your surroundings and observe your own feelings towards them without judgement.
2. Breathe- How many times do we forget to do that in a day? I am constantly reminded in Yoga class “don’t forget to breath!” Breathing, and more importantly, being aware of your breath, is one of the most fundamental things we can do to feel and then let go. It is a tool to help us to experience our emotions and simultaneously work us through them. I often find myself not breathing when I am upset or nervous, holding all of my emotions in. Again, our powerful mind, body, spirit connection at work.
3. Feel it all and cry it out- Yes, men too! We have a tendency to only want to feel the good stuff, naturally, because who wants to feel sadness, grief, loneliness, etc.? Yet, as a therapist, I know how important it is to allow yourself to feel the array of emotions we were born with. All of our feelings play a part in our lives. We wouldn’t know what happiness was if we didn’t have sadness. It is ok to feel sad, it is ok to cry, it is normal, it is right. If you deny yourself the negative emotions, it is hard, if not impossible, to genuinely feel the positive ones. Furthermore, guess where all of those negative emotions go? You guessed it, your body. If it isn’t in your body, it will be in your relationships, your choices, and your destiny. Those emotions have to manifest. Yoga and breath awareness are two tools that I invite you to try, to increase the quality of your emotional life!