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Emotions and Yoga poses (Asanas)


By Sannyasi Bhakti Ratna (Kate Woodworth) - Kate is a senior yoga teacher and yoga therapist from Yoga Vidya Gurukul (www.yogapoint.com), she is teaching and practicing yoga for the last 10 years. She is also Resident Officer at Yoga Vidya Gurukul. She is initiated into Karma Sannayasa by her Guru Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati.
Through the practice of yoga many emotions can arise in an individual, both positive and negative. It is natural for emotions to come up during an asana class, yogic cleansing practice or during other yogic practices. It?s another form of cleansing. Some people will want to suppress them, which is normal, but if they are accepted and looked at we can understand a lot more about ourselves. We will look more into the practice of asanas and their effect on the emotions.

Everyone knows that each time we practice we feel different on our yoga mat. Some days the asanas are very easy, sometimes not. Some days we just cannot relax in a pose and sometimes we cannot balance at all. This is all the effect of the emotions and our state of mind.

There are links between physical performance and the emotional state. If one is fearful then the muscles will contract and it will be difficult to perform a pose. It is therefore important to be calm and relaxed when practicing, especially if it is a new pose. Some people have chronically tight muscles. Yoga will slowly relax the built up tension and the emotions that underlie this tension. This may cause the emotions to surface for a short time but gradually these emotions and thought patterns will disintegrate.

It is thought that pent up emotions are held in the internal organs. The emotions influence the production of stress hormones and create muscular tension and this therefore puts more stress on the internal organs. Each person internalises their experiences and emotions differently so we cannot say that one person?s pain in a particular area will be the same as another?s.

In the mind there are only two parts, the positive and the negative. The positive affects the whole body in a positive way whereas the negative affects the whole body but there is always a weaker part which will be affected more. With these continual negative patterns more stress will be put on that part which will cause increased weakness and disturbance.

From another viewpoint the emotional body, manomaya kosha, can get stuck and stop the energies flowing freely and evenly through the physical body. This can cause the energies and emotions to get trapped in a particular part of the body. For some people who have anxiety it may manifest in the abdominal region whilst others manifest it in the throat. The practice of asanas unblocks the energy currents and therefore the emotions.

Through yoga practice many deep emotions can come up and the emotions on the surface can be greater understood as well as ways to overcome them. Yoga practice is a time to start looking at ourselves, not just in our asana practice but in daily life. Swami Niranjanananda says that asana and pranayam are not the beginning of yoga but the awareness in every action combining mind, body and spirit is. So the emotions can come up at all different times if you are following a wholisitic yogic lifestyle. However, asanas can be the triggers for these releases. Asanas are triggers for emotions to be released. They are a way of moving inside the body, to connect the body with the mind. By releasing and purging the negative emotions we become more centred, focused and happy with ourselves.

Yoga makes us more open and we start to notice many things as our awareness grows. Therefore emotions start to move and surface. Balance and harmonisation begins. Emotions can surface in anyone, after just starting yoga practice or after practising for many years. Many times a student will not be able to link the emotion with any event in their life, they will not understand it, but this is fine. One should just observe the emotion and let it go.

It is common for people to get angry at themselves and may even let out their anger on others. It is also common for sadness to come up and tears that cannot be explained. Students may have feelings of inadequacy, laughter and so on. One yoga class in a week may be the only time a student has to reflect on their life and to relax.

Challenging yoga poses can also raise the emotions. If one is a little competitive one may look at the other students and feel that they are not good enough, not strong or flexible enough which can lead to decreased confidence, anger, irritation, sadness and may even stop them from attending class. It is therefore important that the class environment is very supportive and students should understand that yoga is an individual practice, not a competition and that we all have certain poses that we can do better than others. Nobody can do every pose perfectly. Yoga students should understand the difference between gymnastics and yoga.

Asanas bring up many emotions and the type of asana can have a big influence. However we should remember that it is not the same for everyone. In general forward bends can be very confronting when one is very egocentric, when one is stubborn, when one does not want to look within. They can also be associated with fears. We like to turn around in the world, to check what is behind us. Some people live in a constant fear of attack from behind and this leads to tightness in the back, which a forward bend can loosen. The forward bends force us to look inward at ourselves. We have to surrender if we are to relax in these positions.

Backward bending asanas are connected with the attitude of embracing life, facing life and all its challenges. On another level some people are known to bend over backward for other people, to allow others to walk over them. Many times these people find the backbends easier. Those who find them more difficult can be afraid to face life and what it brings and can be associated with various fears. There is also what is known as psychic stiffness and this is broken down with the practice of back bends which help to change and remould the personality and the conditionings of the mind. On another level one who has had their heart broken or is very shy may naturally hunch their shoulders and cover their heart, particularly very tall people who may have been teased in school. Backward bends and standing poses can be very confronting, exposing and bring many things up.

Twisting positions relate to managing and untangling the knots and twists of life. They help us to dealing with the problems and obstacles that we all face. Many people feel that their problems are worse than others, that they do not have the strength to face them. Twists, along with backbends give us the confidence and energy to learn to deal with these problems.

Inverted asanas turn the world upside down. They give us another insight into our life and behavioural patterns. They allow us to look at ourselves from another angle. They help to purify the mind and bring peace and calmness.

Balancing positions are the positions most affected by the emotions. If we are not feeling balanced in the mind then it is very difficult to balance in one of these positions. These positions will help to bring calmness, clearness and balance to the mind and body.

In addition to the asana groups discussed the following are some specific poses that can be useful for release and removal of negative emotions.

So what should be done when the emotions come up? It depends on the severity of the emotion. If it is very mild it is fine to stay in the position and to let it out. But if it is too much to deal with one should release the position and either do some deep breathing or a counter pose. If one was in forward bend then a backward bend and vice versa. Sometimes practicing a little ujjayi breathing can help to remove the tension.

One should acknowledge the emotion and let it pass. Do not try to analyse it just accept and let it go. Sometimes we may understand it and other times not. It is important to acknowledge the feeling and to not suppress it and continue with the illusion; otherwise we will not learn from it and be able to move forward. But we should not stay with that emotion. Instead we should observe and say to ourselves, I feel angry, or I feel sad or even I feel emotional. From there the emotions will dissolve.

Many times it is easier to just block the emotions. We should give ourselves permission to understand our emotions and their effect. The first step to overcoming them is to recognise the emotions and over time this will lead to acceptance, balance and harmonisation. We should never feel embarrassed by these emotions; the release of them is a positive thing.

To conclude, not everyone will have emotions coming up, for the majority of people they have only positive emotions when practicing asanas, and this is normal. It does not mean that one is not progressing or dealing with the self. We all have different ways of dealing with the mind. One should just remember that yoga is the practice of balancing the body, mind and spirit to bring harmony, contentment and bliss.

By Sannyasi Bhakti Ratna (Kate Woodworth)