Yoga and Our Emotions
Yoga was designed to be a practice of healing connection for body, mind and spirit… So WHY do we sometimes leave yoga class feeling anything but HEALED?
Our asana or meditation practice has the potential to leave us rejuvenated, happy and in tune with our body, but if we practice often we will inevitably come upon a day, or many, when our practice does the opposite… we leave class feeling frustrated, emotionally drained, vulnerable. OR, often we leave the mat with our “after yoga glow,” only to be affronted the moment we re-emerge into the world. Falling down the emotional rabbit hole starts once again. Whatever the case… I’ve noticed that I don’t always end with or maintain that positive relaxed “yoga brain.”
Emotions most closely correspond to the concept of Chitta Vritti in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Chitta Vritti are the “whirlpools” of thought or fluctuations of the mind. These fluctuations consist of every changing emotion, sensation or conscious thought. From our thoughts, emotions and sensations, we then create action and start to interpret feedback from the outside world, leading to more emotion, thought and sensation… creating a loop of constant swirling… or Chitta Vritti.
With this loop at play, we can see how easy it is to spin out of control and get caught up in our own little world of perception and emotion. SO… how do we let BIG emotions in without letting them run amuck and take over our life journey?! How do we truly carry what we leave on the mat in our asana practice off of the mat and out into the world???
Yoga Sutra 2: “Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodha.”
Yoga is the stilling of the whirlpools of the mind.
This is nice to say… that by just practicing yoga the fluctuations of the mind will magically cease and we will experience mental steadiness and stillness… but if you ask me, it doesn’t really JUST HAPPEN.
I remember being told by a counselor that I was extremely emotionally dynamic and needed to feel and be ‘seen’ across all spectrums of emotion. I’ve learned that this is an amazing part of me, this ability to feel deep sensation and emotion….to give myself over to something deeply. To sense and feel empathetically all that is around me. Yet if I don’t manage it effectively, it wreaks havoc on me and my loved ones…. THIS IS WHERE HEALING THROUGH YOGA COMES IN!
ON THE MAT…. Start in uttanasana (standing forward bend) on your mat. Ground both hands (on blocks if necessary) and feet firmly on the mat. Move around a bit and sway, feeling the weight shift in your feet. Then find some stillness in a place where your weight is fairly evenly distributed between hands and feet. This may be challenging, so just allow yourself the space to experiment. Once you’ve settled into your shape, begin to cultivate Sama Vritti, or equal breathing, where the length of inhale and exhale match or are equal. Continue sama vritti in uttanasana, seeking balance for 10-15 rounds of breath. Slowly come to a seat on the mat using a block or blanket so that you are comfortable.
From a seated position, take a soft gaze down the nose or gently close the eyes. Bring your attention to your back allowing yourself to shift, stretch and settle in. Notice how each movement affects you. Observe if the spine feels tired or achy, allowing yourself to move around organically to re-invigorate it and wake it up. Seek a felt experience along the tube of the spine. Connect your root at the base of the spine deeper into the floor and lengthen the back of the neck by gently tucking the chin and softening the shoulders. As you come back to the breath, feel the lungs expand the spine on the inhale, and then release it on the exhale. Notice where the breath goes. Does it flow easily along the length of the spine? Or does it get caught at some point? If you notice a caught or stuck space along the spine, allow yourself to linger there, not pushing or trying to change it, but simply being with whatever is there and welcoming the stuck space. You might notice the more comfortable parts of the spine, too. Continue this scanning and breathing along the length of the spine for several minutes. Simply listen in, with loving kindness, for your inner world to speak. Just ride the wave of the breath along the spine, noticing any points of frustration, resistance, anger or other strong emotion, and then simply turn your attention back to the flow. When you feel deeply connected to this energy flow of prana or breath along the spine, allow yourself to re-emerge and notice how you experience your body. Is there a sense of ease, vibrancy, connection? Relax into this and remind yourself, over and over, that you are safe and have a great chance at happiness, healing and ease of being. To seal this practice, take Medha Prana Kriya Mudra, touching the pointer finger to the first knuckle of the thumb and releasing the last 3 fingers out. Repeat an affirmation in the present tense… “Allowing thoughts and feelings to arrive and pass away freely removes all obstacles along my journey.”
Circling back to the Sutra’s, we can look deeper into the yoga scriptures to the Kosha’s as our map of emotional consciousness. Seeing the many layers of the self allows us to be more adept at noticing and calming our fluctuations.
Kosha’s : the 5 Sheaths of our emotional being ~
- Physical: Annamaya Kosha
- Energy: Pranamaya Kosha
- Mental: Manamaya Kosha
- Wisdom: Vijnanamaya Kosha
- Bliss: Anandamaya Kosha
At the center of these five sheaths is our Atman, or true Self… our Soul! When we rest in our Atman, all whirlpools and fluctuations are still. Perhaps this is where we briefly reside after some asana or meditation practices???
Taking all of this into our daily life…. Aha… the hard part!
- Recognize that the thinking mind tends to have a negativity bias gravitating toward thoughts and emotions that are heavy and drag us down, causing us to feel sad, small and unsteady much of the time.
- Choose which emotional seeds you choose to water… practice replacing negative thoughts with positive ones.
- Notice which stories or habitual views you tend to internalize. Practice self-compassion by re-wording the story.
- Trigger the right brain to process and integrate emotion by writing, journaling, or doing creative/artistic tasks you enjoy.
Remember… seeking happiness, peace and an equanimous mind does not mean you will never feel emotion…. Perhaps as we practice we simply become a bit more adept and skilled at noticing and guiding ourselves toward our Atman or True Self.