yoga for emotional wellbeing
Everything you read about yoga, be it modern or ancient, states very clearly that with the practice of yoga the mind and emotions are balanced and content. That’s well and good. But the question is how do you get there? It isn’t as if you go to a hatha yoga class at your neighborhood gym and all of a sudden all your emotions are completely balanced. Even if you went to the most serene yoga center in the world a class wouldn’t give that to you.
So how is it that the mind and emotions are healed with yoga? It happens in part due to asana but not because of your regular sweaty yoga class in total. When you take a great hatha yoga class, whether it is a restorative or power yoga class, you feel better afterward. This happens mostly because you are slowing down, breathing mindfully, moving your body through postures that release tension and fatigue and allows the multiple layers of your beingness to come into harmony.
But hatha yoga and asanas are far from the solution for developing a serene mind and calm, balanced emotions. Through my studies and personal practices I have found that the emotions don’t go way if they haven’t been honored. Teacher, Karen Kuk-Nagel, says that “There are no bad emotions except ones that haven’t been expressed.”
Emotions are in our lives as messengers. They tell us when something is off or when we have hit a nerve that was wounded long ago. As much as I want to believe that if I practice enough meditation, mantra, crystal chakra healing, etc., I will be purified of my buried emotions, I sense that there is more to it.
The yoga texts are very vague on this subject. There really is no instruction on how to find serenity, it just comes with practice. That might have worked a few millennia ago when life was a bit simpler. But from my personal experience you have to do this work in an extremely conscious way.
The best place to start working with your emotions is by acknowledging they are there. How often do you feel something and then think you shouldn’t be feeling that way? Ignoring and repressing the emotions that come up in your life is a harmful practice that will disconnect you from your true self, your soul.
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If you are a hatha yoga practitioner, or just someone on a spiritual journey, than it is likely that you are looking for more connection in life. When I began honoring my feelings (because I certainly wasn’t brought up this way) it was hard to even identify all of the emotions. I was the person who was excellent at “letting go” of things that hurt, angered, or even made me sad. Before this work I thought I had control of my emotions, when in fact I was just ignoring them.
Try this on for size. We all have to work with others, through our jobs, families, activities, etc. How do you handle it when you ask someone to help you with something and they just don’t do it? Do you let it slide and end up doing it for them but never saying anything to the person and then feel angry because they didn’t do what you asked?
Maybe you get mad at them and accuse them of ignoring you and your request but then feel guilty because you lost your temper? How about ignoring the whole thing and giving up and then feeling awful inside because you feel defeated? All of the above are logical reactions. Did any of these reactions really make the situation better?
What would happen if you came from your heart instead of your head? What if you acknowledged that you feel angry to yourself because this person didn’t listen to you? If you took a moment to slow down and listen to the anger could you feel where it is coming from in your body? Many times anger and hurt are felt in the solar plexus or the heart. A way to really honor this emotion and to learn from it requires you to pause, slow down and acknowledge. Literally say:
“I acknowledge the feeling of anger in my solar plexus that I feel because I did not feel heard by…”
Pause. Let this sink in. Then ask the anger in your solar plexus “what can you teach me today? What do I need to know from this anger in my solar plexus.” Let it know that you are open and willing to receive guidance from this experience. That you are really listening. Then receive what it is telling you.
The body can speak in words but it also speaks in other feelings, in images and in memories. So allow the information to flow through you without any expectations. Listening to yourself builds trust between you, your body, and your emotions. You become a team and feel more connected to yourself.
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If you are in a situation where you can’t take 5-10 minutes to be with your emotions then take 30 seconds to acknowledge what is there and let it know that you will come back to it when you are in a quiet, safe space. Then be sure to work with this emotion later in the day in the exact same way. Recall how you felt. Acknowledge the feeling. Locate it. Ask it to share with you and receive the message.
When our emotions are triggered by an outside event it is only triggering the imbalances that exist within us already, an insecurity or fear that is deeply rooted in our nature. Learn what those are by the present day events and you can truly heal the wounds of the past. It takes consciousness and awareness to recognize and work with your emotions. It isn’t always an easy journey but the path is always worth it!
Now that I have been working with my emotions for a few years I am truly living a more connected life. I honor what shows up even if I don’t understand why it is there or what I am supposed to be learning from it. I am more connected to myself. Therefore, I can be more connected to those that I serve throughout my life: family, yoga students, staff, even strangers.
There is always more work to be done. Take this work on with joy and enthusiasm because you are worthy of being honest with yourself. You are worthy of your own love and understanding. You will know what sets you off and then have the ability to choose your responses to life rather than feeling dictated by your surroundings.
There is a wonderful old proverb that asks us to take heed: “You do not find what you do not seek.” Allow yourself to seek yourself. Let this be your yoga practice for a day, a week, a year or a lifetime. You will find yourself if you are dedicated to this path.