Danni learned from her parents to be dedicated, passionate, and diligent in everything she pursued. Occasionally her zeal caused problems – people told her she was pushing herself and others too hard – but she’d always passed it off as misunderstandings from less driven types. Recently she began yoga at the gym where she worked out, and found herself frustrated. The instructor gave admonitions to be patient, to listen her body’s limitations, and to accept herself completely. The more she tried, the more frustrated she became. She was beginning to think her drivenness was the culprit, and wondered what other areas of life it might be hindering.
Jessica had always tried to present herself as strong, collected, and confident. There was an extent to which she really did feel this way, but a better portion of the time she felt she might be hiding. She had enough insight to recognize this tendency had started in her teen years, where she struggled to navigate her own emotional storms in light of difficult family situations. She enjoyed the sense of relief and calm and her yoga practice gave her, and felt more centered and sure of herself as a result. During a recent yoga class when she came out of camel pose, she experienced an overwhelming urge to cry, and sensed it came from a place she always kept locked away. When it happened again for the next 3 weeks in a row, she thought it might be time to talk about it.
Yoga can produce surprising emotional or mental reactions in anyone.
Yoga embraces a one-ness of body, mind, and spirit. There is no separation – what happens in one happens in a parallel sense in the other. In other words, experiencing something bothersome spiritually or emotionally is likely to impact you physically. Conversely, experiencing a physical release in yoga may produce an emotional or spiritual release as well. Taking this into consideration, it is considered normal to experience reactions in yoga that seem out of place.
The kinds of responses can be wide and varied.
People experience an array of emotional and mental responses in yoga including, but not limited to the following:
- Crying (which may or may not be related to an emotional response)
Reactions may be manifestations of “stuff”.
It’s important to note that what goes on for you emotionally and mentally during yoga may be the manifestation of some current or past difficulty or trauma. For example, persons who have been sexually or physically violated may feel powerful responses during poses that invoke a particularly vulnerable physical position such as camel or child. However, this is not to say that every emotional reaction we experience during yogic practice has to be laden with deep, dark meaning. But you shouldn’t rule it out either.
- Develop an attitude of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the art of becoming non-judgmentally, compassionately aware of what’s going on for you. It is the process of becoming aware without needing to do something to change it. Developing this mindset outside your yogic practice may actually help you make more sense of what you experience in it.
- Don’t try to “force” an emotional response or insight. Joan Shivarpita Harrigan, Ph.D., a psychologist and the director of Patanjali Kundalini Yoga Care in Knoxville, Tennessee, suggests that, “One shouldn’t really try to have an emotional release… but if it happens, that’s fine.” We agree – your emotional responses are what they are. A foundational axiom of yogic practice is accepting what’s going on, trusting that things will be revealed as time goes on.
- Keep a journal. Many find it helpful to keep a running record of particular emotional/mental/spiritual experiences they experience during the practice of yoga. With enough data and insight, particular themes may begin to emerge that point to what’s going on.
- Let someone help you. Most yogis agree that there is a particular time when reaching out to a therapist or trusted guide is advisable. If you feel this urge, this too should be accepted.
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