Whether on the yoga mat or the road of life, we all experience emotional upheavals. Times of turbulence, uncertainty and change. Daily living provides countless opportunities to express countless variations of emotional reactions or responses. Our emotions work in symphony with our thoughts, cells and organs. When we feel emotions we feel them in our chest, stomach and head. If we’re prepared, open and practice, they move right on through us. We benefit from emotions just as we benefit from roadway signs directing us on our journey through life.
We are emotional beings, we live with other emotional beings. Marketing, media and lifestyle is centered around creating emotional responses. In other words, avoiding emotions is not an option. Our bodies can experience dis-harmony and dis-ease when we avoid stuff or stop emotional responses. In the long term this can lead to a build-up of emotional repression. And just like cleansing our physical bodies our emotional bodies too need tidying up from time to time.
It may be time for an emotional cleanse if you just experienced a stressful or upsetting time like, the loss of a loved one, upsetting news, or a major transition like moving or starting a new job. Sometimes we feel frozen or unable to process and move through emotional experiences. To cleanse our bodies of stored emotions, Yoga unites breath with movement and allows integration of the experience.
To prepare for an emotional cleanse first, create a safe place for yourself, block out time and space, to ensure you will not be disturbed. Turn off mobile phones, dim the lights or use candles and set a timer if you need to be aware of time. Soft (wordless) music can also enhance the ambiance. Focus your mind, body, and spirit on lifting and removing any emotional residue.
Think back into times of your life and feel places in your body where you may be holding on to emotional experiences that have left an imprint in your physical body. Each emotion has a beginning, middle and end. Or the impetus, or cause. The expression, like crying, yelling or feeling, and the release or integration. The duration of the phases is unique for every emotional experience. When we allow the entire cycle of an emotional experience to occur we receive the benefits of their guidance and our bodies remain a clear calm vessel from which they flow through completely from our body, mind and spirit.
Sometimes just by thinking about an initial cause, we can feel the sensation of an emotional release. With yoga we learn to surf this emotional sea of feelings. Because stopping the flow of emotion is like stopping the waves of the ocean…
Yoga for an emotional cleanse
If you sense an emotional release coming on or feel ‘out of sorts’, be kind to yourself and allow your emotions arise and flow through you, whether this means crying, pacing, clenching or other emotional expression. Feel them to their natural end point, rather than stopping or stuffing them.
Use the following Asanas or yoga postures to support the emotional release process:
- Child’s pose (Balasana)
On the floor, knees wide and feet together, allow the torso to settle between legs, head heavy with third eye point (space between eyebrows) in contact with earth/floor. Arms can rest alongside the torso or extend over the head, whichever allows for relaxation. Focus on deep belly breaths and allow the breath to massage the torso region.
- Seated forward fold (Paschimottanasana)
Legs long with a softness behind the knees, lengthen the spine with an inhalation, lift the torso and fold forward, exhale. Keep the abdomen long and the breath fluid. Arms can be alongside the legs, reaching for the bottom of the feet or holding the tops of shins. Move the posture with the breath- inhalations extend the spine long, exhalations settle the torso into the legs and the legs into the earth/floor beneath. If you suffer from sciatica, be aware of sensations in your back, bottom and upper legs and do not go too deep into this forward fold.
Both of these asanas are forward folds which allow us to surrender and take our awareness inward for clarifying introspection. They can also alleviate stress, mild depression, and feelings of anxiety. Use blankets or a bolster for support under the torso for a supportive restorative pose.
On the other hand if you sense you are stuck in an emotional cycle and are unable to process an emotional response, consider, provoking a release. Maybe something is difficult to resolve or you feel you need to fire up your inner power to feel more capable of dealing with the situation. Use the following Asanas to stoke your internal flames to aid in the transformation of emotional blockages:
- Plank pose (Uttihita Chaturanga Dandasana)
From all fours or table top pose ensure wrists, elbows and shoulders are in alignment. Curl the toes under and step each leg back. Work to make the heart, hips and heels in a line. Keep the arms strong and melt the heart toward the earth, keeping the shoulders open. Draw the belly-button toward the spine and engage core muscles. Tuck the tail bone and extend length and energy through the back of the legs and out the heels.
From this position there are many variations to try.
- Three leg plank pose variations
With a steady plank pose work each leg independently. First draw one knee to the outside of the arm on the same side. Work to match knee with bicep (the place between elbow and shoulder). Then extend the leg. Next draw that leg to your heart center and extend. Finally draw knee to opposite side bicep and extend. Repeat for both sides. Focus breath with movement. Contracting or moving with the knee bent, exhale. Extend the leg inhale. Repeat the movements until you feel your core activated, shoulders tired or emotional response triggered.
After experiencing an emotional release take time to recover and integrate the experience.
The following asanas can be used to aid in recovery from difficult or stressful situations.
- Lake Pose (Viparita Karani)
Also known as the great rejuvenator (and “legs up the wall”!). This asana is practiced at the wall. Use an area of the wall that is not obscured with an outlet or anything else. Set your yoga mat perpendicular to the wall and fold a blanket to cover a small section of your mat and the base of the wall. This posture takes a bit of finesse to achieve so, try to keep peace of mind while entering and exiting. Sit with one hip against the wall. As you lay back swing your legs up the wall, rise up on your elbows or shoulders to ‘walk’ your hips and tail bone into the wall as close as possible. Ideally your legs are perpendicular (at a 90 degree angle) to your torso. Allow your mind, body and spirit to rest here for 5-15 minutes. Observe your heartbeat, breath and mind. Since it is a mild inversion (legs above heart) our internal physiology will naturally slow and our physical body can rest and recover. When you are ready to exit this pose, spend a few breaths with your legs still up the wall your feet together and knees apart. Then slowly roll to your right side and use your legs to push yourself away from the wall. Follow up this pose with another restorative pose or savasana.
- Corpse Pose (Savasana)
Sometimes known as one of the most difficult and beneficial of all asanas. Savasana helps us find profound relaxation while maintaining present moment awareness. The name ‘corpse’ implies a dying off or letting go. It is in this space when we are able to relinquish and release physical, mental and emotional tension. This release allows us to experience who we really are beyond the trappings of our past and the idea that we are separate to realize, we are more than our ideas, attitudes and emotions. Moments in stillness allow us time to seek guidance from our higher power. It is then we realize the true end of the emotional release and maybe glean insight from the experience and integrate it on a cellular level. We embody the learning and hopefully apply it in our personal quest of joyously becoming.
Remember the best we can do is allow our emotions to rise and flow naturally. If working with emotions is new to you go slowly and seek guidance from someone you trust and feel has experience with emotional releases.
As the yoga mantra suggests, Oh mane padme hum – may the precious jewel (of the learning) shine bright from the heart of the lotus. And may your navigation through the sea of emotions bring you closer to wonder and enlightenment.
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About the author
- Loves all types of yoga, including Hatha, partner yoga and laughter! Passionate about natural approaches to health