One of my students walked up to me after class looking like she had just had a good cry. “I don’t know what happened. I came to class feeling really stressed, and while I was in that deep hip opener, the tears started flowing, like someone turned on a faucet.” I assured her that this was a natural and beneficial release of emotions. She smiled, eyes still glistening with tears, “I feel like a heavy weight has been lifted off me.”
This kind of emotional release is not uncommon in yoga. Just like peeling the skin off an orange, yoga helps peel away the layers of tension and worries, so we can find that sweet centered feeling of peace and openness. Slow, deep nostril-breathing is our most powerful tool for letting go, especially when holding poses for extended periods and finding our physical edge. Making the exhale twice the length of the inhale can also help release any pent up feelings. The key is to observe our emotions and sensations and let them arise without judgment or resistance. Emotion is basically energy in motion and when we allow ourselves to feel, we begin to heal.
The mind, body and spirit are all connected, and when we open up on any level, this feeling of release can transfer to other parts of our being. As we move through yoga postures, we twist and squeeze our muscles, ligaments and fascia like we’re wringing out a sponge. Stored within our tissues are energy channels, also known as nadis or meridians. The combination of deep breathing and compression of these tissues can help open up blocked energy channels, causing a wide range of feelings to float to the surface – from sadness and fear to anger and anxiety.
But sometimes you may end up letting go of more than you want, especially in the middle of a crowded yoga class. If you aren’t comfortable dealing with difficult emotions that come up, take time to go back to those feelings when you’re alone, by sitting quietly and using simple body and breath awareness. You can also reconnect with your emotions through meditative activities such as journaling, chanting, taking a walk or spending time in nature.
On a physical level, postures that squeeze your digestive organs can also stimulate a release that is less welcome in a packed yoga class. All that compression can help get rid of gas trapped in the large intestine, especially in postures like wind-removing pose or deep twists. If you’re planning to take a yoga class late in the day, plan your lunch accordingly and save the three-bean cabbage soup and broccoli stir-fry for after class.
Every time we come to our mat we never know what form of release our body or mind will find – whether it’s tears, laughter, or long sighs of relief as we make our way out of a particularly challenging pose. They are all part of the natural sounds and sensations of yoga that help create more openness and a deeper awareness of our body, mind and emotions. As the great poet Rumi once said, “Be grateful for whatever comes because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”