How to deal with Emotions in Yoga Postures

by Catherine Haylock
Arising emotions in asanas (postures)

Have you ever experienced a feeling of sadness, anger, or frustration when you are in a yoga posture?

I remember when I learnt headstand, as soon my feet left the floor I was in tears! I had no idea why or where it came from; it just happened. I just stayed with it, and eventually, after a few weeks, the feeling of sadness subsided. I felt lighter, as if something was cleansed within me. 

Body-Mind connection

The body can trigger emotions and thoughts, but your mind can also make your body react. 

Emotional disturbance can influence your posture. For example, if you carry stress in the shoulders, they are most likely elevated and rolling forwards. This position leaves you with a tight neck and shortens your chest muscles, resulting in breathing difficulties, not being able to expand the chest fully and shortening the breath, putting more stress on the body and nervous system.

But not all tightness we experience in the body has to come from emotional distress. Sometimes it’s just the structure of our skeleton, injuries, or what we used to do as children; for example, if you played a lot of rugby, your hips are probably quite tight. 

Where we have to pay attention is when postures or deep stretches trigger emotions, that’s where work needs to be done.

Past Traumas

There can also be stored past traumas, which we now have the opportunity to heal by looking at them. I had a car accident in my late twenties, leaving me with whiplash for almost two years. Since then, whenever I fell or saw a car coming too close in the back mirror of my car, my neck immediately tightened up, going into protection mode. It is still one of the vulnerable areas in my body, but I learned to work with it. But there are postures like chakrasana (backwards roll) that, although my body can do, it still challenges me on a mental level.

Hip openers, an emotional rollercoaster

For many people, hip openers can be a very emotional experience. 

For example, you are in a hip-opening position, and your hips are not as open as you wish. This can trigger frustration because you tell yourself it prevents you from executing an asana you like to do. This frustration can spin further, and your thoughts might lead you to: “I am too old now, I missed the deadline to get the flexibility”, or “I should do more hip openers, like every day, but most of the time I don’t want to, as it triggers all kinds of thoughts and emotions, and I don’t want to confront these every day. But if I would just do them, then all this would go away… but then I don’t” – and you start beating yourself up about it. And other emotions can enter the ‘game’, like getting angry at yourself or feeling discouraged and low.

Energy centre (chakra) and the hips

The hips are connected to our sacral chakra (svadhisthana), located in the navel area, including sexual organs and the lower back. This energy centre is about creativity and self-expression. 

When emotions arise in a hip opener, it’s a sign that prana (the life force) is obstructed, not flowing freely, and it can affect and block sexuality, creativity, pleasures, movement, intimacy, empathy, and the ability to change. 

Fear can also block this energy centre; fear of financial security, acceptance, abandonment, social status, etc.

As long as chakras are not balanced, the related emotions will not go away, and they will occupy your mind and keep drawing energy from you.

How to deal with and overcome emotions

The remedy for it is to do some detective work. When you are doing a posture, observe what kind of thoughts and emotions are coming up. 

Have a piece of paper nearby and write your emotions down. Naming the arising emotions or negative thoughts, giving them a label, you start taking power away from them, and the intensity of the feeling will lessen.

In the beginning, it might just experience loud shouting in your head without you being able to distinguish between thoughts and emotions. You might just feel “Get me out of here!” But then you stay in the posture, with the discomfort, and keep listening, trying to detach yourself from all the noise in your head by not getting involved, not narrating or reacting, just observe and listen.

Then again, write down what happens after 1min or 2min being in the same position. 

As soon you give the emotion a name, you turn chaos into wisdom, and it will lose its power over you. You don’t necessarily need to find out the ‘Why’ or its related issue, past experience. Just deal with what’s there in the moment. By acknowledging and staying with the emotion, you will release and cleanse the stored emotions from your body.

This effective process is all part of yoga to heal and a step closer to wholeness. When we can be courageous enough to look at those emotions and thoughts, we have the opportunity to let go of past traumas, open up to a kind and soft approach, of letting go of negativity and end up in a place of curiosity, and just see, without expectations, where it will take us. 

Exploring topics beyond asanas is part of my Ashtanga Yoga & Beyond Membership, to deepen your understanding of your yoga practice to help you heal, grow and be happy 🤗.