As spiritual beings having a human experience, we sure have a huge range of emotions we are capable of experiencing and sometimes several show up at once! The holiday season is upon us which can be one of the most stressful times of the year where emotions run high. It's a good time to begin to become more aware of your emotional experience in yoga practice and use the practice and breath to release tension and pent-up emotion.
So whether you've been practicing asanas for a while or you have just started, the best starting place is simply to know that yoga can bring a whole gamet of emotions to the forefront. You may notice yourself in Savasana choking back tears. Or maybe the teacher holds the class in warrior posture forever and you feel anger. Maybe you look at others in the room that seem to be balancing perfectly or are more flexible and you feel jealous. You could be in childs pose and feel relief or sadness or anxiety. Yikes! Why does this happen? What to do?
The body is full of suppressed thoughts and emotions. From an experience when you were 5 where you were told to “Be quiet!” when you were laughing, to repeated experiences of choking back tears for fear of being ‘weak', to learning from an early age that women or men do not express their anger and should ‘just be nice', all these experiences resulted in the holding of breath, and thus the retention of the emotion. It could also be that just yesterday you felt frustrated with your partner, didn't say anything, and today the repressed thought or feeling is showing itself in your practice.
You have been out shopping in the chaotic traffic and bustle of the holidays and can't find a parking spot. The gifts you planned on getting are out of stock. You've got to get cards done, gifts mailed, go to the kids Christmas concerts and a number of dinner parties. Life gets overwhelming, tension builds, and you'd love to just scream. You keep it inside because it's supposed to be a ‘happy' time. These are just a few of hundreds of possible situations that influence what emotions and thought forms are suppressed in your body.
Once you have the understanding that you have these repressed thoughts and emotions, it is easier to see that the illumination of your emotional self is simply part of the purpose and gift of a yoga asana practice. Our job is to begin to notice, to simply pay attention. It is guaranteed, with continued practice, your yoga will burn away more than just physical toxins. Emotional and mental patterns that are in the way of your centered, calm, true Self (or your Spirit) must be released from the body so your vessel is becomes pure and can gradually receive a higher and higher vibration.
Accepting the movement and flow of your emotions is one of the keys to the purification process of yoga. Practicing this acceptance will also effortlessly translate into a deeper acceptance of yourself and move you closer to a place of being in your true power. To begin to do this, start to watch emotions as they come up and when they do, take a breath and welcome the experience. Whether you're in a line-up at the post office, in downward dog, or decorating your home for the holidays, take a breath and welcome the experience. From this place of observing your emotions, you can then move deeper into seeking understanding, and eventually to release, (if it's a pattern you don't want to continue), and transformation (where the energy shifts on its' own and new action or choice is possible).
To do this, once you accept that the emotion is there, begin to inquire inside from a place of curiosity, as to where it is coming from and why it has paid you a visit. My experience has shown that no guest leaves until I have understanding of why they came for a visit in the first place. Welcoming these emotions, practicing self-acceptance and compassion, and being open to gaining new understanding through self-inquiry can assist in the holiday season being one of more presence. If we can practice more presence this ultimately translates to more of what we all want; ease, calm, and enjoyment!
All this is easy to say, and may be to read, but the process of learning to be the observer of strong emotions and racing thoughts requires consistent practice, dedication, and patience. This is especially true during the holiday season where pressure and commitments can threaten our inner stability. Be sure to pencil in your yoga practice, keep breathing and cultivate the witness; the peace of the holiday season lies within you.
About Alexandra Goldwell:
Alexandra is a Registered Clinical Counsellor practicing body-centered therapy at the Shanti Center in Burnaby and a long time yoga practitioner and teacher in the beautiful city of Vancouver. She has spent the last ten years in various positions as a therapist, teaching and practicing Vinyasa, gentle, and Ashtanga yoga, and practicing Osho's active meditations and Vispassana. In addition to these passions, she spends her time dancing, writing, or soaking up the beauty of nature.
She sees individuals or couples for sessions and runs groups at www.shanti-centre.com and also can be reached at email@example.com