During a yoga session, as we stretch and strengthen our muscles, organs, joints, and bones, we release blocked or stagnant energy–both physical/energetic and emotional. The body’s energy is in constant motion, but through habitual protection, unaware living, trauma, or disposition, this constant flow stagnates in certain areas of the body. Without a practice to supplement this deficiency of flowing vital energy, we can end up physically sick or become closed off to deeper feeling tones, leaving us unable to access the immediacy of life in its moments.
One of the things I love most about my yoga practice is how it leaves me feeling a beautiful paradox of groundedness and yet vacantness. I become aware that I have, in releasing emotions I never knew were there, created room for new- and better- feelings to flood into my being. This is for me the one reason why I think yoga needs to be integrated into the exercise practices of the world- because so many of us have chosen apathy as an unhealthy alternative to the vulnerability and discomfort of feeling, and we need to come back to authentic feeling in order to come back to ourselves, and in turn, in order to have better relationships with ourselves and the world.
In conjunction with this idea, one of my teachers in school gave me an excellent metaphor for essay-writing: composing quick and dirty drafts before composing the real essay for submission was like opening a long-disused tap several minutes before you meant to productively use it, and allowing the accumulated mud and gunk to drip out so that the clear water could later emerge.
Here are some particular ways of moving your body through yoga that activate and purge the zones where feelings can build up and stagnate:
Externally rotating hip flexors with front of body facing upward (especially for females) (eg. an upward-facing frog, baddha kondasana)
This opens up the power centre and sacral chakra, where feelings of low self-worth and jealousy reside. This is a highly restorative position to feel connected to the divine and your own power simultaneously.
Elevating your chest outward while externally rotating your shoulder blades (eg. camel pose, fish pose)
This opens up your heart centre, where fear, depression, grief and heartbreak accumulate. This can facilitate a highly cathartic emotional release- for a less intense/ violent, or a more gradual one, decrease the gradient of the elevation (eg. fish pose VS camel pose)
Twisting of the lower torso: (eg. ardha matsyendrasana, marichiasana D)
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, this wrings out the accumulation of grudges, resentment and anger that we hold in the liver region, as well as frustration that we hold as spinal tension.
Opening hip flexors (eg. pigeon pose)
This wrings out emotional pain from the past that is contained in the hip region.
Seated forward bends (eg. paschimotandasana)
These help to release feelings of anger and jealousy stored in the two lower chakras (root and sacral) due to their exposure as the spine moves forward.
Resting forward bends (eg. child’s pose)
These help to centre one’s thoughts and come to terms with vulnerability in a way that is enclosed and yet not constricted or tense due to the darkness and safety of the personal space created.
Not convinced? There’s lots of material on the internet to refer to- take a look at this, for instance.
I wish you a deeply renewing practice characterized by awareness, tenderness and the courage to explore the realm of your beautiful emotional body!
-laura, 200hr weekday jan-feb