Feeling stuck and inflexible in a yoga posture may be more than just tight hamstrings; it could be some old feelings holding you back. Unexpressed emotions become stored and held in the body and, over time, create physical tightness, stress, tension, and sometimes pain. Yoga is the perfect tool to release emotional tension in the body and to experience the healing that comes with this release. There are many tools that we can use within a yoga practice to uncover deeply stored emotions, bring them to the surface, and let them completely release from the body.
Pratyahara: inward focus
Pratyahara is a deep inward focus, rooted in the sensations of the breath and the body. As we bring our awareness inside the body, we can feel things that lie under the surface of ordinary awareness. When holding a yoga posture, keep the mind focused on where you feel sensations. Explore where the sensations start, stop, and travel to, paying attention to any emotional feelings in the physical sensations. When emotional feelings emerge from the physical sensations keep your focus on them to encourage these feelings to be drawn out and released.
Pranayama: yogic breathing
There are several breathing techniques that can encourage emotions to be stimulated, brought to the surface, and released. Dirga pranayama brings energy and awareness to the chest, belly, and hips and allows emotions to be released from deep within the body. Kapalabhati strongly stimulates and moves emotions that lay near the surface of the body, bringing them up and out. Breathing through the mouth invokes the emotional body and is highly effective in expressing and releasing emotions that have been brought to the surface, especially sadness and grief. Hara breathing (exhaling with a “Haaa” out of the mouth) helps release anger and frustration.
Vocalize: make sounds
Making sounds while holding a yoga posture opens the throat chakra and can allow tension and emotions to release from the body. Letting out a loud sigh eases frustration; humming releases joy; groaning softens fear; howling unbinds sadness. When emotions become activated and start to rise to the surface, vocalizing is especially important to completely release them out of the body.
Asana: backbends and hip openers
The hips, shoulders, chest, and throat are the primary places where emotional tension resides in our bodies. Make note of these places during asana practice or do a body scan at the start of your practice, looking for tension or tightness in these areas. Once you are aware of where emotional tension is held in your body you can focus on postures that target that area.
Intensity: holding the postures
When you find the posture that opens areas of tension and invokes emotional sensations, it is important to hold the posture to your edge. Just going to the physical or mental edge in any posture hold can activate an emotional release, but it will be especially cathartic in the postures where you hold tension. While holding these poses, utilize all of the above techniques for the strongest effect and most complete emotional release. Longer hold times can be facilitated with the use of props and restorative postures or physically supported by a yoga teacher or yoga therapist.
Contraindications: keep it safe
Using the above techniques can be extremely powerful and release intense emotions. If you are not familiar with this type of work, start off slowly and practice only one technique at a time. Too much emotional release can be harmful; do not do this work more than two to three times per month. This work is contraindicated with a history of emotional or psychological instability, and would be cautioned with a history of intense trauma.