Yoga helps manage and regulate emotions
Recent evidence into clinical applications and neurobiology of different forms of exercise seems to show that yoga has an added advantage over other types of exercises especially for emotional well-being!
Learning to regulate emotions that boil over through demanding postures in any yoga class is an excellent way to train your emotions for real life stressors.
Yoga is a mat simulation of how one lives life on a day-to-day Basis
Even the research so far says that when compared to other forms of aerobic activity like walking, yoga is more beneficial in reducing anxiety and assuaging symptoms of depression.
Recent research on neurochemistry of yoga provides some clues about how yoga can impact our emotions.
Yoga inhibits adverse Brain chemical reaction
Two magnetic resonance spectroscopy studies demonstrate that regular practice of gentle form of yoga releases GABA in the thalamus, which is the grand inhibitor of the brain. Most of the anti-anxiety medicines also work on the same mechanisms. The researchers also claim that chemicals that are released during meditative and breathing session can have positive effects on the mood even when you are not meditating.
Meditation physiologically lessens our response to negative emotions
A study by Desbordes and colleagues in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience provides the evidence that meditation by reducing the amygdala activity in response to negative emotions may facilitate recall of fewer negative emotions.
Amygdala is a brain region that helps in memory and emotional processing. Higher activity of amygdala is a sign of increased emotional arousal to life stressors.
Yoga shifts our deeply embedded emotional and behavioral templates
As human beings, we routinely encode and store experiences in our implicit memory, which guide our present actions and emotions beyond the realm of conscious awareness. Along with karma, epigenetic and genetic factors these encodings are our samskara. Through contemplative practices such as yoga and meditation, negative samskara can burn away, generating newer and healthier patterns that are reflected by brain neuroplasticity.
Yoga releases emotional blockades and can create a positive impact on health
It is taught in yoga that different emotions have specific attraction to particular organs. Excessive fear can damage kidneys. An excess of anger can damage liver. Too much hate damages the heart, while excess grief damages lungs. Sympathy in overabundance damages spleen and sadness affects our brain.
Yoga asana not only affect our muscles, joints, bone and organs, but our emotions too. While doing downward facing dog pose you may feel stretch in the shoulders, spine, hamstrings and Achilles tendon, but at the same time it decreases depression and anxiety. Even a simple asana such as cat-cow pose can reduce fear. Supine spinal twists are excellent for relieving back pain along with helping us in coping day-to-day stresses.
As a classical mind–body activity, yoga can help in creating peace in both Mind and the Body. Meditation and yoga postures urges participants to focus on the breath in every posture and that can help calm the mental and emotional fluctuations. Yoga can reduce the stress-induced arousal in traumatized patients with cancer.
It can also reduce stress and negative emotions associated with antineoplasm therapy given to them.
Breathing exercises and meditation by encouraging patients to focus on their present moment divert attention from their sufferings and thereby reduces psychological stress.
Emotions and yoga asana poses
Yoga poses can strongly influence our emotional states, as they bring up many emotions on the surface, both positive and negative. For instance, back bending that is traditionally a stimulating pose can elevate a low mood because of expansive inhalation and opening of the chest.
Forward bend postures which allow maximum exhalation tends to calm an agitated mind. But for an ego-centric and stubborn person it can be very confronting and is associated with fears. People who live in a constant fear of attack from behind can have tightness in the back; a forward bend can loosen this tightness and the sense of fear.
While performing a balancing practice, which is both inhale-oriented and exhale-oriented, equilibrium is created in the body and breath that helps to gain emotional harmony.
1. Forward bends – Produces calming effect to the mind, body, emotions and helps to bring greater understanding into our consciousness.
2. Backward bends – These asana are connected with the important attitudes of embracing life, its challenges and open us to receive the good, bad and ugly life experiences.
As backbends opens the chest and upper thoracic area they stimulate the heart chakra (anahata), allowing us to open more fully in our emotions, relationships and lives too.
Backbends help us to let go of co-dependent patterns and help in building a positive self image.
Strong backbends can bring up stored emotions like frustrations, fear, anger and sadness. You may feel irritated after a backbend class but believe me once you master these backbend postures they tend to calm the mind and bring harmony and peace into the body.
One of the greatest lessons in the yoga practice is bringing the life force up the spine and cleansing the nervous system. Backbends thrust your full energy up through this central channel and open up emotional blockages along the way.
3. Balancing postures – These are the positions most affected by the emotions and vice versa, that means if you want to bring calmness, clarity and balance in your mind and body, you should practice balancing postures.
You must have noticed that your one side is more balanced than the other side. According to yoga physiology the left side is the female side or moon side. It deals with our emotions and artistic expressions. It also deals with the issues of the past.
The right side is our male side or the sun side. It deals with present and is associated with logical and calculated thinking.
Balancing left and right side of the body is helpful in balancing our emotional state. Someone with an uneasy emotional state may find balancing postures extremely difficult. With constant practice you may find equilibrium in these postures as well in your emotions, helping you to build a calm, resilient and steady mind.
4. Twisting postures – These postures are the one in which we rotate our torso along the spine. Our body cannot twist in one direction without having a foundation acting from the other side. In twisting postures the left and the right side, the front and the back of the body, the inside and outside of the body must work in unison to provide support and movement. In this way twisting postures provide incredible balance to our body and emotions.
Through sustained practice twists along with backbends gives us confidence and helps in building an overly introversive personality.
5. Inverted asana – Literally change our perspective and behavioral patterns upside own. They give us an insight into our life from another angle. Inversions help to purify our mind and bring peace and harmony even when our worldview feels shaken
In addition to the asana groups discussed, following are some specific yoga asana poses that assist you to not only cultivate awareness of your emotions but also can be useful for releasing negative emotions.
1. Frustration in the Body: In general frustration comes when we are not flowing with the experiences of our lives. If not checked frustrations can collect in our body. Many of us feel it in our shoulders, neck, low back and hip region.
Through a regular asana practice, and particularly through the asanas that work specifically on these areas, many of our frustrations can be released. In shavasana by breathing through your belly and putting all of your awareness into the breath you can more easily observe and step back from your emotions.
Reclining twists releases frustrations around the hip. Supine spinal twists relive sciatica, headaches, spinal stiffness and emotional blockages. Neck stretches and arm pulls releases frustration around your shoulder and cervical region. Cat stretches releases frustration from neck, pelvis, abdomen and hip area. Nauka asana by working on acupressure points releases general body frustrations, body aches and fear.
2. To increase energy and courage: Practice Surya Namaskar (sun salutation), preparatory movements, backward bends such as Bhujangasan (cobra pose) and Dhanurasan (bow pose).
3. Poses that calm the mind, release anger and ego: Balasana (child’s pose), Karnapeedanasan (folding leg plough), Viparit Karni (inverted pose).
4. To release pent up emotions: Simhasan (roaring lions pose).
5. To bring calmness, acceptance and relief: Practice restorative poses such as supported Uttanpadasan (legs up the wall), Tadagasan (pond pose), Sputa Baddha Konasan (sleeping bound angle pose) and Koormasan (tortoise pose).
6. For embracing change: Try inverted postures such as Shirshasana (headstand), Sarvangasana (shoulderstand), or Halasana (plow).
So what should be done when the emotions come up in the yoga class?
It depends on the severity of the emotion. If it is mild it is fine to stay in the position and to let it out. But if the emotional reaction is too much to deal with one should release the position and either do some deep breathing or a counter pose.
To conclude, while practicing yoga one should acknowledge the emotions and let it pass. The first step to balance our emotions is to recognize it and over time this will lead to acceptance, balance and harmonization.
Not everyone will have negative emotions in the yoga class, for the majority of people only positive emotions come up and this is normal. This is because we all have different ways of dealing with the mind.
We are, after all, one bio-psycho-spiritual-social being. And gradually through consistent yoga practice you learn to relax, you learn to release those hidden emotions in a positive and sympathetic environment, guiding you to a greater peace, tranquility and harmony.