I’m going to take a guess that you started doing yoga because you wanted to be healthier and happier, right? I think that would be the same for most of us. Whether we were doing it for our minds, bodies, or to get arms like Madonna (yes – that was me) we wanted yoga to have a positive impact on our lives.
And in our defense, we had no reason to think that yoga would bring us anything other than good stuff. Ok – so some of the poses are a bit uncomfortable, and trying to reign in our monkey minds in meditation can be a bit of an effort. But a quick internet search showed us all those photographs of bendy people and they were all so happy, and before we knew it we were in our first Downward Dog, and for the most part we felt happy too.
But then something happens. Having lured you in, yoga bites back. The practice that you turned to for goodness is suddenly bringing you nothing but grief. You could be suddenly ravaged by rage in pigeon pose; sucker-punched with sadness in child’s pose; or crippled by crying in a backbend.
In the yoga sutras Patanjali tells us that all asana should be “sthira sukham asanam” – asana should be stable and comfortable. What he fails to mention is that it can also make you feel really rubbish. Anyone know what the Sanskrit is for ‘want to punch someone’ or ‘tear-soaked yoga mat’?
Of course, if we’d read the yoga small print we’d have realised that mind, body, and emotions are all connected. You can’t work with one without it having an effect on the other. So, if something is bothering you (or has bothered you) emotionally, mentally or spiritually then it’s likely to show up somewhere in your body. And like an annoying older brother, asana is there to keep on poking and poking and poking until there’s an emotional eruption.
Sometimes it doesn’t happen whilst you’re in class; you might have had one of the most blissful, sublime or bendy practices you’ve ever had. Yet 28 minutes after leaving you find yourself having a little cry in the toilets at work, or inexplicably angry at a stapler.
Whenever and wherever it happens, these little episodes are completely normal. Think of it a bit like Spring cleaning; stuff that makes you feel warm and fuzzy has to be sorted through as well as things which you’d rather forget. When you find the break up letter that devastated your teenage heart, or the faded t-shirt you bought at your first ever gig, it’s all got to be looked at and dealt with before you know the job is done, and you can start afresh.
Don’t be downhearted, and maybe use some of these tips to make you feel a bit better;
1.) Remember you’re normal.
The good news is – this is all fine. Yes it can feel bewildering and weird at the time, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with feeling ‘bad’ in yoga. It does not mean that you should stop, or that you’re doing it wrong. (In my opinion if it’s bringing up your “stuff” then you’re doing it perfectly!)
When you feel these emotions coming up, rather than immediately reacting to them, see if you can take a moment and be curious. Unless you’re in excruciating discomfort, stay where you are and breathe. Are there any clues as to what this might be about? A situation in your life you’ve been struggling to deal with? Or something you’ve been doing your best to ignore? This can be a brilliant opportunity to hold up a magnifying glass to what’s really going on and, importantly, how you can address it.
3.) …but don’t interrogate!
If you’ve been able to breathe through what’s going on, and you’re getting no answers at all, then that’s fine. Sometimes the emotions that come up are not related to anything we’re consciously aware of, or even about stuff that we can remember. Recognise that you don’t always need to know, and that feeling the emotion is totally valid for you right here, right now.
4.) Notes to self.
By writing down when these emotions come up, what they feel like, perhaps what pose you were in at the time, you might be able to spot a pattern. Knowledge is power, so if stuff is coming up regularly it’s obviously going to need you to put a bit more attention on it. Even just the act of writing about what happened can be immensely helpful in understanding what happened.
5.) Ride the wave.
It’s a cliché – but know that this too shall pass. It’s only temporary, and is a valuable sign that things are beginning to change for the better. Don’t let it stop you from finishing your practice, or from avoiding the practice altogether. Despite being left a sobbing mess on numerous occasions by twists and backbends, to name just two of the big-hitters, I’ve never regretted getting back on my mat and riding the wave to the end of my practice.
6.) Feel or flee.
To quote my Mum (and probably everyone else’s Mum too) when emotions like this come to the surface, they really are “better out than in”. This is not a time to be British (even if you’re not!) with the stiff upper lip, and as much as you can, let it all out. But - if you really can’t bear to let the façade drop, promise yourself to think more about it later. Can you postpone it? This is not the same as pretending it never happened, but committing to allowing yourself to feel it later when you’re somewhere quiet and in a space that feels safe to you.
7.) Talk about it.
Remember that it is absolutely fine and normal for stuff like this to happen. But if it is becoming a regular occurrence talk about it to someone. If you feel comfortable, chat to your teacher, who has more than likely had their own little yoga-induced meltdown more than once. They could help you understand what might be going on, and give you some useful tips on how to manage it and come out the other side.
8.) Exorcise the energy.
At their very basic level, emotions are just energy and sometimes they’ve just got to get out! Even those that feel really negative can be powerful catalysts for positive change. If nothing else is working for you, breathe, smile, accept whatever it is you’re feeling, but above all give yourself a hefty dose of self-love. These emotions do not make you a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ person – you are still you. And you are amazing.