Yoga gives us the space to be present with our emotions and with our physical bodies. Being able to move and breathe deeply while staying present releases a lot of pent-up emotional and physical pain, yet also facilitates healing. And restorative yoga (also known as Yin yoga) in particular encourages this therapeutic healing of both the body and heart: Gentle, long-held poses create a safe enviroment for our bodies to soften and relax. When our physical bodies feel secure, our emotional body begins to emerge with more ease. If you’ve ever unexpectedly started crying in savasana, you’ve experienced this type of emotional release.
Being receptive to emerging emotions is key; we try to stay with the feelings, rather than avert away from them. Intentionally staying with whatever arises in the present moment, and holding space for it, is what can create a big shift towards healing. When we stay with our emotions and acknowledge them (instead of pushing them away, suppressing them, or distracting ourselves), we give these emotions the opportunity to dissipate naturally. We also can gain a great amount of clarity as to what is going on with our internal self.
A good example I like to use for being with your emotions is “the tiger in the room”. Imagine a giant tiger walks into the room you’re in. Naturally, your initial reaction is that of fear and panic—you want the tiger out of there! But knowing not to panic or cause too much commotion, you sit still. You watch the tiger as he moves around the room, paying close attention to what he is doing. You’re still uncomfortable, and might still feel a little panicked, but that’s normal—there’s a tiger in there! Now, we all want the tiger out, but what is the best way to approach this? Would we go up to the tiger and yell, “Get out of here! I don’t want you here!”, or try and yank on his tail and pull him out of the room? Would you throw a bunch of stuff on top of the tiger to try and hide him? Or maybe pretend he’s not there and just walk around like you usually would? Probably not, since none of those scenarios would likely end very well. The best solution would be to just watch the tiger, stay calm, breathe, and allow him to show himself out of the room, acknowledging that if we stay calm, he’ll get bored and eventually leave.
It’s the same with our emotions. Feelings like anger and sadness are intrinsically uncomfortable to experience. They might induce panic, aversion, and we may feel like the only solution is pushing them out of our heads. We naturally don’t want them there! But, just like the tiger, our emotions will likely grow and fight back the more we try to force them away. Instead, we can try watching them calmly. We stay attentive to them until they pass on their own. Challenge yourself to let go of the struggle and allow the tiger to leave the room on its own—you’ll likely save yourself from dealing with an even messier encounter.
The following restorative yoga poses allow the body to soften into a state of relaxation, which can make room for emerging emotions. Combined with deep breathing, the poses also ground us, relax our nervous system, and help tether us back to the present, so they are good to use when you feel anxiety arising.
Crocodile Pose: Lie on your belly, legs slightly apart. Stack your palms one on top of the other, and rest your forehead on them. Lay here for 3-5 minutes, breathing deeply. Focus on big releasing, emptying exhales if anxiety is high.
Fetal Pose: Lie on your side, using your bottom arm as support for your head. You can slide a folded blanket between your head and arm for more cushion. Let your knees bend softly towards your belly. To make this more comfortable, slide a blanket or flat pillow between your knees, and another under your top arm to help support your shoulder. Lay for 3-5 minutes, breathing deeply.
Bound Angle Pose: Lie on your back and bring the soles of your feet together, knees wide. Place two blocks or pillows under your knees to support the legs. Relax your arms by your sides, or take them over your head and grab opposite elbows, creating a box around your head. Breathe deeply and let gravity open the hips. If this pose feels unnerving or too “exposing,” drape a blanket over your groin area, or place a pillow over that part of the body. Breathe here for 3-5 minutes.
Legs Up The Wall: Sit next to a wall, with your hip touching the bottom of the wall. Slide your legs up and turn yourself so that your butt is flush with the wall. Scoot up more if you need to so that your sit bones connect with the wall. Let your legs relax to about hip-width distance, and let your knees bend a little. Relax your feet, and let your hands rest by your sides or on your belly and chest. Spend at least 5 minutes here, breathing deeply. This pose enhances relaxation and helps soothe tiredness in the legs, as it drains the blood out of the feet.
Corpse Pose: Lie on your back, arms moving away from your sides, palms face up. Let your legs move away from each other, feet rolling out. Gently bring your shoulder blades closer together underneath you to support your chest and relax your shoulders down. Begin to relax your facial muscles and jaw. To make this a more grounding pose, place a heavy pillow, blanket, or bolster over your lower belly/groin area. You can also slide a pillow or bolster under your knees to support the legs more comfortably. Breathe here for 5-15 minutes.
Think of your anger, sadness, or any other tough emotion as a stranger that is only unnerving until we get to know him. Integrating staying in the present moment through mindfulness, restorative yoga, and guided imagery can allow for some major emotional breakthroughs. Use these tools together to begin to create more space for those tough emotions, and to guide yourself towards becoming more comfortable and familiar with them. After all, the tiger stops being so scary once we’ve sat down with him a few times.
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