One of the really beautiful gifts that yoga offers us is a chance to sit with uncomfortable emotions and begin to work through them. This has been especially true for me in developing a Yin yoga practice.
By sitting in long holds for 5-10 minutes, not only does the body release physically, we find mental and emotional release as well. For people who are working through things from their past or current situations, this can be incredibly powerful and healing. It can also be extremely painful to bring up these emotions, so I want to caution people to have other supports in place when creating space to allow difficult emotions to surface.
In general, the following poses are wonderful for helping you finding release—physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Many of us tend to store our emotions in the hip region. This is a natural part of the “fight or flight” stress response. Each time we feel threatened or have a stress reaction, we physically respond by tensing in this area or by drawing ourselves in or running away to protect ourselves.
However, even after the threat has passed, there is still the emotional scar of whatever the situation dragged up. When we don’t process these emotions, they stay stagnant and hinder us from moving on.
The space between the hips is also the location of the second chakra, or energy center. This chakra is connected to our relationships with other people, which are often the source of difficult emotions—whether it be feelings of abandonment, resentment, or loss. If this chakra is closed off or out of balance, you might notice difficulties in your personal relationships, and a feeling of being stuck.
Igniting this chakra with hip opening poses is a way to open yourself up to processing, finding forgiveness, and understanding the root of your emotions.
1. Reclined Bound Angle
You can practice this pose with or without props. Having a bolster under the spine will make it a heart-opener in addition to being a hip-opener, which will increase the sense of release. I also like to practice this pose with one hand on my heart and one on the space between my hips. This allows me to truly connect to these two parts of my body that are deeply connected to feeling and storing emotions.
2. Pigeon Pose
Pigeon is one of the deepest hip openers we practice in yoga, and often one of the most physically and mentally challenging. Use as many props as you’d like so you can feel supported and find some ease in the pose. Embrace that feeling of support as an opportunity to be held, and feel safe to allow whatever needs to surface to do so.
3. Child’s Pose
Take this pose with wide knees to create an opening in the hips. This pose is named so accurately, as it allows us to curl up and embrace the virtues of a child. As we become small, we are allowing ourselves to become vulnerable.
In this shape, we are allowed to just be, without the need to impress, act, or respond in any certain way. It is an invitation to retreat to the days of childhood, and let our emotions flow freely as they once did.
Twists are extremely powerful in digesting and processing things in a healthy way. According to Ayurveda, the sister science of yoga, healthy digestion is essential—not just for the food we eat, but also for the experiences that we take in.
These experiences can include conversations with people, the environment surrounding us, our reactions to things—all of which trigger our emotions. Practicing twists fires up the digestive system and encourages the action of processing.
4. Supported Twist
Use one large bolster or two smaller bolsters and a blanket to provide a nice, supportive bed. Bring one hip up to the side of the bolster and twist, folding your torso down. Bring either cheek to the bolster. Stay here for a few minutes, focus on your breath, and notice what comes up. Actively relax all parts of the body, giving yourself permission to release.
Restful poses where the body isn’t physically doing much, other than just existing, are perhaps the most powerful. When the body is still, the mind often wanders. Use this space to bring the thoughts back to the body and mind. Take inventory of the way the body feels and the state of the mind.
If something feels off balance, start to get curious about why and what is the source of this feeling. Bring your attention to that discomfort, and rather than pushing it back down, create the space to invite it to surface.
5. Legs Up the Wall
This pose is such a sweet release, literally purify the energy in the body. We are physically allowing the legs to drain out old energy, and mentally letting the heaviness melt away.
There are tons of variations of this pose. You can start with no props at all, or try with a couple of bolsters under the hips and/or spine. You can also place a block on your feet for a bit of pressure, and a blanket over your body for warmth and security.
This is the most important pose of all. With so much rushing in our lives from one thing to the next, we do ourselves an invaluable favor anytime we can find complete stillness. The mind needs these moments of stillness to process and reflect. It needs removal of stimuli to make sense of all of the things it takes in each day.
Rather than spending your Savasana mentally making your grocery list, make an effort to be present in the mind and body—it might be your only chance to do so all day. In the quiet, notice what comes up, and be open to any big shifts that might occur.
We often don’t really understand the cause of our emotions. We’re not sure why we’re angry, sad, or depressed. It could be that there is a very deep, long-rooted answer that we need time and space to understand.
However, starting to make friends with your body and mind is one way of bringing these things to the surface. Opening the parts of the body that hold on to these emotions is another piece of the puzzle. Try practicing these poses—they just might lead you to the breakthrough that brings about a bit more clarity and help you move past your difficult emotions.
Image credit: Kate Swarm