How to Deal With Strong Emotions in Your Yoga Practice

Lauren Burkart
How to Deal With Strong Emotions in Your Yoga Practice

I, like many people, started practicing yoga because it made me feel good. My body was less tense. I felt less stressed. I became a teacher because I wanted to share this less stressed, less tense way of living with the world, and then, I had classes where I definitely did not feel better afterwards.

My teacher was asking me to hold Plank for a seemingly long amount of time, and anger, frustration, and resistance start to bubble up. Then, he or she mentions having more gratitude, and all I can think of is how grateful I would be for a margarita right about now.

Yoga doesn’t always leave you with the warm fuzzies.

If anything, asana practice simply increases our own awareness of the physical experience. Your teacher gives you physical cues like, “activate your hands” or “pull your belly in and up” to bring you into your body.

Many of us walk around, sit at our desks, drive a car, live our entire lives, and never fully experience the physical process and sensations of performing these tasks. This increased awareness in asana can lead to feelings of positivity, and other times you might find yourself in Half Pigeon feeling profound sadness.

There are measurable physiological responses that accompany human emotion, and while practicing yoga, you may notice that you are feeling more than physical movement. You will feel emotion, and it will not always be pleasant.

Feelings pass.

The power of this practice begins when we sit with those feelings we see as negative and really examine them. Sometimes, a sensation is just a sensation; it may not have any meaning. Most of the time I can relate this feeling to something currently happening in my life.

On the surface, it can seem like I’m angry because this teacher wants me to hold Downward-Facing Dog until my arms fall off, but I’m really angry because I always do what I am told instead of doing what’s best for me.

Yoga can bring up old, pushed down emotions so that we may sit with them and find our way through them. When we inquire within about these sensations that come up through asana practice, we get better acquainted with our own nature.

Next time you feel what you consider a negative emotion in asana, give yourself permission to feel what you feel.

1. Avoid shaming yourself

It’s easy to slip into shame or self-judgment because we think we should feel good in yoga. This is an opportunity to practice acceptance in difficult times.

2. Keep breathing.

Breath is a powerful tool for processing emotion and grounding in the body. Breath does not stop the emotion, but it can alleviate physiological or mental stress we might experience around having that emotion.

3. Cultivate some curiosity

What is this feeling about?  What other times in my life do I feel this way? It’s entirely possible that this emotion is not related to yoga at all. Yoga is just the tool to increase your own awareness of it.

4. Take responsibility for what you are feeling.

Early in my yoga practice, I would avoid a certain teacher at my studio because I always left her classes angry. Upon further reflection, I realized that she had her students hold poses for a long amount of time, and it left me with all of my emotions, which at the time was mostly seething anger.

After realizing this, I went back to her class and became a huge fan. Her class became a practice in inquiring, feeling, and resolving my own anger.

5. Seek help.

Self-reflection can be a daunting task for anyone, and at times it can be more beneficial to work through any negative experiences with a competent professional counselor.

If your yoga practice is becoming a downer, it could mean that you need a break or a change of scenery; however, in my personal experience, when I truly sit in these feelings for better or for worse, I gain invaluable information about myself.

These feelings just show us who we are. It demonstrates this commonly quoted part of the Bhagavad Gita: “Yoga is a journey of the self, through the self, to the self.”