One aspect of yoga that is seldom talked about by yoga teachers, certainly in class situations, is the potential for unexpected mood changes and emotional turmoil that are possible when practicing yoga. There are times when we have a powerful breakthrough in a yoga class, perhaps without noticing it at the time, and our physical and emotional bodies can take a few days (or weeks) to process it fully. Just in the way that your quads or biceps might feel sore for a few days after an intense class, your emotional body can also feel these repercussions of energy moving in new ways through your body.
Emotions = Energy in Motion.
Just as your body is innervated by the nervous system, thousands of electrical impulses sending messages through your physical body, there are also” nadis”- other energetic pathways bringing life force through your more subtle bodies. During yoga practice, it is possible to stimulate new pathways, let go of old fears, patterns and habits and generally clear blockages that reside in the physical and subtle bodies (read more about the subtle bodies, or koshas, here). The upshot of this is that your body has to adjust to this new flood of energy moving through your body.
In the physical body, this presents as aches and pains, feeling more tight than usual or tiredness. Emotional responses are a little less predictable and depend on individual constitutions: little bits of repressed emotions such as anger, fear, frustration and sadness that are not properly expressed at the time get stored in our systems. This is much of what causes us “blockages” (even physical) and can have a powerful impact when we are ready to confront and move through our old emotional baggage. The trouble is, unless we are aware it is happening, it can be alarming and off-putting to confront these sudden emotional releases. Yoga is meant to make us feel blissed out and joyful, right? Why are these other feelings coming up?
Unfortunately, when it catches us off-guard, we don’t know why it is happening or how to deal with it. It might present as snapping at our other half for doing something minor that would never normally annoy us, getting frustrated with ourselves, or feeling unexplained sadness or loneliness. We may not even associate it with our blissful yoga session!
These feelings are all normal, and part and parcel of moving towards a lighter and more joyful state of being and consciousness. I hesitate to label these feelings as “bad”, however it is important to note that they do not reflect your current state of mind. THEY ARE OLD EMOTIONS COMING UP AND RELEASING! There is no need to become attached to them and spiral down in thought patterns wondering why old stuff is coming up again. Once you have processed and released them this time, they are gone for good and you won’t need to deal with them again. Think of it as clearing out your emotional closet. Making way for the new, cleaning out the cobwebs.
So, breathe a sigh of relief, it is not a permanent state! You should feel settled in a few days.
In the meantime, there are concrete ways of dealing with these unpredictable releases (which can be fits of laughter, bouts of crying, yelling or frustration, anger, etc…) . First and foremost, let your loved ones in on it. Allow them to support you and let them know why your mood may be unpredictable or unstable. They are usually the innocent bystanders.
Remove yourself from volatile situations where you may say something you later regret.
Practice karma yoga. Anything vigorous to channel the energy in a productive way, such as cleaning or garden work. Read my article on the importance of Karma Yoga here.
Be in the sea. The salt water is incredibly helpful, nourishing and cleansing. I cannot say enough good things. If you cannot access the sea, be in nature. Talk to a plant. Scream off a mountain. All that good stuff.
Do take time to be alone. An excellent asana is lion roaring! Kneel with your toes together and knees spread apart, as in extended child’s pose. Place both palms flat on the floor, fingers rotated back towards your toes (this may feel a little strange the first time). Inhale deeply, then exhale, saying “AAAaaaaaahhhhhh” loudly, while extending your tongue out towards the bottom of your chin and looking to your eyebrow centre. Inhale, closing eyes and mouth and repeat. Works best if facing the rising sun.
Screaming into as pillow also works 😉
Remember your pranayama. These breath techniques are cooling: kapalbhati, gentle ujjayi, full yogic breath. Best for balancing: nadi shodhana.
You can also use visualisation techniques such as imagining your old emotional energy leaving your body with every exhale, condensing into a concrete object or shape, then dispersing it into golden light and blessing it on its way. You can say aloud “I acknlowledge and release old emotional energy that is no longer serving my highest good.”
I find it helps me to keep a journal of yoga and emotions so that I can monitor and be aware of mood shifts as they arise, and acknowledge what is going on for me at the time rather than repressing it.
Leave any other tricks you use in the comments below!
I would like to acknowledge my awesome teacher, Swami Shantimurti Saraswati, for all the knowledge he shared during my teacher training and for deepening my awareness of the emotional condition. Much of the information and inspiration for the above article is thanks to his guidance. Namaste.
Love and Light