Emotions On The Mat

One of the fundamental differences between yoga and other group exercise endeavors is the emotion. Your basic practitioner, ie someone who hasn’t read the books, attended numerous retreats at Kripalu, doesn’t know how to put a yoga mat in the overhead containers on an airplane, also may not know about emotions.

The body holds stories and memories within muscle fibers and organ bodies. Some of us have had the experience of getting a deep massage or being in an intense yoga pose and all the sudden a random memory floats through. That is a moment of unlocking some blockage.19800562_s

As a yoga teacher who avoids the light and fluffy in exchange for the deep and emotionally-intense, I get a lot of walk outs. Students from all types of yoga backgrounds walk in to my classes and may not be ready to experience their Liver or find support from their Large Intestine. I am aware of this. And after years of pushing the envelope at a “gym” my students know that when they walk in to my class they are ready to be serious and the other students stay away.

The yoga that I teach, embodyoga, is all about utilizing the different systems of the body. You can easily spend the rest of your life practicing yoga by just working with the bones and muscles, but I don’t suggest it.  You are guaranteed to get bored and likely to get injured. Bringing the fluids, fascia, organs and glands into the practice spices things up and allows for deep toning of the body to prevent injury.

However this juicy inner layer holds emotions and is where most of us compartmentalize the stuff in our life we can’t handle.

What this means is I have a lot of people get emotional in class, some sad and weepy, others outright angry. Some of the time I see it and present a tissue box and a gentle touch. Other times I try to smile as they stomp out the door. But 90 percent of the time I miss it all together and students report it via email or in person a week later. As a teacher I get very caught up in ankles and knees, internal versus external rotation and soft spines that I sometimes don’t even see faces during challenging postures.

So as you are very likely to be going through this strong emotion on your own, what do you do? And is it okay to cry or be furious on your yoga mat?


Safety on the Mat

I rant a lot about not liking new injuries or new illnesses on the yoga mat. They don’t go together well. But emotions and yoga do go together well and are quite inevitable. That being said they can be dangerous if not treated with the respect they deserve. Let’s look at the two extremes.


My dominant and first emotion is always anger. I’m a Liver-y person by nature and have enough Pitta or fire in me to make anger an easy go-to emotion. When anger comes up in a yoga class I almost always throw something out and go home injured. In the moment I blame the teacher or the students in the class, but later I realize stuff was rising up and I wasn’t ready to handle it. Anger is very dangerous on the mat as it binds the organs and tightens the muscles. When you feel the early signs of anger it may be best to walk out if you feel incapable of handling it safely on the mat. But if you feel ready for the challenge, anger needs to be soothed, not pushed through. Stop completely and go to child’s pose or lie on your back to stop the current of angry messages through the body. Use the breath as a tool to let go and quiet your fury.


On the mat sadness is less dangerous, but more draining. Maintaining an intense practice while the body is grieving or weakening from emotion can be depleting. Try to stay present with the emotion. Let it bubble up like a fountain and then just witness what follows. Going into an early sivasana or resting in child’s pose for a little while lets the body deeply rest and process the strong emotion.


Bottom line. Let it come. Whatever comes up has been trapped somewhere in you for long enough. It is okay to let it out even if it means your mascara runs and you sniffle during class. Really no one will notice. Everyone is so busy worrying about themselves in a yoga class they don’t have time to see others. If you practice long enough, regularly enough and you keep living life off the mat, emotions on the mat will happen. They are a good thing. Really a necessary thing. Just witness, learn and allow them to pass.

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