Navigating the Emotional Richness of Your Practice
by Matece Skow
Yoga, if we are lucky, brings us to the deepest and most vulnerable parts of ourselves. As we move and breathe through the practice with mindfulness, with watchful compassion for our experience, we can begin to see more clearly where we are stuck, where we have resistance and hardness. Conversely, yoga also illuminates and strengthens our inner knowing, our light and joy. One thing is certain; if you have practiced yoga for any amount of time (or lived a human life on this planet for any amount of time) you may have noticed how it is always changing. The interplay of dark and light, sorrow and joy, struggle and ease is ongoing.
How do we navigate this emotional richness which our yoga practices evoke? Specifically, how do we take care of ourselves when we are in the middle of a public yoga class and that epic swell of emotion begins to rise up and swallow us? Maybe you have been there. You are in the sweetness of you practice, when all of a sudden and for no apparent reason, you find huge crocodile tears running down your face. Or perhaps, more often, you feel the urge to cry, but to open to that vulnerability in a room full of people seems too scary, too raw. So you swallow hard, tell yourself you will investigate this feeling later and continue moving through the practice. Sound familiar?
In my experience, when I swallow that swell of emotion to tend it at another time, when I attempt to go back to that feeling, it is nearly impossible to recreate. These moments of emotional release, when they come up in our practice, are rare and incredible gifts to heal and transform our lives. What if we felt empowered enough, courageous enough, compassionate enough to open to this gift of release, this possibility of liberation from our suffering? What if instead of swallowing it back down, we paused to gather our courage, took a deep breath and let the swell of emotion move through us?
I understand the tremendous courage it takes to feel. Just this morning on my own mat I was awash with grief; tears rolling, acute sorrow and longing foremost in my heart once again. By now this is familiar territory and is one of the most important reasons why I practice yoga. I return to my mat again and again for these precious moments when my practice is able to break through to what I avoid, what I am afraid of, what I resist feeling. I cannot make it happen. It comes as a grace. I have spent years hiding and have now learned that to say yes, to move into my experience fully without reservation, is what sets me free. I encourage you to do the same.
So how do we create a safe space for ourselves to feel and to cry if we need to in a group yoga class?
1. Wave Rolls In
Pause and breathe. Sometimes when emotions come up we can continue
moving with the practice. If you are able to maintain a steady and calm breath, then consider staying with the group. The emotional wave may pass quickly.
2. Wave Crests
If the emotion is strong enough to modify your breath you may consider taking a
comfortable resting pose. Child’s Pose is a very safe pose to explore what you are
feeling and to let the tears roll. Especially if you are feeling vulnerable, child’s pose is a wonderful way to stay in your own experience without feeling exposed to others in the class. It is also a very accepted resting pose and so won’t draw unwanted attention. Stay as long as you need to.
3. Rip Current
I recommend staying in the community energy of the class if possible. Though
often times we don’t know the name of the yogi practicing next to us, we are all a part of the same tribe and our shared breath and intention is powerful healing elixir. Even if that means you get up and move your mat to the back of the room and take Legs Up the Wall for the last 20 minutes of class, try to stay. Let your community hold you up.
That said, sometimes it feels safer to leave class. If you decide to leave, try to make eye contact or share a few brief words with the teacher so they know why you are leaving.
It is my hope that our yoga practice brings us all closer to our own selves. The next time your heart breaks open, try turning toward your heart rather than away. Take the time and space to explore what it is about. Let it flow in and then out. Harbor and release.