You reach up and back, your chest opening into a supported backbend. Then, suddenly, you're in tears. How did you move from serenity to intensity in just one moment?
"The holistic system of yoga was designed so that these emotional breakthroughs can occur safely," says Joan Shivarpita Harrigan, Ph.D., a psychologist and the director Knoxville, Tennessee's Patanjali Kundalini Yoga Care, Tennessee, which provides guidance to spiritual seekers. "Yoga is not merely an athletic system; it is a spiritual system. The asanas are designed to affect the subtle body for the purpose of spiritual transformation. People enter into the practice of yoga asana for physical fitness or physical health, or even because they've heard it's good for relaxation, but ultimately the purpose of yoga practice is spiritual development."
This development depends on breaking through places in the subtle body that are blocked with unresolved issues and energy. "Anytime you work with the body, you are also working with the mind and the energy system—which is the bridge between body and mind," Harrigan explains. And since that means working with emotions, emotional breakthroughs can be seen as markers of progress on the road to personal and spiritual growth.