Q: In times of stress I tend not to practice yoga at all because going to class arouses more feelings than I can cope with. Should I tell my teacher about this? —Sonja, Minnesota
John Friend's reply:
In general, it is healthy and natural to experience feelings while doing yoga, especially during these challenging times. The physical body, mind, and emotional body are all forms of a singular Supreme Consciousness that vibrates within us. Thoughts and feelings are completely intertwined in the fabric of the body, so yoga often initiates the release of emotions. With a focus on balanced breathing, even muscular engagement and uniform stretching, mindfulness, and a positive mindset, hatha yoga can be one of the healthiest ways to begin to clear unresolved feelings such as sadness, anger, or fear.
Yes, please tell your teacher before class when you are feeling particularly emotional on that day, so that he or she can better support you by modifying poses and breathing instructions as necessary to help you stayed centered. Also, your teacher can be better prepared to offer you comforting words or a tissue if needed. During those emotional times you might also want to set yourself up in the back corner of the classroom so that you won't have to worry about disturbing your classmates.
In order to help you keep your emotional state from becoming too overwhelming, allow your breath to be balanced between your inhalation and exhalation while doing the poses. To help you stay centered, you can also lengthen your inhalation if you are feeling sad or depressed, or lengthen your exhalation if you are feeling anxious or fearful. Strong emotions and tears might still arise while you breathe evenly, but you will be more likely to stay centered if you focus on balancing your breathing.
If your emotions become overwhelming, you are experiencing uncontrollable physical releases like sobbing or shaking, and you are having great difficultly staying mindful and thinking clearly, then this is not an appropriate time to continue to do active yoga poses. During these periods take private time for yourself to properly and fully release your emotions. And remember that while you are going through any emotional catharsis, it is beneficial to affirm positive ideas about yourself and others instead of harboring destructive feelings of worthlessness or self-hatred.
This month's expert, John Friend, is the founder of Anusara Yoga, which combines the celebration of the heart, the art of inner body awareness, and the science of universal principles of alignment.