Make Room for Emotions

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Read Nicki Doane's response:

Dear Tova,

As yoga teachers, we should be aware of the profound interconnectedness between our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual bodies and be prepared to teach that in our classes. The breath is the link between these different bodies. Emotions can come up when we practice yoga, and I think that there's nothing wrong with just coming out and talking about it in your classes while you teach.

It is important to convey to students that yoga is about learning how to focus our minds and bodies on one thing, and sustaining that focus. When we practice sincerely with ekāgra (relaxed attention), we have the potential to tap into these seemingly hidden emotional states—to truly focus. When we focus on our breath, it helps us be in the moment, therefore fully present and aware.

Yogis believe that every emotion or experience we've ever had is stored somewhere in our cellular tissue. When we practice asana and Pranayama (conscious breathing), sometimes emotions are released, bringing up feelings that can range from sadness to anger to joy. These are all completely normal reactions that can happen when practicing yoga, and this should be conveyed to the students. In my experience, the poses that tend to elicit a more emotional response are hip openers and backbends, especially when they're held for extended periods of time. I often say, "The pose begins when you want to come out." What this means is that we all have our own reasons for wanting to leave the pose, and this is where the pose gets most interesting. Encourage your students to pay attention to what it is that is compelling them to leave the pose, be it physical or emotional.

I always try to let people know that they are in a safe environment in my classes and that whatever comes up emotionally for them is OK. I encourage them to breathe through it and watch it, feel it, and then let it go. However, there will always be the student who does not feel comfortable expressing emotions in class. I invite those students to speak with me privately after class.

Nicki Doane had a wanderlust that led her to India in 1991 to study yoga. She went to Mysore to meet Sri K Pattabhi Jois and immediately realized she had found her teacher. Nicki started teaching in 1992. She cites Pattabhi Jois, along with Eddie Modestini, Gabriella Giubilaro, and Tim Miller among her most influential teachers. She is an authorized teacher of Ashtanga Yoga. Although rooted in Ashtanga, Nicki's teaching goes beyond the traditional. Her classes combine asana, pranayama, philosophy, and poetry. The emphasis is on awareness: creating integrity within each pose that can be carried beyond the mat into daily life. Nicki lives in Sebastopol, California with her husband, Eddie Modestini. Together, Eddie and Nicki co-direct Maya Yoga Studios in both California and Maui, Hawaii.