I came to yoga, as many people do to reap the tremendous physical benefits that the practice can bring. I have attended workshops by some great teachers. But it was whilst practising in my weekly Ashtanga session that I experienced my greatest breakthrough.
In Savasana, for no apparent reason I felt a tidal wave of emotions.
I clenched my teeth hard to try and suppress my feelings. My teacher must have noticed because he came over, touched my hand and whispered: “let it go”. These three simple words permitted me to give in to the experience, my muscles relaxed, I closed my eyes and sensed tears running down my face, I experienced all the sadness emptying from my body and sensed total relief and peace.
Yoga practice works deep down into the subconscious mind. The psychic pathways (the nadis) are in most people encrusted in old “stuff”. Every event in our lives creates a physical impression. When we have a strong emotion our body reacts, these reactions leave impressions on the tissues of the body, known as Samskaras — or mental impressions. These Samskaras are in part what make us who we are and allow us to function in the physical world. Some are harmless, but many are not — and are built up in the form of fear, resentments, attachments. When we ‘stir the pot’ in our practice then some pretty strange stuff is going to emerge. Often its uncomfortable, sometimes joyful — it all needs to be observed in the same way — dispassionately.
David Williams, one of the first two Americans to practise Ashtanga Yoga, once observed that the real yoga is what you can’t see. He means that the real process of yoga unfolds beneath the obvious shapes that we contort our bodies into, it involves the breath and the way we pay attention to what is happening within. This is the invitation your strong emotional response is offering you. Rather than blindly or automatically react to the emotion, cultivate an attitude of acceptance and curiosity. Ask yourself what is really going on: “What is this?”
To sum up, when a strong emotion arises in the middle of a yoga practice, pay attention to it. If it is too strong, back off and perhaps even stop the practice for that day. If this continues to happen to the degree that you can no longer practise skilfully, then seek help from a qualified yoga teacher or counselling. However, if the emotions are challenging but not dangerous, use this opportunity to take your yoga practice to a new level: play the edge of the emotion without going over the edge. Start to observe what is actually occurring, without adding anything to the experience and without taking anything away from it.