Our emotions play a critical part in our lives. How could you know the true meaning of being happy without experiencing sadness? Or the satisfaction of winning, without knowing defeat? Emotions give us the ability to experience life, without them we wouldn’t be able to understand what is happening in the environment around us or how to respond to it in an appropriate way.
As much as our emotions allow us to experience life to the fullest, however, they can show up as hindrances as well. In yoga, it is believed that we all have a life force, an energy called prana that flows throughout our bodies. This energy can get stuck by emotional blocks that build up within us over the years. If we don’t deal with them, they can manifest show up as disease and discomfort within our bodies.
- subjective: how we experience the emotion
- expressive: how we behave in response to the emotion
- physiological: how our bodies react to the emotion
Why do we have emotions?
According to Charles Darwin, our emotions were adaptations that allowed us to survive and thrive in this world1. Without them, we wouldn’t last very long. Back in a time when we were constantly on the look out for predators and other dangerous situations, our emotions (for example, fear) alerted us to take action (to run) thus maximizing our chances of survival.
To communicate effectively
Allowing others to understand us and for us to understand others, our emotions help to give each us cues to what others were feeling at that time1. Cues include facial expressions, our body language or just stating how you feel. Being able to interpret these cues gives us the opportunity to react appropriately and efficiently in social situations.
Connection between species
Emotions promote the most basic human need when we are infants: emotional attachment and care3. Without establishing the foundation for emotional attachment: care, comfort, stimulation, and interaction, a newborn baby can die3, as these foundations are critical to human survival. Emotions are our most ancient of characteristics we share with all living beings3. When you see an animal run over on the road, you feel a tinge of sadness for the poor thing. Or the feeling of happiness when greeted or comforted by a family pet when your feeling down. These emotions help us to communicate or at least connect on some level with other species on this planet.
Motivates us to take action or to make decisions
Emotions can assist us in making decisions or drive us to take action. Say, for instance; you’re at a busy fast food restaurant, lunch time on a Wednesday, making that hard decision between having number 1 or the number 4 from the menu. In making your decision, you tend to go with what you are feeling for at the moment. As you take your time to make this decision, the line is backing up behind you, and people start to grow impatient as they have to head back to work soon (you can just hear the grumbles). Feeling the pressure of those around you, everyone wishing you would hurry up, you’re motivated to choose quickly before they bring out the pitchforks, so you pick number 4. As basic as this example is, you can see just how our emotions can influence our decisions and actions daily.
Our emotional body
Our body can hold a lot of our emotions within it. When we experience feel good emotions, it can have a range of positive effects on our overall physical health, for example, feeling happy can lower our blood pressure, whereas being angry or upset will raise it5. It can also enhance our creativity and help us create stronger more meaningful social relationships with others.4 Whereas emotions that cause us to be stressed or upset, can trigger the production of stress hormones and create muscular tension within the body, which can then lead to stress on your internal organs2. Taking into consideration both the positive and negative, our emotions can show up on our body in many ways.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) certain organs are connected to our emotional activities6 as other specialists believe emotions can also show up on our physical body as pain/discomfort or disease. Here are a few of the places that our emotions are connected to within our body:
Shoulders – this is where we literally can carry our burdens. We tend to tense up and round our shoulders when we are being weighed down by our burdens.8
As mentioned these are just a few of the ways our emotions can manifest and show up in our body. Check out this emotional pain chart I came across; it illustrates all the areas in which our emotions can affect us physically.
How yoga can help
When our prana energy gets blocked within us, our emotions will start to show up physically within the body. Every asana (pose) has an effect on our emotions and allow for any blockages within the area the pose is targeting to be released. Don’t be too surprised if you suddenly find yourself overcome with emotion while in corpse pose or feeling 100% better after your practice when you had started out in a bad mood.
Backward bends are connected to embracing life and all of life’s challenges (both negative and positive). These asanas can bring up emotions associated with allowing yourself to be a doormat, enabling people to walk over you can come up. Those who find backward bends difficult are said to be afraid to face life and what it brings.2 On the other hand, backward bends can help to deal with these feeling as well it can be a comforting pose for those suffering from a broken heart or are shy. Backward bends can bring calmness to mind and encourages us to fill ourselves with love, gratitude, and appreciation.10
Balancing poses can be clear indicators of what may be going on with us emotionally. When you feel off balance, bombarded with many emotions and cannot find peace within yourself, balancing poses will be difficult for you. However, practicing these poses will help to bring calmness, clarity and balance to the mind and body2.
Forward bends are associated with our fears. It can force us to deal with our fears head on, something that can be quite intimidating to do. Forward bends are perfect for bringing calm to mind as well a clearer understanding of ourselves once we surrender to it.2,9
Inverted asanas can literally and figuratively give us a different perspective on our life or whatever problems we may be facing at the time. While we are upside down, inversions can purify the mind and bring peace and calmness2 when we may feel our world may be in shambles.
Twisting asanas are connected to dealing with and untangling the “knots and twists” found in our lives.2 The action of twisting our body can help to expel old and stale emotions (especially anger) as you breathe out and twist. These poses are said to give us the confidence and energy to deal with the problems we come to face in our daily lives.2
Don’t let them rule you…
As we explored what emotions are and why they are important to us, we were able to see how they cause blockages within our prana. Which can show up as physical ailments in our bodies when we refuse to deal with them. Yoga can be an easy addition to your daily routine to help with managing your emotions and to release these blockages.