Long before I had ever stepped foot in a yoga studio, my friends who were yogi’s would constantly profess: “You just have to try yoga”, “You’ll feel sooooo good”, “I’m so relaxed after class”, “I’ve gotten so much more flexible.”
Four years ago, I tried yoga for the first time and I admittedly shared in those sentiments when I’d find myself on the mat, which was, to be honest, a rare occasion. But, what my yogi friends didn’t tell me, and what I didn’t experience until recently, having done yoga every damn day for the last three weeks, is that
sometimes yoga makes you feel like shit.
The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit root, yuj, which means to join and in yogic terms, this “joining” or “union” literally means there is zero separation between body, mind and spirit – what happens to the body, also happens to the mind and spirit, and so on. In other words, if something is bothering you spiritually, emotionally or mentally, it’s likely to show up in your body.
Neuroscientist and author of Molecules of Emotion, Candace Pert, agrees that our body stores our emotions. She explains: “A feeling sparked in our mind will translate as a peptide that is released somewhere in our body. Organs, tissues, skin and muscle all have peptide receptors on them and can access and store emotional information…unexpressed emotions are literally lodged in our bodies.” That is, until we go into a yoga posture and shake shit up and open up a part of our body that has mostly been left alone – or at least not stretched as intently. In doing yoga, in working with the body, we also work the mind and spirit, releasing tension but also unearthing repressed, stored emotions.
The few times I had taken yoga in the past, it was exactly as my friends professed it to be – a great stretch, a release for my mind and body. Even the first week of YTT proved to be therapeutic. In learning to control my breath intently through my practice, I began to calm my mind and help my body unwind. In fact, during my first week of YTT I couldn’t believe I hadn’t started a regular yoga practice sooner. I was sleeping better, less stressed, and the tension from my muscles was released. On the surface, everything was freakin’ awesome.
As we learn to fully connect to our breath and practice, yoga starts working more efficiently and at a much deeper level.
Last week I shared about a big breakthrough I had on my mat – and while I still recognize and honor the profound experience I had, I’ve also been very tentative following that experience. In just about every class I’ve taken since that Sunday, I’ve felt like shit. Things I haven’t thought about in years will suddenly rise up in Warrior II or I’ll find myself sobbing in Pigeon for no apparent reason. In those moments, it’s easy to feel crazy. And with each successive wave of emotion, I found myself questioning: What the hell is wrong with me? When will I be able to take class without crying? What did other people think? Why was my not-enough story louder and harder to ignore? And for the love of all that is holy – why does this emotional tidal wave only happen in yoga class?
Asking those questions didn’t give me any definitive answers on when I’d stop crying or why this only happens in yoga. Instead, asking those questions gave me something unexpectedly profound. I realized that in asking those questions, I was still seeking a way to not feel the uncomfortable, raw, gritty shit that was coming up.
I was still trying to disconnect and what yoga was trying to teach me was how to feel again.
As someone who has spent much of her life in her head, a thinker and analyzer by nature, I’ve acutely learned how to disconnect from feeling, something my eating disorder only strengthened. And, I think to a greater or lesser degree, we all have found ways to disconnect instead of engage with all of our feelings. As babies and even small children, we experienced our world through our emotions. If we were hungry or tired, we expressed feeling and cried. We didn’t wonder if our parents would still love us or “what” the feeling meant – we simply felt it. But at one point or another, something interrupted that process of feeling how we feel. Just like a dentist gives an injection of Novocain prior to a painful dental procedure, we found ways to protect our hearts and hide.
By nature, we’re feeling beings. In every moment we’re feeling. It’s how we experience our world, no matter how disconnected we think we are. But there’s a difference between feeling and feeling your feelings. There’s a difference between disconnecting from the pissed off, angry, sad, or even happy feeling you feel and really exploring the feeling itself. There’s a difference between judging what that feeling means and just observing it as a sensation that gives way to a deeper understanding of your self.
In the moment when the emotions come up, it sucks. I think it always will. It sucks to feel sad, not enough, angry or to really explore a deeper level of unidentifiable pain. But, at the same time, it also feels good to finally and fully let it out and feel what feeling feels like. Without judgement. Without questions. Just feeling. Just exploring. If you can create a safe space for yourself, in your body to experience these emotions without judging, just accepting whatever comes up – or, if you have some really great teachers and friends who can hold that space for you as you learn to hold it for yourself – you, my friend, are really doing yoga. Mat or no mat, yoga is a practice of self-awareness that allows us to develop a deeper level of self-acceptance.
This week, give yourself permission to feel your feelings, the full range of them. Be unapologetically you. And remember, if yoga makes you feel like shit, that just means it’s working.