Opening Up on the Mat
On Friday evening, I was catching up with a friend and when she asked me how I was feeling at the moment, I replied telling her that I felt really good and that despite my business, I was really emotionally stable - which isn't always the case for me! It got me thinking and I couldn't actually remember the last time that I cried or got wound up about anything and that thought was pretty cool. I felt really fortunate for that to be the case and it is nice to realise that everything is under control, despite being crazy busy! Then yesterday evening, less than 24 hours later I cried. Not just a little bit. I cried almost hysterically for about half an hour straight and as much as I tried to calm myself down, I just couldn't. Eventually, after a hug with my best friend and some deep breathing, I managed to relax and with puffy eyes I climbed into bed, accepting the emotional exhaustion and getting an early night. The strange thing was, I wasn't consciously sad, or upset, or emotional in any way before this little episode.
I tried to attribute my emotion to something I was upset about and couldn't find anything. I then tried to think back to the last time I had felt like this. When I was in Goa before Christmas, I had an injury in my chest, shoulder and neck and, in order to help me recover quickly, I had a very deep tissue therapy massage one evening. The following morning as I began my yoga practise, I started to cry. I cried and cried for the full 2 hour practise, loosing track of what was sweat and what was tears dripping onto the mat below me!
This was when I first really experienced the impact of the emotional tension stored within our bodies - and the relief that working into these areas of tension can bring. This week, I have worked with my students a lot on opening the hips and at the end of each session I have prepared them that they may feel a little emotional in the next day or two. What I didn't consider is that in working on my students hips, I have demonstrated using my own body again and again without thought of my own emotional relief!
The hips in particular (as well as the chest, neck and shoulders) are a very common place for storing emotional stressors. Not only are they often tight due to our lifestyle - typically we do a lot of sitting down - but because they are the largest joint in our body, stabilising us physically and actually emotionally by storing negative emotions worries, sadness, anxiety and depression.
These emotions cause blockages in the hips which we need to release in order to prevent future physical ailments. Due to the amount of muscle and tissue around the hip joint and the tightness most of us experience as a result of sitting so much, it can take a while to work deep into the hips. But when we start to loosen the joints, there is an internal reaction resulting int he reduction of stress hormone production, lowering the level within the body.
The mind and body are so intwined that emotional and physical stress can manifest themselves in the opposing body. Reducing the levels of stress within the body may help to alleviate, or reduce the risk of, some diseases and symptoms including IBS and other digestive disorders, depression, insomnia, anxiety, weight gain and inflammatory conditions such as arthritis.
And if you do ever feel you are welling up on the mat in the middle of class, do not add to your emotional stress by trying to hold it in or hide it - I promise you your teacher has been through it themselves. Yoga is a journey of self-discovery, masked so often by the physical practise. Asanas (postures) are a vehicle to help us along the way so we might not necessarily be expecting a non-physical response. If and when it does happen (and it is also ok if it doesn't!), allow yourself to let go - just relax, breathe and focus. Surrender to your emotions, both on and off the mat, acknowledging without judgment, force or suppression and allow your body and mind to open.
I will be posting a short hip opening flow on my Youtube channel very soon, so keep your eyes peeled for ways to relieve the physical manifestation of emotional stress within the body.