Zk433

Yoga poses and emotional release?

9 posts in this topic

I don't quite understand how can some poses cause an emotional release - cry or laughter, or changes in emotional states. How does that work? I can see myself crying from extreme exhaustion but yoga is not about that, is it? So how are some poses good for anxiety, depression, etc?

Thank you.

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My understanding is my own as someone who does yoga for emotional release. So this is my experience. 

The entire yoga practice is calming for me so that diminishes my anxiety. Practicing slow,  controlled breathing and linking it with movement is very beneficial. It generates heat in the body so that the blood flow moves to the brain and at the same time, it slows down the thought process because you are focusing on the breath. Balancing poses make me feel grounded as well which is beneficial for both anxiety and depression. Because a large portion of yoga philosophy is about gratitude that also helps. Surrendering poses and inversions also are amazing for changing perspective which is helpful with depression. 

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Thank you, that sounds interesting and intriguing! I understand how slowing down can help with anxiety and depression, but how can inversions help with changing perspectives?

I'm sorry, I have a background in psychology and while the importance of physical exercise in regards to mental well-being cannot be understated, I'd like to understand more about how different poses help with different issues. I'd understand the difference between slow kind of exercise and a fast cardio one, but the poses.... I just want to know more!

 

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I totally understand! I'm a psych major so I enjoy this kind of discussion. 

Inversions reverse the blood flow, makes you feel stronger, etc. Reversing the blood flow is good for the body and Brain - almost like a cleansing factor. More blood flows to brain=better cognitive function. That is my understanding anyway.

Another example is that back bends ease breathing and reduce pressure or built up tension in the front of the body which is super beneficial for reducing stress. That's why yoga flows for "happiness" usually involve heart openers.

yogafire likes this

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I don't have any background in psychology, nor do I know if there have been any scientific studies done on the subject, so anything I say is related to my personal experience and understanding. 

Yoga helps me with depression and anxiety because it encourages me to stay present in the moment and focus on my breathing. By focusing on my breathing, keeping it steady, making sure that inhales and exhales are of equal length there's not much room for anxiety to take hold. It keeps my heartrate steady, which also helps with anxiety. By encouraging me to focus on the present moment, there's not as much room for the darker, more damaging depressive thoughts to take hold. Since those thoughts tend to focus on the future (things I believe I won't achieve) or the past (mistakes I believe I've made), learning stay present at any given moment makes me realise that said thoughts are just speculation, my brain working overtime rather than reality. It also helps me focus on my problems one at the time, for their own sake, rather than dread the eternal list of things I need to do.

As for the physical aspect of my practice, it also encourages present moment awareness. I find it easier to let go of my thoughts and worries when I'm doing my asanas - my mind and body are working together for one goal. Heart opening poses help me with anxiety as they make sure I take deeper breaths, which is calming, and they help me release the physical sensation of having a knot in my chest that comes with anxiety. There's a very vivid and physical sense of release. Inversions also help me focus (or teach me the importance to stay focused and accept my limitations at any given moment, no judgment). My psychical practice also allows me to see progress, which is sometimes harder to perceive when it comes to my mental health. 

I'd love to say that being able to work on headstand or bird of paradise or one legged wheel is inspirational when it comes to other aspects of my life (I.e.: I can do things I thought were beyond my reach), but that's not quite how my brain works. It helps, certainly, but I get a bigger emotional and mental health benefit from everything I've learnt regarding staying present and not being judgmental toward myself. 

Edited by Hildegard
EricaKaye, Zk433, yogafire and 1 other like this

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I'll see if I can find any research into the effect of yoga on emotional well-being. What Afriske said makes a lot of sense (reversing the blood flow, better breathing). 

Hildegard, what you said about not focusing on the past or future, but staying in the present, is one of the foundations of mindfulness. Since mindfulness is a rather 'new concept', looks like it is just one of yoga's many representations! Fascinating!

Hildegard and afriske like this

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Yeah, there's definitely research on it. Look it up via google scholar or journals. 

Those are just things I know. I haven't extensively researched the benefits of each pose, because to me, the whole act of yoga (especially when engaging in mindfulness) is rewarding for mental health. When I feel as though I'm having a strange mental health day, I listen to my body more. Staying present and connected with the body helps me decide what poses would benefit me in that moment. 

Some days I'm like, wow my life feels really out of whack and overwhelming, and I decide I want to practice balancing to maintain focus on the moment and connect with the entirety of my spirit, if that makes sense.

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Most responses have been how it can change the emotional state to be positive and have benefits of physically calming oneself or energizing the body more with breath or blood flow. There have been enough studies about the positive impacts on reducing anxiety and depression.

However, no one has commented yet about "emotional release" and crying in class. I think some more powerful ways of understanding how this can happen are more anecdotal rather than scientifically studied. This is so personal and circumstantial that it won't happen to everyone so explicitly as "breaking out into tears". I suspect based on my own experience that if someone is having their own emotional breakthroughs in another outlet (with a friend, confidant, therapist, etc.), yoga practice may not trigger these emotional releases. 

This Yoga Journal article introduces the concept without exaggeration.  And then you can read the intro of Fierce Medicine by Ana Forrest - there are common themes of becoming "numb" to cope and then yoga teaching us to feel again.  Ana Forrest's experiences are pretty extreme, but, I've taken classes with 3 Forrest yoga teachers now and can really feel the difference in style. I also feel the most content and free at the end of class. None of the teachers are cheesy - they don't mention these aspects of "healing" and "unlocking emotions" - I only learned them from the book. I have not broken out into tears, but, since the poses are held longer (like in any hatha class) and my teacher directs me where I need to breathe into / the trouble spots, I realize where I store tension in my body.  If people have been storing tension somewhere, reflect on why, and realize it is a reaction to any kind of trauma in their past, that can trigger memories and emotional breakthroughs.

Sorry, I didn't mean to sound like an advertisement, but Forrest yoga teachers and practitioners seem rare, and this is the closest I can see how yoga triggers emotional release. It can be a polarizing style - I couldn't stand my first class, but then 3 years later, I revisited and appreciated it.

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Most responses have been how it can change the emotional state to be positive and have benefits of physically calming oneself or energizing the body more with breath or blood flow. There have been enough studies about the positive impacts on reducing anxiety and depression.

However, no one has commented yet about "emotional release" and crying in class. I think some more powerful ways of understanding how this can happen are more anecdotal rather than scientifically studied. This is so personal and circumstantial that it won't happen to everyone so explicitly as "breaking out into tears". I suspect based on my own experience that if someone is having their own emotional breakthroughs in another outlet (with a friend, confidant, therapist, etc.), yoga practice may not trigger these emotional releases. 

(...)

If people have been storing tension somewhere, reflect on why, and realize it is a reaction to any kind of trauma in their past, that can trigger memories and emotional breakthroughs. 

You bring up some very good points. I made the mistake of focusing on loud emotional reactions during yoga, so to speak. I've never cried while practicing, so I made the assumption that a more explicit reaction was the only way to go. I have had a few personal breakthroughs during sivasana, but for some reason I didn't think they counted. 

There are no Forrest practitioners in my part of the world, but in the spirit of this month's YBC challenge, I'll try to apply some extra mindfulness to my practice and see if/where tension is stored in my body, what emotions might be connected and see what happens. 

afriske, yogafire and YogaByCandace like this

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