One of the students I teach is smiling constantly throughout her practice. She seems to very much enjoy moving her body, loves a challenge, and simply laughs when she is not succeeding in something. She responds to that which she feels challenged by, with either a kind of ‘dance’ around her mat, or when seated, rolling backwards with hilarity. Both of these acts of joyous spontaneity make me smile. It is also really interesting to witness her reactions to the challenges of her yoga practice, because at all other times, she is very reserved and self-contained.

After having brought up two children who have now grown up and left home, she wanted to do something for herself and took up Yoga. She is also the only person I am aware of who walks away after class looking somewhat flat or stern. This concerned me for a while, as usually students finish their practice with a big smile on their faces and a sparkle in their eyes. Ultimately I have come to understand that she is simply sad, because her precious weekly hour to herself is already over, and she therefore feels this way when leaving the yoga school.

Yoga makes us joyful

Yoga has amazing powers in helping us feel what is hidden beneath our boundaries and layers of protection. The natural state of a human being is that of joy and love, like we see in small children. Yoga allows us to tap into this natural way of being and gives us the opportunity to feel ‘connected’ again; which seems to be what my student is experiencing.

Is Yoga really a heart opener?

Sadly this natural state of love and exuberance is often smothered, becoming unreachable for many of us over the years into adulthood. Unpleasant, sad or traumatic experiences from our past can settle in our body, and often result in poor posture and a ‘caving-in’ of the chest. This can be an expression of vulnerability, deep sadness or hurt; emotions we are ‘protecting’ or unable to express, because we weren’t able to face those strong feelings or deal with them at the time they occurred.

Fortunately we have Yoga! In a playful and fun way we are asked to move in ways which give our rib-cage and heart centre a little ‘nudge’ over and over again. Thus opening us through the repetitive movements Yoga asks us to perform.

Releasing emotions through Yoga

Everybody experiences Yoga postures differently. To name just a few for some, simple movements of the shoulders can cause people to feel strong emotions. A ‘knot in the stomach’ can be undone through various ways of working our abdomen; for some, backbends or twists or forward bends can result in spontaneous laughter or tears. The two emotions are closely linked, each being an expression of our heart energy.

Beneath our anger, there is often sadness, tears or depression, which we do not want to face. Once a release has been experienced, underlying feelings of joy and delight will emerge. This is why Yoga makes us feel lighter, so we walk with a spring in our step and laughter in our hearts.

Acknowledging our feelings

‘Swallowing’ hurt, anger, sadness or despair makes us unhealthy. We become more removed from ourselves, our true nature, and also from our beautiful planet and its incredible richness. It is important to recognise that every feeling we are experiencing is valid and real and needs to be acknowledged, wether sadness, pain or joy.

Yoga makes us courageous

With continuous yoga practice we are building the strength and ability to face any situation in our lives with courage, equilibrium, and wisdom, whilst being truthful to ourselves and others. Yoga is both the best preventative medicine, as well as an amazing healing modality. Unwanted feelings can be acknowledged, dealt with and overcome with the practice of Yoga. We all have the capacity and the birthright to return to our natural state of pure joy, love, laughter, and ecstasy.

OM Shanti,

photo curtesy of @tiansheng_photography