Have you ever ended up sobbing in savasana? Or been filled with irrational rage as you pushed up into wheel pose? Or found yourself choked with grief while surrendering into pigeon pose?
And its not an uncommon phenomenon. Yoga can bring up intense emotions. For a practice that many consider to be “just stretching,” it goes incredibly deep. But why do we get emotional during yoga class? No one really knows for sure, but there are a few highly plausible possibilities:
In yoga you deliberately turn your focus to the here and now. You stop distracting yourself, and you really get present with your current experience. Sometimes this may mean tuning into emotions that you’ve been avoiding facing, or perhaps just didn’t realize were there. In this case, yoga hasn’t made you more emotional, it’s just heightened your awareness of per-existing emotions.
Issues in Your Tissues
Some yoga teachers talk about the idea that we hold “issues in our tissues.” To understand this, think about your body’s response when you feel stressed. Perhaps your breathing becomes shallow, your shoulders lift slightly, or your stomach muscles tense. Over time, these physiological responses can become habitual holding patterns. When you release them in yoga, the theory is that you also reconnect with, and hopefully release that stored emotion. (Learn more about Unlocking the Stress in Your Body.)
Similarly, certain movements in yoga can, often unexpectedly, evoke long-forgotten memories. We may not even know why this is, but somewhere our subconscious mind has made a connection between something we’ve just done in yoga and a memory of an argument, or an old friend. And, of course, memories bring emotions with them.
Perhaps the simplest reason to feel emotional in yoga is when it hurts. Obviously, we never intentionally injure ourselves in yoga, although it can and does happen; and when it does, it is a perfectly valid reason to feel emotional. However, even when we’re just playing with our edges, it can feel seriously uncomfortable. For a long time I couldn’t practice Yin yoga without wanting to cry, run away or hit someone. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with me (I hope!): I was just struggling to deal with the intensity of sensation. (Read more in Yin Yoga: There's Power in Surrender.)
I’ve known yogis who would cry every time they attempted inversions, or get nervous at the thought of full wheel pose. That’s a perfectly natural reaction to something that feels unfamiliar or unsafe. One of the great things about yoga is that when it’s done safely and in a controlled environment, it’s the perfect place to practice facing and overcoming fear. The important thing to remember is feeling emotional in yoga is completely natural, understandable and healthy. Don't judge yourself for it. In fact, you can use the emotions as a powerful mindfulness tool. Practice being aware of how you feel, but maintain a slight detachment from it. You can observe the emotion and cultivate compassion toward yourself without getting tangled up in its narrative.