How can Yin Yoga help with difficult emotions?

As human beings we have an in-built reflex to turn away from things that make us uncomfortable.The Buddhists call it Dvesha or ‘aversion’ and it can take many forms,  like distracting ourselves with outside stimulus and substances (to avoid facing difficult feelings); or going cold on relationships when they become challenging.   We blame other people or the situation we’re in for the difficult feelings that we experience, not acknowledging that these uncomfortable feelings arise from within, and they are ours to deal with.

But turning away from the things that make us uncomfortable doesn’t make them go away. Just because we refuse to look at or acknowledge something doesn’t mean it isn’t still right there, shadowing our every step.  Turning away only blocks the flow of these emotions through us, so they stay.  They get stuck within us and get buried deep in our bodies.  They manifest as physical pain and discomfort and continue to arise on cue when triggered.

So, if turning away from difficult, uncomfortable emotions and feelings only embeds them deeper within us, how do we release them?  How do we let them go?

In Yin yoga (as well as other kinds of mindfulness practices) we seek to release uncomfortable and difficult feelings by allowing ourselves to feel them, instead of turning away from them.

What if the uncomfortable feelings that arise within us are just asking to be felt?

Yin yoga offers us an opportunity to feel what is asking to be felt, and in doing so, to release uncomfortable and difficult feelings, which are often expressed as stress and tension that is held in the body.   It does so through the emphasis on mindfulness, and stillness in the long hold poses of the practice, through cultivating presence with all that arises in the present moment as we rest in the poses.

By staying still, we physically stay present with what is, both in the present moment and in our bodies (physically and emotionally), and by staying present with the things that make us uncomfortable (not turning away) we are allowing them to be seen and acknowledged.  In doing so, we enable ourselves to move beyond the reactive reflex to ignore them, feel shame about them, and bury them deeper.

The emphasis on mindfulness allows energy in the body to move, to flow.   Here, it is important to have awareness of the thinking mind, and the role it plays in the experience of uncomfortable feelings.  When uncomfortable feelings arise the thinking mind attaches a story or narrative to them:  “I’m feeling this way because of x” (often, x is familiar, well-worn territory, the recurrent story about e.g. how we are not enough or how the world is unkind/unfair).  When the x narrative is attached to the feelings it starts to create a loop – the narrative triggers more uncomfortable feelings, which then feedback into and strengthen the narrative.  The loop goes round and round and leads nowhere.  The uncomfortable feelings and associated pain have nowhere to go and stay within.

Yin yoga is heavily influenced by Traditional Chinese Medicine, and in this paradigm, all emotions are understood as an expression of Chi.

Yin yoga is heavily influenced by Traditional Chinese Medicine, and in this paradigm, all emotions are understood as an expression of Chi (life force energy) and are neither inherently positive or negative.  Emotions only become problematic when they are obstructed, blocked, and are unable to flow.

If we can observe the fluctuations of the thinking mind, the coming and going of thoughts,  without reacting or identifying, we can fully experience our feelings in the body, allowing them to be felt.  By allowing our feelings to be felt, we allow them to move and flow (instead of getting stuck within us).   In doing so, we can allow all feelings to move through us, letting ourselves grow and expand by experiencing all the colours of our humanity without shame or precondition.

And in letting these difficult or uncomfortable emotions flow through us, we can RELEASE them, instead of holding onto them and carrying them around in our bodies.

Author: Sophie