Open it up and see what’s inside

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Every now and then I pop on over to Yoga Download and find myself getting a little bit annoyed that I can’t click on a link that direct me to the kind of practice I need right then and there.  Obviously this would be impossible to do, and it’s a silly thing to be annoyed about.  And of course a simple Google search will serve up lists of poses “for anxiety“, “for mild depression“, or “for sinus relief” (those are just off the top of my head.  You can try looking for pretty much anything else.  I’m sure you’ll find something).  But then there are those times when you’re not exactly sure what it is you need.  That’s what tends to happen to me most often.  Am I feeling anxious?  Not exactly.  Mildly depressed?  Not really.  Am I experiencing sinus pain?  Nope.  But do I just feel kind of uneasy, a little bit bummed overall, slightly irritable, and as if I might either yell or start crying?  Well, yes, actually.  And no, it’s not PMS, thanks.  What does one do in this case?

In my opinion, it helps to know what sort of poses might be useful, and why.  There’s a reason why poses can be culled into neat little categories and given labels like “for PMS” (and no, really, it’s not PMS): it’s because practicing yoga helps us to open up parts of our bodies, and in doing so, helps us to release emotions that we’re holding inside.  And opening different parts of the body can yield different emotional results.

I’ve mentioned that working your core can help to reduce anger.  For me, core work creates an intense sensation and a very clear point of focus and gives me an opportunity to channel energy in an effective and efficient way.  One of the best practices I’ve had recently was an hour-long core-focused session, done on a day when I’d been pretty angry about a variety of things.

Hip openers are often cited as being very emotional for yoga practitioners because they open up an area that is generally very stiff.  The hips can also be an area of the body that many women struggle with (I know this is true for me), which can add to the emotion that we associate with them.  For these reasons, poses like half pigeon can be extremely intense physically, and can also be met with lots of emotional resistance.  At other times, they can be very calming.  In my personal experience, whether I’m able to yield to hip opening poses or not depends on the sort of day I’m having.  When it’s been a tough day and I’m having a hard time dealing with what’s been going on emotionally, my hips will fight me every step of the way when I work to open them up; when I’m feeling better, I find that I could (and even want to) hang out in pigeon all day because it’s so relaxing.  It’s one of my favorite poses for this reason.

Not surprisingly, the shoulders are another area where we store a lot of stress and tension.  Like opening the hips, opening the shoulders can be extremely relaxing.  I find that it’s not nearly as emotional, but that it can sometimes be more physically challenging to work this area than to work on the hips.  My shoulders tense up even when I’m running so I have to remain pretty vigilant about not letting them creep up toward my ears and tighten up throughout my yoga practices.  To me, allowing your shoulders to get tight seems related to trying to hold on to a feeling of guardedness toward the body.  Opening up this area tends to allow me to feel more emotionally open and receptive.

Heart opening poses (which you could also think of as chest expansions) are probably one of the easiest to figure out; opening your heart center not only makes you more receptive to love, but it also makes it easier for you to feel loving toward others.  I think that opening your heart is a lot like opening your shoulders in that it makes you vulnerable and forces you to let your guard down, although to an even greater extent.

Over the course of one practice, you can very easily work in poses that fall into each of the categories I mentioned above, and of course there are far more benefits than the few I’ve written about here.

Are there any poses that you find help you to release or work through specific emotions, or that you turn to on a bad (or good) day?  Do you have a favorite yoga pose?  What is it, and what do you love about it?



  1. I am so interested to read your thoughts on shoulder tightness — it’s one thing that I struggle with a LOT. It’s so terrible, especially after a long day of work hunched over my computer. It’s even kept me awake at night this week! I’m going to check out the link on yoga journal you included. Thanks!

  2. Je crois que tu dis vrai sur les régions tendues et la source de ces tensions. L’ostéopathie, par exemple, se concentre surtout sur la région du sacrum et sur la radiation de cette région dans tout le corps. La prochaine fois que je mettrai les pieds sur mon tapis de yoga, tes réflexions vont certainement contribuer positivement à ma pratique.

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