My first yoga class at TriBalance was also the first time I experienced the Happy Baby pose. Since I’d never done it before, I had trouble figuring it out. Corey adjusted me, and I felt better that I got it, but it was mentally challenging – you’re very vulnerable in that posture. I thought about my Aunt Debbie, who lives across the country and teaches Svaroopa yoga, and felt as if I were going to cry. I wondered why, and a wave of sadness crashed over me, because I missed my mother. I don’t usually think of it like that – missing her. She passed away 12 years ago and I’m used to it – but I ached very badly for those 45 seconds or so. The pose ended and I put the feeling away.
As I lay in savasana at the end of class, I reflected on that strange moment during Happy Baby, and half-felt tears pouring out of my eyes, mingling with the sweat on my face. I was profoundly grateful for the dark room. I heard my own voice shouting in the back of my mind, “I’M GETTING MARRIED IN LESS THAN TWO MONTHS! WHERE ARE YOU, MOM? WHERE ARE YOU?” I sat with it for a moment, then took a minute to cover my face with my towel and cry a little – which, for me, is like saying “I performed brain surgery while hang-gliding.” I’m not one to lose my cool. I took a deep breath, rolled up my mat, and got out.
Emotions lodge in the body – think about why they are also called “feelings.” When you’re hurt, it’s not just thinking. You actually feel something – perhaps your chest constricts and your heart literally aches, or your throat chokes up. When you’re anxious or afraid, do you feel a knot in your stomach, or perhaps an electric prickle along your skin or scalp? Feelings affect you physiologically, through neurotransmitters, adrenal systems, and nervous systems, which kick other parts of the body into gear.
Sometimes you can re-experience feelings from a situation because you re-experience elements of that situation. You smell fresh-baked bread and remember a holiday at your grandparents’, or you do a pushup and remember struggling to do a set in gym class.
When feelings get pushed away, they don’t vanish. They wait for an opportunity to show themselves – and they wait longer than you might expect. When you build a wall or bottle them up, your body acclimates to a certain level of stress. You stop noticing it. Then, when you relax and your stress levels decrease, the other feelings can present themselves.
My mini-meltdown was probably both. When I think of myself as an infant, my first thought is of my mother – and my Aunt Debbie is my mom’s younger sister, and my long-distance Other Mother. I was under a lot of stress from my job and the wedding. When I attended a yoga class, my stress levels dropped, something reminded me of my mother, and I was briefly overwhelmed with sadness and anger that she couldn’t be there.
I’m not comfortable being vulnerable in front of strangers – or, for that matter, most acquaintances. However, I was very fragile and emotional in an unfamiliar setting surrounded by strangers. And guess what? I didn’t die of embarrassment. I didn’t sink through the floor. In fact, I felt better after class, and that stayed with me for the next few days. My fiance wondered aloud about sending a thank-you note.
Here are a few suggestions for managing powerful emotions triggered during a class. You can handle it; we promise.
Just acknowledge the feeling and let it happen. There is nothing wrong with you. Trying to shove it away will just create more tension and more fight. As with any difficult yoga pose, breathe through it and settle into it. That will make it easier.
Remember that no one can really see you, and no one is looking anyway. You don’t need to be self-conscious.
Remember that whatever it is can’t confront you right now. You’re in class, and it’s in the world outside. You don’t have to fix anything right now. Your only responsibility is to yourself, to have the best class you can.
Recognize where it’s coming from. Remember the phrase, “If I can understand it, I can stand it.” Monster movies are a lot scarier before you actually see the monster.
Promise yourself to process it after class, in the car or when you get home, and keep that promise. It will only hurt more in the long run if you shove it off. You may decide to journal it, you may decide there’s something to change in your life, or you may decide that you need to let go of some negative old clutter. Whatever it is, the stress needs recognition to heal.
Move on to the next pose. Don’t let it rent space in your head for the whole class. Yoga is meditation in motion to make your mind-body-spirit peaceful. Each pose will help you feel better.
Acknowledge it as a sign of progress. Remember that yoga isn’t just about the body, so letting your mind and spirit integrate completely is an important part of the journey. Everyone has Stuff. Recognizing it and throwing out Stuff you don’t need anymore is a good step.
At the end of class, Corey often says “Honor your practice without judgment or ego.” Integrating mind, body, and spirit is part of the journey.