Monday, September 26, 2011

Heartache is Real: Yoga and the Emotional Body

Any seasoned yoga practitioner can attest to the notion that we human beings “store” our emotions in our bodies. If we feel something that we’re not ready to express – perhaps because of fear, or confusion, or because it’s not socially acceptable – then usually we repress it. The emotion gets filed away in the “deal with later” pile and we forge on.

But the body doesn’t forget. If these emotions go unaddressed, then they start to manifest in other ways. It’s like they’re saying “Hey! Remember me? I need you to pay attention!” We may feel pain, heat, stiffness, cramping, or other general discomfort. And then we try to figure out what we did to cause it . . . was it my workout yesterday? Or lack thereof? Was it from sitting too long in the car? Perhaps it’s old age setting in? We tend not to consider that it could be something “inside” causing the discomfort, and not some external force.

A long time ago, I was in a committed relationship with a much older man. At age 24, when I looked to my future, I hoped for marriage and the possibility of children. Well past forty, my boyfriend did not. We loved each other (and liked each other!), but we wanted very different things from life. We weren’t sure what to do, so we just kept going – living and working together and trying not to think about what would come next.

Around that time I developed a weird pain in my chest. It was there when I woke up in the morning, and came and went throughout the day. It wasn’t particularly uncomfortable, but it was hard to ignore, sitting there like a stone, pressing down on the connective tissues above my heart.

I went to the doctor – had EKGs, and all that. “There’s nothing wrong with you.”

I thought maybe I’d pulled a muscle in yoga class. But no – the pain seemed not to be attributable to any particular thing.

One day I was chatting with Mark Mincolla, the Cohasset-based specialist in nutrition and Chinese medicine. I told him about the phantom pain and he said simply, “You’re grieving.”

I had no idea what he was talking about. No one had died, nothing tragic had happened in my life. “Huh?”

So the next time I went to see my massage therapist (what a life, I lead, hmm?), I told her about it too. (She does the kind of work that makes connections between the physical body and our ever-changing emotional states). She said, “Let’s find out what’s going on in there.”

And so we began an inquiry into What Was Causing This Pain. What was going on in my life that could cause such heartache? She helped me tune in with the subtle energies present in my – in all of our – bodies. She encouraged me to breathe into the pain and see what thoughts and feelings came up. I found myself crying a lot – sobbing at times – but still unable to put my finger on the source of these emotions.

Why is it so hard to see the writing on the wall?

Long story short: after a lot of soul searching, I realized that my relationship with the man I loved was not going to work in the long run. We were not a good match – we wanted different things and neither could bear to compromise. He didn’t want a lifelong commitment and I couldn’t bear the thought of NOT having one. And so we parted.

I moved all my stuff back to my parents’ house and left the next morning for a 2-week immersion at Kripalu, the first half of my yoga teacher training (YTT). Out of the frying pan and into the fire . . . Have I ever told you how intense YTT is? Ask me sometime. It’s like holding a magnifier up to your every last insecurity and being forced to study each in depth, until you’re utterly exhausted. Fun times. (Priceless too. No, I’d never give it back.)

And then I came home, settled in with my parents. It wasn’t an easy time. I had given up my 3-year romance, as well as the place I’d lived for two years and the job I’d held for three. For the rest of that year, everything was in flux. I dated a very tolerant (younger) man, became a yoga teacher, secured additional hours at my other job. Eventually things settled back into places that felt “right.” And one day I realized that I hadn’t felt that pain in my chest for a good long time.

It never came back.

I share this story today because I’m thinking about all the benefits one gains from a committed yoga practice -- the insights, the connections, the epiphanies. Sure, in yoga class, we stretch our bodies, strengthen our muscles, air-out our lungs and drive back the ever-surging tide of stress, but there are subtler benefits too. Things like releasing emotional blockages in the body.

It’s September, a time when many of us feel energized and ready to try new things (or return to things that have fallen by the wayside). Are you feeling the pull toward yoga class? Come back! Come try a class or a workshop and see how good it makes you feel. (Note: Lingering heartache is not a requirement for admission.)

And Now A Word From Our Sponsor:
This weekend’s Hamstrings and Hip Flexors Workshop will be a prime opportunity to release some of the emotions that tend to get stored in the hips: anger, resentment, sadness, self-expectation/self-doubt, disappointment, and issues that pertain to sexuality. come stretch, breathe, and release some of the junk you really don’t need anymore. Insights/epiphanies are practically a given. Whether you’ll be able to walk the next day is another story . . .

2 comments:

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Rob Rogers said...

The very tolerant younger man appreciates your tolerance, as well.