Crying in Pigeon Pose: WTF and What to Do?

Posted on February 19, 2013

Have you ever felt the sudden desire to scream seemingly emerging from the front of your psoas during a deep lunge? Have you ever contentedly descended into that well earned pigeon pose closing your practice only to find a slow and steady trickle of sadness rise from your outer hip and remain on your mat in a pool of tears. Perhaps the tears were accompanied by a memory or story. But likely there was no logical or rational explanation for the release. Intellectually contextualized or not, you most likely felt lighter and more free leaving yoga class after releasing these emotions.

Often unexpectedly, our yoga practice connects us to the emotional fibers of our beings. The short explanation, known well by Vipassana practitioners, Somatic Psychotherapists, and massage therapists, is that all of our experiences occur at the most primary level as sensations. The symphony of these sensations form what we refer to as emotion (example-achy heart area + trembling chin, and leaky eyes=sadness, full bodied heat+ clenched fists and jaw=anger.) Whether we acknowledge or pay attention to these sensations/emotions or not, our bodies are constantly having them, and when not felt and expressed or moved in some way, storing them. Therefore, when you approach your body with curiosity, simply feeling the sensations without avoiding less preferred ones and craving favorites, these emotional feelings are loosened from the layers of holding and containing, and can be left on the mat. This leaves you freer from the weight of the feeling, as well as the energy required to repress it. Likely, many yogis have been exposed to this theory or have personally experienced their practice bringing up feelings more provocative and emotional than loose hamstrings or a flexible spine.

However, like most gifts of yoga, we can bring this technology into our lives off the mat to create the greater impacts of emotional health and presence. The basic tool here is two fold.

First, develop the capacity to feel your emotions (sensations) as they happen in your body. This may require putting down your iphone, not emerging from the freezer with coconut bliss in hand every time you have a strange feeling in your gut, and sometimes not talking ABOUT what’s happening but simply BEING what is happening. Turn toward and not away from, the stream of emerging sensations. How? Check into your body, especially when you have urges to use a favorite vice, and this includes busyness. Get quiet, and scan for sensations. This may be the secret skill in emotionally healthy lives and is what most of us humans have spent our lives cultivating elaborate techniques to defend against because drum role please, sensations and emotions are not always comfortable. Especially without practice feeling them or faith that there’s good reason to do so. What can help is the curious attitude you bring to your tight hips in warrior II or your clenched shoulders in archer pose: be with discomfort, cuddling up to the edge of tightness and watching it change.

Think of the word emotion. eMOTION. Movement. When you feel your feelings and sensations, they immediately change and move. The feelings themselves know how to dance through and out of our bodies, if we simply get out of their way. When you first start turning toward your experience, you will likely find a back log of unprocessed emotions, but eventually a pristine presence is possible, where like a newborn, feelings arise and are expressed in the moment and then pass.

Step Two: Do not judge yourself for what you feel. There is even little need to make stories about it. Simply feel and once the feelings lull, ask yourself “What do I need to support myself with this feeling?” Perhaps you need solitude, to play your favorite angry song, a bath, or to tell your partner, friend etc. that they hurt your feelings. Perhaps you want ongoing support from a somatically oriented psychotherapist who can help you practice this whole feeling thing. Possibly, the act of feeling itself will eventually become so gratifying by keeping you in constant relationship with your ever changing being, that you will not need to do much more than feel yourself to feel okay.

The more you practice turning toward your experience- aka having it, without judgement or self blame, and with the intention to support yourself to stay embodied, the more each day, conversation, challenge, and even traffic jam can be as emotionally liberating and cathartic as pigeon pose.

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