You’re on your way to work in the morning and someone cuts right in front of you. You slam on your brakes and swerve out of the way so you don’t hit them. What a jerk! You are immediately angry and feel wronged–who is this Lexus-driving dummy? Who does he think he is? But you’re running late, so rather than paying your anger any mind, you deposit it into the emotional piggy-bank.
Once you finally get to work (dang traffic–another emotional coin added to the bank) your boss is riding your ass right away about your project. “No, Mr(s). Whosie-Whatsie, it’s not done yet because I just walked in the door. I’ll get it to you as soon as I can.” Stress swells in your shoulders; another coin in the bank.
You’re stuck at work late working on the project for Boss (Wo)Man and end up getting stuck in traffic on the way home too. Your body is antsy from the stress of the day and you feel guilty because you may not be able to squeeze in a workout before you have to get dinner on the table. Shoulders: scrunch. Belly: tighten. Stomach: clench. Legs: Fidget.
This is a story we all most likely know too well. Nothing special or terrible happened in this hypothetical day, but our poor subject is arriving home in a ball of knots with emotional coins up to her eyeballs–only to go to bed and most likely do it all over again the following day. What a dismal thought. No wonder we are proned to stress, anxiety, illness and weight-gain as a society.
But there are ways to work through this stress and anxiety. The first step is recognizing that we store emotions in our bodies the way a Piggy-bank stores coins. Our body is different, however, in that specific emotions tend manifest themselves in specific parts of the body. Herein lies the hope of our situation. If we can identify where those emotions tend to be stored, we can work on moving them through. Yoga provides a phenomenal platform for doing this, but is by no means the only way.
First let’s work with the idea that emotions are stored in the body. For some this is a strange idea. Emotions are felt and feelings come from the heart, right? Well, not necessarily. That is the tip of the iceberg. Think of how your body feels when you are stressed. Take a moment to close your eyes and imagine a stressful situation. What does your body look like? What does it feel like? What parts of your body constrict or feel sensation when you are stressed? You probably look something like this:
Notice how her chest is closed off, shoulders crunched to the ears and the whole front body is hunched inward. This puts stress on all of the vital organs in the front body, most notably the heart, lungs, intestines and reproductive organs.
So what can you do to counter this action? There are a number of poses that can open the front body, immediately alleviating some of the stress stored there. But first, and I’ll repeat this again and again and again: breathe. Breathe into the spaces where you feel that emotion. If you are stressed, send your inhale into the front body: the jaw, neck, chest and belly. That is always the first step. From there, here are a few poses you can do to counteract this stress-body:
Bhujangasana or Cobra Pose is a nice easy way of opening the heart, shoulders and belly. If you’re looking for something a little juicier try Ustrasana or Camel Pose. Camel will give you an intense stretch through the entire front side of the body. In each pose, as with any spinal extension, please keep length in the low back and breathe into the front of the body as you release.
Now that you have tools to deal with the stress of your day, what about anger? After all, you never know when Mr(s). Lexus is going to assert his/her way on the road. So let’s use the same process. First, are you angry? NO! You feel anger. Very first step–don’t let the feeling define you. Second, breathe. This is particularly important when it comes to anger. If nothing else, it makes you take an extra moment to think about whether you really do want to ram the back of the the $50,000 car in front of you. But breathing is also going to oxygenate your body, taking you out of “fight or flight” mode and enable you to think more clearly. Now you can step back and observe what’s going on in your body. You feel anger. Where do you feel anger? What is the quality and intensity of that feeling?
Another silly cartoon:
Puffed up chest, clenched fists, tight jaw. This fella needs to surrender. Immediately I think of Garudasana or Eagle Pose. This pose lengthens across the upper back, creating more space for breath (hard to do when you’re really ticked off!) and softens the chest. More importantly, it’s a balancing posture so it gets you out of your head and grounded, feeling the connection to your core and to the earth. Finally, it’s hard! It’s hard to think about what’s pissing you off when you’re trying not to fall over.
Another great set of postures when trying to work with some anger is the Warriors (I, II and III). If you’ve practiced much yoga you have most likely encountered these poses. And you most likely haven’t had an angry experience with them (other than having your legs quiver). But these are fantastic poses to get you grounded and to bring you out of your head. Look at our angry little man up above. His center of gravity is well above his midline. The poses will allow you to literally sit back with your anger-body and go to battle with it.
All of our emotions can be matched with poses this way. And it’s not just yoga poses, although many of them are designed to target specific areas of the body where we store emotions. But however it works for you, if there is a predominant emotion that is troubling you:
1) Identify where in your body you feel it
2) Breathe into that space
3) Pick a counter pose–something to work against the energy of that feeling.
4) Breathe into that space again.
As you perform these poses, emotions may come up. Don’t judge them or even try to name them. Observe them; let them pass. After all, look at the etmyology of the word: e – motion: to be in motion. So let those feelings do what they do–move through. Don’t store them in the piggy-bank.