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Yoga Asana, Emotions & Our Internal Organs…

8 April 2013

Are you, like many other people, under the impression that the benefits of yoga asana are limited to affecting mostly the muscles and joints? If so, you need to realize also that each and every pose has a specific effect on one or more of the internal organs. Yoga, like in traditional Chinese medicine, recognizes that emotions and physical health are intimately connected. And, most emotions have a specific attraction to particular organs.

Examples include:

  • *Fear can damage the kidneys and bladder.
  • *Anger can injure the liver and gall bladder.
  • *Grief and depression can harm the lungs.
  • *Worry and anxiety can afflict the spleen and stomach.
  • *Sadness negatively affects the brain.
  • *Joy (although positive), when in excess may wound the heart.

On the other hand, yoga recognizes that balanced feelings and equilibrium in the emotions will cause the body and its organ systems to work more efficiently.

There are asanas (poses) which affect the emotions in yoga, just as much as they affect the muscles and joints. For example, when practicing Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog), the shoulders, the spine, hamstrings, feet, and the Achilles tendons are deeply stretched, but this asana can also be used to decrease feelings of depression and anxiety. Simple postures such as cat-cow stretch with synchronized breathing can reduce fear. Suptaikapadaparivrttasana (supine twist) is an excellent posture for relieving back pain, but it is also an excellent pose for increasing our acceptance of life’s stresses plus it can eliminate feelings of being worried or overwhelmed.

One of the basic precepts in yoga is the need to approach our practice from where we are at, which means we can’t expect to jump right into an advanced asana. Some students come to yoga with chronically tight muscles, and the purpose of a sustained and regular yoga practice is to gradually and systematically relax the built up tension in the body, and at the same time release the emotions that are “bound up” within the body and that are responsible for this tension. As soon as we begin to let go of the stress “locked” within our bodies, emotions will likely arise. Ideally, we will simply observe these emotions without any judgment. Chances are, we may not even remember what prompted us to start holding these stresses within our bodies in the first place. This is why letting go of any further analysis of these feelings is of utmost importance. By just allowing the emotions to arise, they will pass naturally, like clouds in the sky.

Since each of us will probably have our own individual experience of asana practice, we can easily see how each of us may be affected differently, depending on what part of our bodies we store stress. According to yogic science, we have the ability to see the emotional body as its own kosha (sheath or layer). The Manomaya kosha (aka; the astral or the mind/emotional body) houses all our emotions. Whenever the emotions get stuck in this sheath they can cause energy to become trapped in the physical body, and oftentimes in the internal organs. While some people may manifest anxiety in the lungs (e.g., narrowing of the bronchial passages or shortness of breath) others might experience that same stress in their digestive organs (e.g., have a hard time digesting their feelings as in “I can’t stomach this” which may result in ulcers or IBS).

It is common for a feeling which was once previously unconscious (or subconscious) to the student to be triggered while practicing asana. Asanas function as a means to open energy gateways in much the same manner that reflexology or acupuncture points would. Quite often, a student will feel that their asana practice is affected by something that is currently happening in their life, when actually they are releasing emotions that were stored a long time ago. It is not necessary for us to intellectually “figure them out.” We can let the intelligence of the body do what it was meant to do to release our samskaras (impressions).

Although every student’s experience of yoga asana is different, some of the common emotions that may arise in varying poses are:

  • *Forward bends – These poses can unleash a host of egocentric feelings and attitudes. They may force us to face our fears as we turn our attention inward. Our tendency may be to turn around in the world, to look back at what is behind us. For some there may be a constant fear of attack from behind and this leads to tightness in the back which a forward bend works well to loosen. We have to surrender these fears if we are to relax in these asanas.
  • *Backward bends – These poses are useful when dealing with our attitudes of embracing all of life; of being completely open to receive “the good, bad and the ugly,” rising up to meet life’s various challenges. When practicing backward bends, we may have to deal with the possible emotions of feeling like a doormat to others (literally bending over backward to please them), we may be confronted with letting go of co-dependent patterns and improving our own self-esteem without unnecessarily relying on others to provide us with a positive self image. Backbends commonly bring up fears associated to these emotional patterns. On another level, one who has repeatedly had their heart broken or is very shy may typically hunch their shoulders, sometimes even covering their heart, particularly those who may have been teased in school or at an early age. Backward bends can be very confronting, but they can also help to change and remold the personality along with the conditionings of the mind.
  • *Balancing asanas – These poses are extremely powerful indicators of a student’s emotional state. Someone who feels un-easy emotionally, or whose mind is preoccupied with too many emotions, will find balancing poses very difficult. As they find a sense of balance in these poses, those emotions that are causing the mind to become agitated may temporarily increase before subsiding to a more peaceful place. With proper instruction and practice balancing poses will help to build a calm, resilient, steady mind.
  • *Twisting asanas – As you may have guessed, these poses have to do with untangling the “knots” of life. All twisting asanas initiate feelings of dealing with obstacles we face, and can enable us to develop the necessary strength to face whatever comes our way. Twists, along with backbends give us more confidence through regular, sustained practice, and help develop courage for those with overly introverted personalities.
  • *Inverted asanas – When we practice these poses, we are literally turning our world on its head; changing our perspective totally by turning our behavioral patterns upside down. Inversions help us to see ourselves and our world from a different point of view. It’s easy to imagine all the emotions that can arise from turning your whole perspective around. Inversions help to purify the mind when our worldview feels shaken, bringing greater peace and calmness.

In addition to the asanas outlined above, here are some specific poses that can be helpful in the release and removal of negative feelings and/or emotions…

  • *To increase your energy and give the courage to face life’s challenges – Surya namaskar (sun salutation), Bhujangasan (cobra), Dhanurasan (bow), and Veerasan (warrior).
  • *For calming the mind, releasing anger and surrendering the ego – Vajrasan yogamudra (childs pose), Paschimottanasan (forward bend), Karnapeedanasan (folding leg plough), Viparit karni (inverted pose).
  • *To release pent up emotions (when you feel like screaming) – Simhasan (roaring lions pose)
  • *To bring calmness, acceptance and relief from anxiety – Restorative poses such as Uttanpadasan (legs up the wall), Tadagasan (pond pose), Supta vajrasan (sleeping thunderbolt) Sputa baddha konasan (sleeping bound angle pose) and Koormasan (tortoise).

In conclusion, not all students of yoga will have emotions coming up and for many practitioners, they experience primarily positive emotions when practicing asanas, and this is both natural and normal. It doesn’t signify that one isn’t progressing or dealing with the self. We all have different ways of managing the mind, so we should continually remind ourselves that yoga is the practice of balancing the body, mind, emotions and spirit to bring unity, harmony, contentment and finally, bliss.

Yoga, Emotions & Our Internal Organs...

standing forward fold (Uttanasana)

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