Most of us go to yoga classes with the intention of feeling better. We know that after a class we usually feel less stressed, and may even experience a yoga ‘high’ that comes without the consumption of any illicit drugs. This is one of the ways our brain trains us to return to a practice which is good for us. Like the carrot on a stick, it gives us some feel-good sensations so that we want to continue our practice. While this is a wonderful reason to keep returning to our mat, one of the secrets of a true yoga practice is unlocking deeply held emotions that cause the tension and tightness we aim to release in uttanasana or balasana.
Samskaras are the Key
Samskara is a Sanskrit term which means ‘locked’ physiological or psychological response. It can also be called a ‘deep impression,’ which is held muscularly. Wherever the body thinks it can store our fears, angers, hurt, guilt, or shame, it finds the most remote, inaccessible spot. We often don’t discover these until we are on the mat, twisting, turning, or moving in ways that aim to unleash muscular tension held in every conceivable place in our bodies. The samskaras are the residue of past experience. Like a film on a screen, the keep us from experiencing the present moment as it truly is. When we start to release these deeply stored impressions, we can begin to feel lighter, and more agile not only physically, but emotionally as well.
Don’t Be Shy with Your Emotions
The first thing most of us do when we feel discomfort in our body is compensate or deny it. This is why alignment and awareness are so important in yoga. When we stand tall in Tadasana (Mountain Pose), for example, and make sure that our body weight is equally balanced in all four corners of our feet, and that our spine, hips and knees are in alignment, it helps us to notice how we might be standing to compensate for tightness or discomfort in a specific area of our bodies. Maybe we stand with more weight in the right leg to compensate for discomfort in our left knee, or something similar. Simple awareness of this tendency is the first secret to releasing it.
Go Into the Emotion like an Archeologist
The next step to unlocking the samskaric impressions and letting them go is to act as though you are an archeologist seeking to uncover ancient remains. Be afraid of nothing. When an emotion rises up, don’t try to push it back down, let it arise and just observe it like a scientist would. You may not even know how it got in there in the first place, or what it was meant for originally, but experiencing it with awareness it the way to let it go. Tightness and soreness is our body’s way of telling us we still have pent up emotions in place. When all of our stored impressions are released, we feel free and supple, flexible and strong. The body never lies. We have to pay attention to what it is telling us.
It is in this way that we can begin to free ourselves from outdated perspectives about ourselves, and our world. Yoga not only allows us to feel more flexible, but restores a balanced emotional world view.