I’m know I’m not the only person who has cried during savasana, the final resting pose during yoga, or even felt anger inexplicably rise during practice. The emotional release we feel keeps many of us coming back for more.
An earlier Modern Yogi post revealed the science behind how the body stores emotions, and this is a follow-up, exploring where specific emotions accumulate and how to clear them through the physical practice of yoga. Many eastern practices link emotions to specific organs or body parts, and interestingly, the organs correlate to yoga’s chakra system.
Targeting specific areas can help clear stubborn blocks and support your ongoing quest for emotional freedom. Of course, the journey is not only a physical one, but this post focuses on this physical aspect.
Grief lingers in the lungs
When we cry really hard, we may release gasping sobs, or when we talk about emotions during a depression, we may say something like “I feel like I can’t breathe.”
The lungs are also associated with taking in the new and releasing the old. If we’re grieving, we have a hard time with both. Letting go and moving on.
The idea of lungs holding onto grief is commonly found in Chinese medicine, but from a yoga perspective, the lungs are associated with the heart chakra, the fourth chakra, related to love. When we grieve, our hearts hurt. We lost something we loved. When our hearts are open, we’re able to ride the flow of life.
Tips for releasing grief in the heart through yoga:
Practice backbends. Try a passive backbend by rolling up a blanket, towel or yoga mat and placing it underneath the shoulder blades, at bra strap level. Lay here for any amount of time you wish, preferably five or 10 minutes.
Kundalini yoga works very deep in the body’s glands for moving emotions. Here is a kriya (set of exercises) for opening up the heart chakra. Also check out YouTube for Kundalini videos focusing on the fourth chakra.
Meditate while visualizing a ball of light at the heart chakra. Imagine it burning away all the residue and clearing blockages with its incredible light.
Anger gunks up the liver
Anger’s connection to the liver is also found in both Chinese medicine and yoga. The liver cleans the blood and stores energy. And when someone is really angry, we say her blood is boiling.
In yoga, the liver is related to the third chakra, in the belly. This is the seat of will and power. Often when we’re angry, it’s because we feel we’ve been wronged, and feel powerless against that wrong.
To cleanse the liver and balance the third chakra:
Practice twists to wring out the internal organs
Poses that fire up the third chakra and encourage balance include stretch pose. Lie on your back and lift the legs, head and shoulders about six inches off the ground. Begin the breath of fire, inhaling and exhaling rapidly.
This kundalini yoga DVD, Lighten Up and Purify by Ana Brett and Ravi Singh, has an amazing set to help you detoxify. One set is called Love Your Liver. The exercises are deceptively simple and really powerful.
Holding on tightens the hamstrings
The hamstrings are connected to our ability to let go and trust, which makes sense because they’re linked to forward folds — postures of surrender. They’re also connected to fear — we often grip the hamstrings when entering fight or flight mode, which makes sense if the body is preparing to run off to safety.
If we tend to want to control life, we may have tight hamstrings. Some people also say the hamstrings are related holding ourselves back in some way, holding back our power, creativity, or fullness of self-expression out of fear.
Freeing the hamstrings requires focusing on that difficult balance between letting go of control while putting ourselves out into the world with full trust that life will take us where we need to go.
To release the hamstrings:
Practice forward folds, poses of surrendering. You may also want to combine these folds with practices that strengthen the third chakra, the power center, which is the fire of will and self-determination.
Worry clogs the spleen
The spleen is related to the liver. It helps to filter blood and supports the body’s immune system. Energetically, it also holds worry. Fortunately, worry dissipates much more quickly than the other, stickier emotions like anger and grief.
Reduce worry and support spleen health by:
Meditating to reduce rumination and worry.
Chant mantras to reduce anxiety.
Try this kundalini kriya: Sit cross-legged on the floor, with your arms bent and hands on the shoulders, fingers wrapped around. Inhaling, twist to the left, exhale and twist to the right. Inhale while thinking “sat” and exhale while thinking “nam.” Close the eyes and twist about 26 times.
Hips are an emotional junk drawer
The hips hold a variety of emotions, from stress to sadness to trauma. They’re the epicenter of the second chakra, which is the energy center related to emotions. In the U.S. many people have chronically tight hips, partially because we sit a lot and partially because our culture is scared of emotion.
To release the hips:
Practice hip-openers like the warrior poses, goddess pose and pigeon. Check YouTube for hip-opening sequences.
Move the hips in circles. Dance. Shake.
Get up and walk around frequently during the day.
Shoulders hold stress
This is probably a no-brainer, but I feel like the shoulders are under-appreciated while everyone focuses on heart-openers and hips. If you’re ever feeling stressed or worried, I recommend spending five or 10 minutes opening up the shoulders. It really helps release a lot of tension.
Some awesome shoulder openers are:
Down puppy: From all fours, press the hands a few inches out in front of you until you can lower the chest down toward the ground as you would in down dog. You can also bend your elbows and place the triceps on a table. Let gravity loosen the shoulders, taking care not to press, just allowing the gradual opening.
Elbow stretch: Lift both arms up toward the sky. Bend the left arm, and clasp the right arm just above the elbow. Send the right arm down toward the floor, bringing the stretch into the left shoulder. Repeat on the other side.
Also check out this body map courtesy of Centripetal Force Studio that links areas of pain to specific thoughts and emotional states.