Yoga Wellness: Choices for Coping with Difficult Emotions

The current Wonderful Moon post, “Moon Wisdom: Flower Full Moon in Turbulent Scorpio,” discusses this month’s Scorpio full moon. The moon in Scorpio can bring emotional intensity with deep internal churn. But no matter where the moon is today, what your moon sign is by birth, or the changing circumstances, we all experience uncomfortable feelings. We all cope with hurts, disappointments, losses, and uncertain transitions.

Yoga helps manage emotional challenges and stress. Today many people practice yoga at studios and on their own. Yoga is recommended for difficult mind-body problems, such as PTSD, as well as for everyday stress. Some people seek out trauma-sensitive yoga.

Individual postures offer many benefits. Through a class, practitioners move body weight, gain flexibility, open the heart, and increase lung capacity. Practitioners develop stamina, improve balance, and integrate mind and body, all of which enhance well-being on and off the mat. Improved body image affects self-esteem. Yoga teaches stillness, not reacting to emotional triggers.

The focus here is on fluctuating moods and feelings. This isn’t about serious, long-standing problems, crisis situations, or addictions for which counseling is recommended. This is about you wake up, and you feel angry, or despondent, or anxious, or frustrated. How can you self-medicate in a healthy, beneficial way with yoga, as you might with music?

Check In, Be Practical + Be Patient

First, check in with yourself. Do you want to explore your upset feelings through yoga? Do you prefer diversion? Do you want to be gentle, or give yourself a swift kick in the rear? Or all the above – like a music playlist, a yoga routine might touch different parts of yourself. When sad, you may listen to sad songs, jubilant songs, self-validation songs, plus songs that promise a new beginning.

For instance, let’s say that you’re in denial. Do you want motivation to address nagging problems? Would it help to slowly release into the tense places that hold resistance in your body? Do you want yoga as an antidote to take your mind off problems, hoping that time heals the wounds? Perhaps you really are stuck in a difficult life situation. Maybe you received bad news. Practicing yoga can build coping skills and tolerance.

Secondly, review the practical concerns. You have responsibilities, a schedule, and physical limitations. What sort of class do you want and with which teacher? Does a short lunchtime class work best? Will serene yoga that follows a jog after work be better? Will you see friends at a certain class, and might that make a world of difference?

You can practice in comfort at home. Wearing old PJs may be appreciated when you feel low. But maybe your outlook will improve if you wear nice leggings, wash your face, and apply lipstick. Or maybe stripping down to who you are and twisting out toxins is what you need. Maybe practicing outdoors on a warm, sunny day would lift your spirits. Maybe practicing with your cat or dog would warm your heart. What might help you feel better?

Thirdly, be patient with yourself. Make choices with your vulnerabilities in mind. Yoga can help you soften and relax, finding emotional space. Chances are that you’ll finish with a smile. Maybe you’ll feel renewed resilience, ready to face what life throws at you. Maybe a creative solution to problems suddenly came to you while holding a posture. No matter what, give yourself time. The emotional body heals at its own pace. There’s no race to get somewhere. Yoga offers a refuge from that pressure.

Don’t feel up to it? Roll out the mat, sit down, and lean over into a soothing child’s pose. Inhale. Exhale. Lay back and give yourself a few loving hugs by bringing your knees to your chest and wrapping your arms around your legs. Maybe rock from side to side. Raise up into a few cat-cows, slowly moving with the breath, and take it from there. You do more, or maybe you don’t, not today.

5 Ways to Transform Emotions through Yoga

1) Start with an intention and breathwork. You have a good sense of how you feel. Be clear on what you want to accomplish. Stay present with that intention through your practice.

Choose a form of pranayama that enables you to truly feel present and taps into your vitality. Let go of what doesn’t serve you. Breathe in peace, calm, and what helps you cope. Breathe out, releasing the hostile, toxic stuff.

2) Choose yang or power for more sweaty exertion, for channeling your brave, confident inner warrior. Choose yin or restorative to stretch out, yield and trust, giving tense muscles and nerves a break. One approach isn’t necessarily better than the other.

Choose a practice that will positively affect your mood. But don’t force yourself to do what you aren’t up for right now. If you cry in a class, it’s okay. Excuse yourself or let it quietly flow.

3) Always work in something that slightly scares or frustrates you. Extend yourself. Maybe sitting still for meditation is difficult. Maybe it’s inversions or balance poses. Maybe it’s releasing your shoulders or hips.

Recognize signs of incremental progress. You went a half-inch further. You rocked several chaturangas in a row. It helps the mind and body to see beneficial change. But don’t compare yourself with others. It’s your practice.

4) Aim for a consistent, well-rounded, devoted practice. That doesn’t mean monotony. Break out of the familiar. Send love to all parts of your body.  Breathe mindfully and steadily into where there is numbness, discomfort, or especially pain. Don’t avoid challenging poses. That’s where you might grow the most. Modify and use props.

You can’t know what you like or dislike unless you try. You’ll learn something about yourself along the way. Keep your mind and body guessing and exploring, while feeling safe and supported in your yoga sanctuary.

5) At the end of the practice, give yourself plenty of time for savasana, and maybe for meditation. Check back in with your intention. What has shifted? Do you feel better about yourself? Is there less inner conflict?

Try the loving-kindness meditation. Send love to people close to you, antagonistic to you, to strangers, and across the planet, to the moon and beyond. When you feel greater mind-body integration, you naturally radiate love and optimism, and attract more light and love back to you.

You took time out for yourself and for feeling calm yet vulnerable on the mat. You weren’t defeated by feeling distressed, powerless, or overwhelmed. Life circumstances or astrological influences didn’t determine the outcome. You went with the flow and made positive mindful choices. You transformed challenging emotions through yoga and by listening to your body. Now that you found bliss and balance, aren’t you curious about what comes next?

Photography: Debbie Maier Workman and Wendy Sphinx, of Pure Light Yoga, are “twisted” yet serene by Oak Hollow Lake in High Point, NC, on November 18, 2016. We spontaneously took our practice outdoors on a beautiful late fall day, and later turned it into a fun video. The video’s music is “Twisted,” by Joni Mitchell, from the album, Court and Spark (1974).  “Twisted” is a 1952 vocalese song with clever lyrics by Annie Ross. It’s about being considered a bit “crazy” or emotionally confused, having “a thing that’s unique and new.”

Sphinx Yoga
Written by Sphinx Yoga
A longtime yogi and night sky gazer, Wendy Sphinx has published Moonday and Sphinx Yoga for two years. She lives in NC and finishes 200-hour yoga teacher training this spring. Although she’s been exposed to many flavors of yoga, her current practice is Dharma-focused, which is where she began her journey many years and moons ago. She earned a doctorate in journalism from UNC-Chapel Hill, master’s and graduate women’s studies certificate at Duke, and undergraduate degree in writing and literature from NYU, with a summer session in science at Oxford University in the UK. A communications professor for 20 years, she has worked professionally in journalism, marketing and public relations since the 1980s. Her grandmother was an astrologer, and she grew up reading horoscopes and looking at the moon, planets, and stars through a backyard telescope. The Sphinx’s bimonthly column, Wonderful Moon, draws on this background to share lore, advice, and timely yoga tips for the new and full moon phases. Information on observing the moon is combined with astrological insights, consideration of nature and seasonal change, and the cycles of our lives. Beautiful lunar photography is provided by award-winning photographer and author Greg Diesel Walck.