Have you ever felt your blood pressure rise and breath quicken during times of acute stress? Have you ever trembled with excitement? If so, you know that trauma, emotions and memories can show up in our physical bodies in a variety of ways. Last week, I touched on the koshas, energetic layers that make up the body’s physical and subtle forms. From the perspective of the koshas, we know that what we feel emotionally effects us physically, whether the catalyst is considered positive (joy, excitement, laughter) or negative (grief, sadness, depression). But what to do we do when we experience something that feels nearly incurable, such as a broken heart?
This beautiful piece by a yogi who lost both her partner and mother within the same year provides a well-lit example of how a grieving heart can lead to physical distress. In this case, her heartache turned into an arrhythmia that could have required medication and surgery to cure. Rather than following the advice of her doctor, the author followed her physical and emotional intuition, and opted to turn to her yogic knowledge to heal her pain. Eventually, after a long period of committed, heart-centered yoga practice, the author’s heart issues resolved.
While I’m not advocating that we should ignore the advice of trusted medical professionals, this story suggests that yoga can be used as a tool for healing, especially when physical ailments have origins in emotional stressors. Western science has touted several recent studies proving that a regular yoga practice can lead to a slew of health benefits, including that yoga is good for your heart and that yoga improves mental stability. The reasons as to why hatha yoga is physically beneficial are clear: mild aerobic movement, gentle stretching, and slow, deep breathing offer physical benefits that tonify and support the heart’s functioning. However, we often overlook the fact that numerous emotional benefits reside here as well: in our yoga practice, we are led to quiet the mind, let go of our troubles and trade grief, loss and heartache for gratitude, kindness and compassion.
Like many lessons of yoga, we can view the breath and postures as barometers that reflect the states of our physical and emotional bodies. When we suppress grief or feel protective of our hearts due to trauma, our physiological state is also affected: our breath shortens, becomes shallow or gets ‘stuck’ and staccato-like. Our posture may subconsciously shift from an open-hearted stance to one that is hunched and protective, closed off from the interactions of the world.
These bodily reactions to heartache are normal and sometimes even necessary when someone is in the deepest midst of struggle and loss. However, when you are ready to begin the work of healing, a committed yoga practice can be instrumental in releasing these holding patterns. Simple breathing and gentle movements may not sound revolutionary, but they are often profound starting points for transformation personal and liberation.
The first thing that often occurs when stepping onto a yogic path is an increased body and breath awareness that helps to shed emotional weight. Yoga begins to quietly bring to light unconscious holding patterns that resulted from your emotional injury. During a conscious asana practice, the body moves in ways that facilitate a balanced emotional state and opening of the heart. Calling in an intention for your practice is also a powerful way to help heal a broken heart or address a health concern. To do this, ask, “What does your heart need to feel at peace?” Whether it needs forgiveness, acceptance, self-love or courage, yoga can lead the way.
In what ways has yoga helped you transition from heartache to healing?