Yoga just doesn’t feel the same without backbending. The energy charging through the spine and the opening of the heart is an invigorating feeling, like being cracked open, especially if the heart is an area you tend to keep closed in everyday life.
If you’re the type to hunch your shoulders, perhaps subconsciously protecting your heart, back-bending can be an emotional process. The day following an intense session of backbends can often be difficult for me as the emotions I’ve been harbouring bubble up through my spine, break out through the heart and come flooding out through my eyes. A similar thing can happen with deep hip openers, another favourite of mine.
Most of us can relate to emotional pain in the physical body. Tightness, knots and niggles are universal. Thomas Hanna, author of the book Somatics describes an added reaction in the fight or flight response that he calls “sensory motor amnesia,” a kind of freezing or bracing response. In order for someone to remain in an uncomfortable situation they literally harden their muscles and create knots of stiffness, and yes, their release can cause an overwhelming flood of emotions.
It can be frightening in some cases when you first start to unravel years of emotional holding patterns, and one of the reasons yoga should be approached with love and caution, ideally in addition to psychotherapy if there are traumas from the past that need help to be worked through.
According to the late neuropharmacologist Candace Pert, the body is your subconscious mind and the physical body can literally be altered by the emotions we experience. Each time your feelings change a mixture of peptides is released. Peptide receptors are found on organs, muscles and glands and can access and store emotional information. This means emotional memory is stored in many places in the body, not just or even primarily, in the brain.
There has been no real research on whether certain areas of the body relate to specific emotional issues although some body workers have mapped out the effects from trial and error. Sophia Kutz, also known as The Muscle Whisperer, developed a form of massage known as LT Therapy.
Sophia mapped out the back body into areas that hold different types of pain. The spine is the divider, binding both the left side male energy and right side female energy. The top areas relate to anxiety and stress. Along the neck and top of the shoulders are your personal relationships – your mother and father, male and female siblings and your partner, which adds a glorious explanation to someone being a pain in the neck.
The lower back links to our inner child. When these areas are massaged you’re gaining insight into how he or she felt in your early childhood about the relationship with each of your parents.
I went through a really difficult time recently and couldn’t understand why the heavy emotions accompanying it became so stuck. I felt miserable even though logically I knew everything was going to be OK. The emotions accompanying the trauma I’d experienced just kept bouncing back into my awareness. Then I discovered the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) also known as ‘tapping’ which works on the same basis as acupuncture but rather than needles you tap at specific energy points around your body while repeating mantras to specify the emotional problem you want to solve.
Let’s face it, it’s often a perceived lack of love that causes us emotional pain, so if you can reprogram your body into loving yourself completely you can help reprogram your emotions. This is what makes EFT so interesting. Before you begin tapping you focus on your problem and you say the words ‘Even though “I can’t get over this heartbreak” (or whatever your problem may be) I deeply and completely love and accept myself.”
Tapping was what allowed me to ultimately release these emotions. There are loads of YouTube videos on this technique so if you feel you are subconsciously holding onto pain I would definitely suggest you give it a go.
The healing process can be emotionally testing as you come face to face with those feelings that were once so painful you locked them deep within your cells. But when these feelings arise, which they eventually will, fully allow yourself to experience them. Don’t become attached, notice them for what they are and know that there are physical practices you can do which will help to ease and release them.
By Gemma Rowbotham. Featured image by Joshua Hibbert