In an effort to deepen the understanding of how humans process emotions, researchers took more than 700 participants in Finland, Sweden and Taiwan and had them map their bodily sensations related to specific emotions. The participants viewed words, videos, facial expressions and stories and then self-reported the areas of their bodies which were affected with increased sensation and the areas that had decreased in sensation. There is a real truth to “feeling happiness from head to toe” or “feeling blue” and there is a direct bodily connection to that emotion.
Here are three ways we can look at the Body Atlas and use yoga to strengthen emotional well-being:
The first few minutes in a yoga class are spent on centering yourself- not worrying about the past or being anxious about the future but focused on the present moment, the here and now. The researchers used words, imagery cues, photos and stories to garner the various emotional states, so wouldn’t the opposite ring true as well? Finding a great theme, story or using positive words to can help reset and refocus the mind back to a more neutral state.
When we use Ujayii or Victorious Breath, we mindfully slow down the breath and increase lung capacity, which then oxygenates our bodies. To clear and calm the mind you can also use Nadi Shodhana or Alternate Nasal Breathing. Incorporating this technique focuses on alternating breaths to each nasal passage which then brings together the right and left side (logical and artistic) of the brain. If you are feeling overstimulated or uninspired there is Brahmari or Bumblebee Breath. The low humming vibrations are soothing for the spinning mind and the practice lengthens the exhalations. Finally, one of the last Pranayama’s that could work to change our emotional state would be Kapalabhati or the Breath of Fire that reinvigorates and energizes the body through quick, powerful exhales. This is a great breathing exercise to help when you need a pick-me-up or need to feel more alert.
The emotions of happiness, pride and love have surged the chest and shoulders with increased blood flow and heat, making front body openers more accessible. The counter poses would then be variations of forward folds. The emotions of sadness, shame and contempt have a lack of blood flow and heat in the front body and would, therefore, take longer to stretch and open up. Also take note of the Body Atlas for the lower extremities. The black coloring simply shows that area is in a neutral state- but it is the blue coloring that we should pay attention to as that is where it is lacking heat and blood flow. Anxiety, depression, shame, surprise and sadness are emotions we can look at building circulation and strength with Warrior poses or Standing Balance poses and then using long seated stretches to open up the legs.
As yoga students, we come to seek out yoga classes to “feel better”. By using the Body Atlas we can see the physical manifestations that certain emotions give us. Actually seeing where these feelings affect our bodies allow us to understand how positive reinforcement, pranayama and asana can counteract negative or anxious emotions or at least bring us to a more neutral emotional mindset. Just as the researchers used words, images, non-verbal cues and stories to conjure up striking emotions we can use the various facets of our internal dialogue and our physical practice to have a positive effect.
Photo Credit: Image courtesy of Lauri Nummenmaa, Enrico Glerean, Riitta Hari, and Jari Hietanen.
[author image=”http://www.eatlivelife.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Eliza-Image.jpg” ]Eliza Whiteman is based out of Charlottesville, Va. She has been practicing Power Yoga and Vinyasa for twelve years and teaching for the last seven. Eliza is dedicated to her students and uses yoga to help ignite their inner spark of self-realization and confidence. Eliza is inspired by the yoga teacher community and hopes to give back to them and their students. You can connect with Eliza at her website- www.yogawitheliza.com– or on Facebook.[/author]