I was in the middle of a glorious restorative yoga class when I found myself crying. For no reason. I was propped up in supported Matsyasana (fish pose) and suddenly the tears were just flowing. It was mostly embarrassing because of the obvious. I was taking a class and was around other people. But there is also the less obvious reason of being so vulnerable with myself without a “reason.” I felt silly, weak, and a bit less than for my little tear fest.
Oddly, I left class feeling so much better than when I entered. There was this invisible weight that was lifted off of me that I didn’t even realize I was carrying. When I talked to my teacher about it, she told me that emotions get stored in our muscles. And that we have to work through them slowly over time.
This sounded completely absurd to me at first.
As an Ashtangi, I turned to Kino MacGregor’s The Power of Ashtanga Yoga to find some sort of believable answer. Her book basically said the same thing. Through asana practice, we are able to get to the heart of these intense emotions and work through them head on. A lot of the time this means we won’t necessarily understand what event actually caused the emotion. Kino stresses that this is okay. As long as you work just experience it and let it happen. (PS: If you don’t know about Kino, check out her Instagram. You’ll be amazed.)
Naturally this theory has a lot of naysayers. And honestly, I get that. People store emotions in their body? Are you high? It seems a little improbable.
But when you are having a bad day or a stressful week, you notice you are hunching over or clenching your jaw. And according to Candace Pert and Psychology Today, this repeated stress or otherwise emotional trauma can have long term effects. Here is a great example of that:
Neurophysiologists explain that with repeated stress, people over time have shorter and shorter neck and shoulder muscles. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital found that people with depression had chronically tight brow muscles (corrugator muscles) even when they did not think they were frowning. Multiple studies indicate that an increased mental workload results in increased muscle tension in the cervical and shoulder areas, particularly for people working at computers.
That all sounds fine and dandy but in plain English, the reality of these things is pain. Psychology Today specifies that this leads to chronic pain, knots, and spasms. Since you are repeatedly tensing and clenching, you are inevitably causing situations that are going to be painful to get out of.
You have to store some of your emotions in your body because you, experience many of your emotions as a result of your physical environment.
Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio spoke about this to NPR: “People look at emotions as something in relation to other people,” Damasio, who is a professor at the University of Southern California, says. “But emotions also have to do with how we deal with the environment — threats and opportunities.” For those, Damasio says, you need your body as well as your mind.
Damasio believes that each emotion triggers a distinct body type and because our brain loves patterns, we associate those triggers with specific emotions. #ScienceStuff.
So with this evidence presented, it makes some sort of logical sense to deduce that if we are pumping all sorts of negativity into our muscles then we should experience an emotional release when getting it out of our muscles. Right? Energy in should equal energy out.
Maybe there is a science-backed reason why I and many other people sometimes find themselves tearing up when they work out. Or maybe we are all just slightly crazy. It is possible some of us may fall into both categories. Regardless, I feel just a tad bit better about the whole thing. And honestly? I kind of hope it happens again.
Originally published on Kylie Does Yoga