How to release negative energy with yoga

That niggling ache between your shoulder blades might not just be a result of poor posture but of stored tension from unresolved emotions. Try these yoga poses to release any negativity you may be holding and prepare your body to welcome happiness into your life.

We tend to hold emotions in particular parts of the body. Your chest is where you carry grief and loss. The sides of your body hold your anger and frustration. Your heart holds your love and joy.

Today yoga is mostly practised in Western society as a form of physical exercise. Yoga is invaluable in this area and regular practice provides such physiological benefits as flexibility, strength, relaxation of muscles and promotion of healthy organ function. But it can also operate on other levels. You can achieve emotional, mental and spiritual benefits by practising yoga.

It is completely up to you which benefits you choose to work towards. Your yoga practice will have an effect on all levels and you can choose to focus on the level most important to you. If you are interested in the way yoga practice can affect the emotional and mental aspects of your life, you’ll be fascinated to know that there are yoga postures you can do that will make a difference to how happy you feel. Of course any yoga practice will make you feel more relaxed, centred and calm, and a flow-on effect will usually be achieved in the area of happiness.

However, it is also possible to practise specific yoga postures that promote happiness. This is because certain areas of the body relate specifically to your feelings. Your lower back, for example, is the foundation area for your body. If your foundations feel shaky (or if you are experiencing lower back problems) then it is likely you will experience feelings such as fear, worry, insecurity or instability. Conversely, if you are going through a time in your life where you are insecure — for example, when you take out a huge mortgage or when you are facing a challenge that makes you apprehensive (the end of a relationship, a new job or the loss of a supportive friend or family member would be examples) — you may experience lower back discomfort.

We tend to hold emotions in particular parts of the body. Your chest is where you carry grief and loss. The sides of your body hold your anger and frustration. Your heart holds your love and joy. When you are having digestive problems, it may be that you are having trouble processing current issues in your life or absorbing new and challenging information. These relationships are illustrated in some of the expressions you might use to describe things you are going through.

“I just can’t stomach this,” you might say when a friend or family member does something with which you disagree. Perhaps you say “I can’t see why you would do that” when you don’t understand the actions of others. Or “My heart sank” when you hear sad or disturbing news. When you hear devastating information you might say “it knocked the wind out of me” and actually feel this sensation in the body. If you speak about something that has been bothering you, you might say you were glad to “get it off your chest”. We do describe our emotions with words that relate to our physical being.

These expressions arise out of our physical experience. Consider “I felt sick with worry”. Performers often speak of discomfort in the stomach or abdominal region before going on stage. Some actually vomit, they are feeling so sick. Their body is responding physically to an emotional concern. Your physical body is intrinsically tied to your emotional state.

If this relationship between your emotional and physical nature exists, it follows that you can deal with emotions by working on the physical body. And of course it is also possible to change the physical body by working through emotions. Most of us are looking for happiness in some form or another and this is just one emotion that can be enhanced by working in a specific physical way.

Think of times when you have been unhappy in your life. Your physical state at the time is likely to have been more collapsed, rather than open, with the chest closed and protected, the head down. When you cry or you feel upset, you are more likely to lean forwards and cover your face. It is almost impossible to feel sad if you open the chest and stand proudly. So to promote happiness, one area you will need to work with is the chest.

When you are happy, you probably feel light and it seems as if things are flowing and connected. Therefore, to promote happiness you will need to practise yoga postures in a way that makes you feel whole, as if every part of your body is functioning in a connected way. This is a benefit of most forms of yoga but it can be enhanced even more by employing a flowing practice with a lot of movement. Also, incorporating a light self-massage can increase the feeling of connection.

You probably often feel stuck when you are unhappy. It may be as if there is no way out, or no way forward. You can’t take any bold confident steps because it feels too difficult to move ahead. So to feel happy you will need some yoga poses that open up the hips and make moving forward more comfortable.

Finally, when you are feeling happy you are likely to be experiencing a sense of contentment. The saying “Everything is going to be fine” may come to mind. There is nothing else you need to do and nowhere else you need to go; everything is as it should be in this moment. You cannot feel this level of contentment without a strong sense of security. A sense of security within is promoted by having a strong foundation or anchor. So to promote happiness you will need to practise some yoga postures that encourage strength and stability in the lower body.


Happiness asanas

The following simple fluid practice has been designed to increase your happiness levels.

Sit kneeling if possible, or in another position that is comfortable for you — for example, cross-legged. Make fists with your hands and gently tap all over the head (see figure 1). Lean the head forward so that you can tap at the back of the head and the base of the skull. Many people hold tension here, so it may be a little tender. Then use the little finger side of your hand to chop at the back of the neck, moving between the base of the skull and the area where the shoulders and neck meet. Lean your head to one side and chop at the exposed side of the neck. Then lean your head backwards so that you can massage the muscles at the front of the neck, which can get very tight.

Squeeze the muscles of one shoulder with the opposite hand and then rub around the shoulder joint with the palm. Rub down the outside of your arm, then the inside and around the wrist. Then squeeze down the hand to the fingertips. Repeat on the other side.

Rub the sides of your body, from armpits to hips. Then lean your head forward and tap the muscles on either side of the spine, starting as high as you can reach, and then moving down into the lower back and buttocks.

Sit up and pound the inner and outer thighs and then the tops of the thighs. This four-step self massage helps you to connect with your body and may also enhance your awareness of sorer trouble spots.

Slowly walk the hands out in front of the body, leaning forwards. It is possible to do this whether kneeling or sitting cross-legged. If you are sitting cross-legged, at some stage swap whichever leg is in front or on top to stretch both sides evenly. Breathe deeply, feeling the belly and chest move towards and away from the legs. This is a rest position called extended pose of the child (if you are on your knees) and can be used in between each of the following exercises, when required.

Move onto the hands and knees, with the hands under the shoulders and the knees under the hips. Allow the belly to relax and lift the chest slightly away from the floor to activate the upper back muscles. Take in a deep breath, then lift the right arm in front and the left leg behind as you breathe out (see figure 2). Breathing in, put the arm and leg back down, then breathing out again, lift the left arm and the right leg. Repeat this, with the breath, 10 times in total (five on each side).

Check that your belly is relaxed and you still have the chest lifted away from the ground. Then take a deep breath, imagining the breath moving into the lower body. When you breathe out, lift the right arm above the right shoulder and take the right leg straight out behind at hip height (see figure 3). Don’t worry if you feel wobbly. The attempt at the exercise is what will make the difference. Stretch the right fingertips towards the sky and think of the hips opening as you reach out through the right leg, emptying the breath from the body. As you breathe in, lower the right arm and leg to starting position. Then, when you breathe out again, raise the left arm and leg to repeat the movement on the other side. Continue in this way, allowing the breath to dictate your movements. Make sure you release all of the out breath when lifting before breathing in again to change. Repeat 10 times, five on each side.

Now bring the legs out in front of the body, keeping them together, sitting on the buttocks. Stretch through the heels and lift the chest, sitting up out of the hips. Lift the arms up parallel to the ground. Breathe in, and as you breathe out lean forward over the legs. The arms stay parallel to the ground and the chest moves towards the feet. Make sure your feet stay flexed, stretching through the heels. You should feel as if you are moving from the hips. Move back to starting position as you breathe in, then breathing out, lean halfway backwards (see figure 4). Again, the arms stay parallel to the ground. The chest is lifted towards the sky and the anchoring work is done by the belly muscles. Repeat, moving forward and back with the breath, 10 times.

Do exactly as you did in figure 4 with the legs out wide (see figure 5). There should be no lower back discomfort. If there is, you are moving too far for your body, or only moving from the upper part of the body, rather than the hips. Always modify to suit your own body.

Move back onto the hands and knees. Again, let the belly soften and lift the upper body away from the hands. Take in a deep breath, imagining that the breath goes down to your belly. As you breathe out, lift the right arm in front and the left leg behind, as you did in figure 2. Breathe in. As you breathe out, bend your left leg, lifting the sole of the foot towards the sky. Breathe in. Breathing out, reach the right hand around behind you to see if you can reach the front of your left foot (see figure 6). Relax, then breathe in. As you breathe out, lift the chest away from the floor and press the front of the left foot away against your right hand. This should open up the front of the body. Do not worry if you wobble. Just work on breathing deeply and relaxing the mind.

In a balancing posture such as this, it is important to empty the mind of thoughts as much as you can, especially if you are having thoughts about finding it difficult to balance! Hold this position for three deep breaths in and out, if possible. When you release from this posture, stretch your arm out in front and your leg out behind before putting the hand and knee back on the ground, breathing continuously. Repeat on the other side. Move back into the extended pose of the child to rest for a few breaths.

Come back onto hands and knees. Breathe in deeply; then, as you breathe out, bring your right leg forward, placing the foot firmly on the mat, under your chest. You can make this movement in any way you wish, as long as you end up with your right heel under your right knee. Push down on the right foot to lift your torso away from the knee. Once you come up your shoulders should be above your hips, your arms relaxed by your side. Breathe in. As you breathe out, raise the arms above the head and bring the palms together. To increase the stretch, sink the hips forward, as long as your front knee stays above or behind your heel. Hold the position for three to five deep breaths, if possible.

For an easier version of this posture, place the palms of the hands on the lower back and draw the elbows towards each other (see figure 7). For a stronger version of this posture, tuck the toes under on the back foot and straighten the back leg so that the back knee comes off the floor (see figure 8). Focus on keeping the hips low to the ground and press strongly through the back heel. The front knee must face the same direction as the front toes.

To release, put your back knee on the floor, then lower the arms at either side of your front foot. Move the front foot back beside the other leg and stretch back into extended pose of the child. Take a few deep breaths here before repeating on the other side.

After you have finished, lie on your back with the feet relaxed out to the sides and the arms resting beside you, palms facing upwards (see figure 9). Breathe deeply into your whole body to feel what has changed. Allow yourself to sink into the floor with each breath out. Enjoy the open feeling in the chest and hips and the secure, grounded sensation within the whole body. Notice the sense of flow and connectedness you have created.

With your eyes closed, think of a smile on your face, gently lifting the edges of the mouth. Now imagine that smile being inside your body. It might be in your chest, your belly or anywhere you choose. Imagine a waterfall from the smile flowing outwards and coursing through your whole body. Feel that your body is now open to happiness and that you are content to be exactly where you are, calm and serene.

Sarah Kearney is a writer and yoga teacher blending principles of oriental medicine with traditional yogic practices to promote health and wellbeing. She develops specific practices to enhance individuals understanding of their own bodies and minds. She can be contacted on chienergyyoga@bigpond.com.

The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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