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  • Christina Helms

Wrapping up Mental Health Awareness Month

Unicorn after yoga

Many years ago, a good friend of mine brought her very uptight corporate lawyer boyfriend (no offense corporate lawyers) to a yoga class with her for the first time. About halfway through the class he thought he was having a heart attack and was rushed to the ER in an ambulance. Don’t worry, he’s fine. As it turned out, he had a panic attack. Though he staunchly disagreed with our assessment, my friend and I are certain that the class, which was a big heart opening/backbending class, freed up some very scary emotions for him that he had been ignoring and covering up with work, success, money, booze, etc., for a very long time.

All of us try to numb ourselves from difficult emotions in all sorts of ways - alcohol, scrolling through social media or the all day Netflix binge. And we need that sometimes.

But, as Bessel Van der Kol, author of the Body Keeps the Score says

“If you are not aware of what your body needs, how can you take care of it?”

Unprocessed emotions become toxic and they will find a way to show up, often in very inconvenient and inappropriate ways like yelling at our kids or melting down in Target or...having a panic attack in a yoga class.

Yoga trains us to pay attention- to our bodies, our minds, our emotions in the present moment and to accept whatever shows up with grace. We don't push it away or numb it out.

The ancient yogis instinctively knew what modern neuroscience is now catching on to: emotions are experienced in the body (the nervous system) and therefore need to be addressed through the body. In an asana class we have the opportunity to observe, feel, and even move emotion through or even out of the body. This is why so many people cry during savasana!

What's more, when we are paying attention, we know what we need, so we can embody the fierceness of utkatasana, the power of virabhadrasana two or the surrender of a child's pose.

Next time you step on your mat, try asking yourself "what do I need in this moment?" Take your emotional temperature by checking in with how your body is feeling and set an intention to cultivate what you need or to move what might feel stuck.

I hope this helps! Would love to hear what comes up for you in class or what your go-to poses are when you're feeling "some type of way."

Om shanti.

Christina Helms, Co-Owner of Three Birds Yoga Studio

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