yin yoga

Exposing yourself to your emotions – how we do it in YOMI  

Unpleasant things are, as the word indicates, mainly unpleasant and unpleasantness is usually something we like to avoid. Which is fine enough, except when we can’t. For example when it comes to our emotions.

There are things in life we have much control over and then there are things we’d like to think that we control, but that we in all honesty don’t. Our emotions fall into the latter category. Or to be more specific; our emotions are something we can regulate and approach in different way, but that they’re hard to avoid altogether.

One of the basis in YOMI is the assumption that we can’t avoid suffering, but we can find ways of dealing with emotional as well as physical pain, and we can gird ourselves with tools to approach the unpleasantness that life offers – potentially reducing the length of our suffering. In behavioral therapy the concept of exposure is one of the most powerful methods we use to help people deal with things they are afraid of. If you're scared of spiders, we expose you to spiders, it you're scared of riding in an elevator we expose you to riding in an elevator. And in the YOMI practice we use the same principle of exposure, but apply it primarily on our inner states, practicing to stay with whatever inner sensations, may it be thoughts, emotions or physical reactions, arise during our practice.

Say for example that I’m in a YOMI class, in a challenging yoga posture (perhaps “Saddle”, which you can see below) and I know that I will be in this posture for at least a few minutes. My first impulses might be to get out, to change the posture or to give up. Thoughts that arise might be “this is so uncomfortable”, “how long will we stay here for?” and “I hate this, I hate myself”. Emotions that show up might be fear (of what’s going on in the body in the position) and anger (at being in the class at all, or at myself for not being as advanced in my practice as I would’ve liked to be).

In our everyday life we often act on our initial impulses in order to avoid the unpleasant emotions and thoughts. “If I get out of the position I won’t have to feel scared or upset”. This will give us a temporary relief, but in the long run it might make us more afraid of feeling unpleasant feelings. Which might make us avoid even more situations where unpleasantness might arise. Which might make our lives more limited. And so on and so on.

And since emotions arise within us they’re hard to avoid, no matter how much we may try.

Life sometimes offer unpleasantness, pain and sadness, we may as well prepare ourselves the best we can. One way of doing this is by practicing exposure to our own emotions. Staying with them, breathing through them and observing them without reacting to them. In this example staying put in the position, letting whatever arises arise, allowing for it to be there, giving it space, reminding ourselves that all emotional states are temporary, that they all change eventually even without our meddling. On the contrary, they usually change quicker if we don’t meddle in too much. This non-meddling, non-reactive, non-judging approach to our emotions is something that intellectually might make sense, but that practically requires continuous practice and courage. And that is exactly why we’re here - to help you practice through it.  

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Yoga as part of a psychological treatment - a personal reflection

For this week's blog post, YOMI co-founder Maria shares some personal reflections on bringing yoga into the therapy room:

Working as a clinical psychologist and yoga instructor, I early on realized how easily these two fields can connect to one another. I always use my knowledge from one when I’m working with the other. Not so say that one doesn’t have to be careful with what pieces of the yogic tradition you bring into the therapeutic room and how you use these tools.

As a psychologist, working primarily in the primary care, I meet a lot of people who are feeling stressed, worried or who are more severly affected by anxiety or exhaustion. Many of these people have a hard time slowing down, resting without sleeping and letting go of things that bother them, like thoughts, feelings and destructive behaviors.

 Many of the psychological treatments for these conditions include different ways of learning to relax. I find yin yoga to be a great tool for this! Not only because it in itself is a way to relax the mind and body, but also because it is a way for the mind and body to become more connected. Many people who worry, suffer from anxiety or exhaustion experience troublesome physical sensations and – more troublesome –  often fear these, which makes their suffering even worse. Yoga can be a way to, once again, become friends with your own body; learning how not to react to it and its sensations as if it were an enemy or something disconnected from you. Instead, one might learn, what an incredible tool the body can be, alerting you when you are expanding your own perception of what you thought you were able to handle.

 Even if yoga and breath control is not as easy as pressing a button, it certainly does a good job moving you from a place of arousal, to one of relaxation. Working on becoming aware of the breath, slowing it down, has many times been proven, through experiences and science, to be an effective way to induce certain processes in your body while disconnecting others. And maybe this might be why yin yoga is such a powerful tool in stress and worry reduction; it continuously allows the practitioner to work with the breath and body, connecting the mind to all physical sensations in order   to encourage the relaxation response to start. In our program YOMI yin, we explore the effect of psychoeducation, mindfulness and yin yoga, on people who experience stress and worry. A few scientific studies down the line we’ve just submitted a manuscript the we’re hoping will be ready for publication shortly, and then of course shared here on our web page. Until then we will sit down on our mats, gently fold forward, hold the position for 3 to 5 minutes, and breathe.