Tapping Into The Emotional Benefits Of Yoga

We all experience emotional pain and even trauma at some stage in our lives.  Many times, these will resolve with the passage of time, or as we grow as human beings or move into better life chapters.  However, the effects of emotional pain and trauma can also be long-lasting and continue to affect our mental and emotional wellbeing.

Yoga offers wonderful emotional benefits and healing powers. It can help us address issues such as low confidence and self-esteem, or relationship troubles or difficult families of origin.  However, it is necessary to combine the practice of  Yoga poses, breathing exercises and meditation to achieve the full benefits.  Through practice, we build greater awareness of persistent emotions and find ways to address them.  In this way, we become emotionally more resilient and balanced.

Overall, Yoga offers amazing emotional benefits and can help us heal emotional pain and even deep-seated trauma. Find out how Yoga can help you, too, in the article below.

1. How Emotions and Emotional Blockages Are Created

At times, we can be real victims of our own emotions.  We feel like a boat tossed around on an ocean, as emotions take over and unable to a thing about them.

So how do emotions arise?

It helps to think about emotions by using a model created by the well-known life coach Brooke Castillo.   This model is based on a cycle.

The cycle starts with a set of circumstances or events that we are dealing with – whatever they may be.

Depending on how we think about these circumstances, we create an emotional response.  This, in turn, determines the actions we take.  These actions then create a new set of circumstances, and so on.

For example, in a scary situation, we think might say  “I am terrified”, with a corresponding emotional response and action.  Alternatively, we might say “I can deal with this” or “I choose to remain calm” – creating quite a different response.  Therefore, what we think or say in response to circumstances has a huge effect on how we feel and our subsequent actions.

Can you see how the cycle works?  This cycle can become a downward or upward spiral, depending on how we (choose to) respond to life’s circumstances.

In addition, every feeling is accompanied by shifts in the body’s physiology.  This includes the release of hormones such as adrenalin and the activation of different parts of the nervous system.

Often, these physiological shifts in the body quickly pass.  Other times, they may persist in the body for a long time after the event.  This can result in enduring emotional pain and blockages.

2. The Emotional Healing Power Of Yoga

Remember Brooke Castillo’s model? If we took this on board, we would closely monitor our thoughts and so manage our emotional response on an ongoing basis.

However, in the real world, that can be quite difficult to achieve as everyday stresses and external events take over.  In addition, we still live with whatever has happened to us in the past and the emotional burden that this has created.

Therefore, our current mind-body system is a reflection of our emotional history. 

Ongoing emotional blockages may make us feel stressed and uncomfortable at a physical level  They can also leave us angry, in despair or depressed, and unable to be present and focus on tasks at hand. Overall, emotional blockages can be very complex and expressed in a number of ways physically and mentally.

Because of this, a purely mental or intellectual approach alone is often is not enough to address past emotional pain or trauma.

However, if we involve both our body and spirit in the healing process as well, the results can be transformational.

This is where mind-body practices such as Yoga come into play.  Yoga allows us to unite the mind, body, and spirit in the practice of asanas (Yoga poses), breathing and meditation.

Think about how thoughts and emotional responses influence the body.

In a similar way, moving and stretching the body influences the mind, facilitates emotional release and allows the flow of prana or the life force.  This has a very beneficial effect on our emotional balance.

3. How Yoga Creates Emotional Balance

The emotional benefits of Yoga come about in a number of ways.  These include:

  • Ability to be present in the moment
  • Improved focus and balance
  • A calm nervous system
  • Improved confidence and self-esteem
  • Finding yourself in a better mood

Ability To Be Present In The Moment

The practice of Yoga asanas, breathing exercises and meditation enable – and even force – us to focus on the present moment.

On one hand, this allows us to leave persistent thought patterns and feelings behind, even for a short period of time.  We create a little sanctuary of peace and quiet, allowing the body, mind and spirit to calm down.

On the other hand, this temporary sanctuary also gives us the space to explore what is happening in our minds and bodies and to discern any trapped emotions.  We become more conscious of what is going on.  We may have “Aha” moments.

Improved Focus And Balance

Balance is as much about the body as it is about the mind.  Both are required to achieve better emotional balance.

To achieve better balance at the physical and mental level, we need to be able to focus.  Imagine doing tree pose while being upset about something!

Overall, if we are distracted with a busy mind or strong emotions, it is very hard to maintain the physical or mental focus that is required to achieve better balance at the physical and mental level.

Yoga practices such as balancing poses, breathing exercises and meditation together provide an excellent foundation to develop greater focus.  With this, we find the balance we seek at the physical, mental and emotional level, and greater emotional resilience overall.

A Calmer Nervous System

Yoga has a very beneficial effect on the nervous system, by regulating the so-called autonomous nervous system.  This the part of the nervous system we have relatively little control over, as it runs essential functions such as breathing, the heartbeat and digestion.

It comprises two elements:  the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system.  The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for our stress (“fight and flight”) response, while the parasympathetic nervous system allows us to relax (“rest and digest”).  Yoga helps activate the relaxation response, providing a balance to the stressful environments that we live in and their ongoing effects on us.

In addition, the so-called Vagus nerve forms a critical connection between the brain and the heart, lungs and digestive system, and forms part of the autonomous nervous system.  Yoga poses such as cat-cow help physically tone this nerve and create greater emotional resilience.

Improved Self-Esteem And Confidence

The practice of Yoga and the results we see happen, such as greater competence, strength, flexibility and balance give our confidence and self-esteem a boost.

As a result, we move with greater confidence and are physically more able to tackle tasks and activities we would normally shy away from.

We are able to be present with greater assurance and assert our personal values if they are challenged.

Overall, we end up with more strength and confidence to deal with the challenges at hand – and consequently benefit from greater emotional resilience and balance.

Finding Yourself In A Better Mood

Yoga practice has a direct positive influence on the brain’s GABA levels, a brain neurotransmitter that directly reduces the activity of the nervous system and generates a sense of wellbeing.

Research indicates that elevated GABA levels are accompanied by lower levels of anxiety and depression.  Surprisingly, Yoga can help elevate GABA levels by as much as 27% – a greater level than achieved by walking and exercise.

Find out more about this in our articles about Yoga and Happiness and Why Does Yoga Make You Feel So Good.

4. Which Yoga Practices Foster Emotional Healing?

If you seek emotional healing, look out for Yoga practices that include the following elements:

  • Forward bends – energize, create awareness and focus
  • Backbends – open the heart, release tension
  • Balancing poses – build greater physical and mental balance
  • Warrior poses – balance, rise up, become strong, build resilience
  • Hip-opening poses – open the root chakra, emotional healing
  • Cat-cow pose – tone the Vagus nerve
  • Savasana (corpse pose) – calm the nervous system, allow introspection, connect with issues, let go
  • Meditation – build focus and calmness at a deeper level, connect with issues, let go, build spirituality

5. How Can I Benefit From The Emotional Healing Power of Yoga

If you are interested in the emotional healing benefits of Yoga, find a class or build your own Yoga practice that includes the elements described above.  You will find classes in your own community or otherwise on the many online Yoga programs that are out there.

If you are searching for more specific guidance, we recommend a wonderful little book by Ally Hamilton called “Yoga’s Healing Power” which has been published to great praise.  It tells Ally’s own story of loss and emotional trauma and how she used the teachings and principles of Yoga to heal herself.  The book outlines a structured and gentle pathway to address emotional pain and trauma, using Yoga’s teachings and insights.

Here are just some of the positive reviews this book has received:

“Yoga and life are journeys, and this book is a wonderful guide along the path!”―Greg Louganis, four-time Olympic gold medalist

“Ally is really onto something fantastic with Yoga’s Healing Power…We’re not talking just physical yoga; this is yoga as a way of life.”—Kathryn Budig, author of Aim True

“I was deeply humbled and greatly inspired by Ally Hamilton’s courageous take on life, love, loss, and surrender.”—Claire Bidwell Smith, author of The Rules of Inheritance

6. What If Yoga Is Not Enough?

At times, emotional pain, trauma and blockages can be very deep and long-lasting, depending on the events and circumstances that caused them.  While Yoga is a wonderful method to release and balance negative emotional energy, it may not always be enough.

If this is the case, we strongly recommend that you seek the help of a professional psychologist or psychotherapist.  It is their job to be both compassionate and supportive, and help us uncover and resolve issues we cannot by ourselves alone.

Choose someone with a great reputation or comes by recommendation of a friend or a friendly medical doctor.  It can be hard to make the first step, but the results can be life-changing.

Related Questions

How often do I need to do Yoga to benefit in terms of my emotional health? Although will feel the emotional healing effects of yoga after just one session, regular practice is required to experience these benefits over the long term.  Try Yoga practice on a regular basis and your mind and emotions will transform.

Which Yoga is best for emotional healing?  Emotional healing through Yoga is achieved by a practice that includes physical poses, breathing exercises and also meditation.  In short, a balanced Yoga practice.  Physical, hard Yoga alone, such as Bikram or Power Yoga will not be sufficient.  Think about a more gentle Yoga style such as Hatha, slow Vinyasa, Restorative or Yin Yoga.

Is Yoga beneficial for mental health, too? There is a growing body of scientific literature that documents the benefits of Yoga for mental health.  Many of the factors that contribute to this are described above under the benefits of Yoga for emotional health.  Refer also to our article Why Does Yoga Feel So Good to find out more.  There is also a great article in Psychology Today which you might find interesting.