There have been countless times I’ve been practicing yoga, and while in a static pose, all of a sudden I’m irrationally angry with the teacher or overwhelmed with emotion and feel like crying.
Turns out, I’m not alone. One of the tenets of yoga is that unprocessed emotion gets stored in the body, and it will stay there until it’s felt and released. Yoga, and certain poses in particular, are great at bringing up some of that stuck emotion, providing us with the ability to release if we allow it.
A lot of our emotions tend to be stored in the hips, so hip-opening stretches are especially beneficial, though heart-openers, twists, and all sorts of other poses will bring up and flush out unprocessed feelings such as grief, fear, anger, and guilt.
Whether you’re interested in releasing tension on a physical or emotional level, these seven poses will do the trick. Be sure to spend several minutes (aim for five) in each pose, and take calm, deep breaths throughout. Use a bolster or blanket to make any of the poses more supportive and comfortable.
Extended Child's Pose
For extended child’s pose, start in a kneeling position, taking your knees as wide as the mat and bringing your big toes to touch. Lower your torso between your knees, resting your forehead on the ground, and extend your forearms in front of you with palms face down. You can rest your forehead on a blanket or bolster for more support.
To get into pigeon pose, start from downward dog, then bring the right knee behind and slightly outside the right wrist. The right shin will either angle back toward the left hip or be parallel to the front of the mat, depending on your range of motion. Take your left leg straight back, making sure the leg and foot are aligned. Relax down, taking your forehead on top of your forearms or to a blanket. Switch sides after several minutes. This is one of the more intense hip-openers so ease into the posture, keep breathing, and modify as needed.
Reclined Twist Pose
Often one of the last few poses in a yoga class is a reclined twist. For this position, start lying flat on your back with your feet on the floor. Bring both knees into the chest and hug, then keep the right leg in and extend the left leg to the floor. Move your hips a little to the right and drop your knee to the left. Keep both shoulder blades on the ground and don’t worry if the knee doesn’t touch the ground. Place your left hand on your right knee and extend your right arm out to the side in a T position, and turn your gaze in that same direction. Hold for five minutes and switch sides. Note that this is also a stellar pose to aid in digestion.
Supported Fish Pose
Fish pose on its own can be challenging, but using a bolster or rolled blanket for support allows it to be a much more gentle and restful position. Put blocks, a bolster, or blanket down in a way that your head and upper back (between the shoulder blades) will be supported. Lie down with your legs outstretched and let your feet fall out to the side, and place your arms at your sides with the palms facing up. Opening up the chest, and thus the heart center, can be emotionally difficult, so ensure that you’re breathing throughout the pose.
Thread the Needle Pose
For thread the needle yoga pose, start on your hands and knees in tabletop position. Reach your right arm out and then up to the ceiling, then thread it under the left arm, bringing your right shoulder and cheek to the mat. Keep the hips lifted, and you can either keep the left arm outstretched fully in front, or bend the elbow and use it as an aid to stretch the right shoulder even more. Repeat on the other side.
Bound Angle Pose
Known as bound angle, cobbler’s, and butterfly pose, this position is a deep hip opener. Sitting on the ground, take your knees out wide and bring the soles of your feet to touch. Bring your heels as close to your pelvis as feels comfortable, then clasp your big toes with your first two fingers or hold onto the edges of your feet. Stay here in an upright position that keeps your spine straight. For a deeper stretch, gently bend forward.
Happy Baby Pose
Lie flat on your back and bring your knees up toward your chest. Keep a neutral spine with your tailbone on the mat, and then grip the outside edges/arches of the feet. Open your knees slightly wider than your torso and then bring them up toward your armpits. Flex your feet so that they are parallel to the ceiling. Relax into the pose, and you can even rock side to side if it feels good.