Yoga for Emotional Health
By Colleen Millen
On the eve of presenting my Yoga for Emotional Health class series at Innerstellar (starting Oct. 1), I am reflecting on the reasons I created this series and the aspects of yoga that support emotional health. I recall years ago when I took a workshop with Gary Kraftsow and he uttered the yoga sutra (1.2): “yoga chitta vritti nirodha” (“yoga is the silencing of the modifications of the mind”). Anyone who has studied yoga has likely heard this sutra. But now that I reflect on why I remember Gary uttering the words rather than my own reading of them: I realize that when Gary said those words, he was communicating something that was more than the words itself. He was embodying union or yoga.
Modern applications of psychology, which I have been fortunate to be in an intense educational and training process with for the last decade, support this sutra at the heart of yoga’s healing offering. In holistic psychologies, particularly somatic psychology, there seems to be, dare I say, a battle cry that has risen in the development of how to meet the experience of trauma – that is “healing happens in present time.” At the heart of a sound yoga practice is guidance around being mindful and finding our way back to present time when we bounce away. In present time, we can be curious. When we are curious we are lighting up circuitry in our brain that rests in the rational, most integrative part of our brain. When we can witness fluctuations of mind (and as a somatic psychologist I would insert mind expressed through the body) we are more present and have increased opportunities to find this union yoga offers.
When I think of emotional health I also think of the yoga philosophic term “samskara” – the actions or patterns we bring into our lifetime and also create in our lifetime. As yoga calms the fluctuations, we often will have an experience of negative patterns arising (though samskaras can be our positive patterns, too). Through yoga meditation, pranayama, asana offered in this series we can become aware of these samskaras in present time and play with how to shift a pattern, even if just a little bit by being present with it, allowing it, letting it see the light of day. Our awareness slows down our experience and changes the pattern. At a body level we are doing this re-patterning, too. As an old saying in psychology goes, neurons that fire together, wire together.
The themes in this series offer intents or sankalpas: grounding, strength, compassion, joy. Through these intents, which I believe to be vital intents to explore in emotional healing, you may find your negative samskara arise. My intent as a facilitator is to provide a wide enough container for you to have whatever it is you need to experience. I have cycled many times in many different yoga spaces through an emotional and relational process and have felt the empowerment yoga provides to unearth, hold, accept, move, watch, and integrate my feeling. The support yoga offers the emotional body can be thought of as a relationship you cultivate through a lifetime. It is a lifetime of inspiration. Your emotional health is at the heart of you waiting for you to tap in and play. I hope you’ll join me sometime this October to find out what you could tap into, what you could be curious about.