Wilhelm Reich is known for his study of the human psyche alongside other notables from the last century, such as Freud and Jung, and he had his own theory about our “emotional armor.” According to Reich, emotional armor is constructed over the years by lasting impressions on our muscles and physical body that are left from traumatic experiences and every emotion. Thus, traumas can physically mark us for life and memories can literally sculpt our bodies from the micro level (muscle) to the macro (posture). Imagine the armor that all of our behavioral patterns, anxieties and fears have stamped onto our muscle memory. Therefore, body work founded in self awareness that increases flexibility, strength and energy, is needed to shed this armor. I think Yoga is a holistic workout, and works the body on all levels, including a therapeutic one, which often goes unmentioned. I’m not a psychologist, but I am a yoga devotee and study yogic philosophy extensively. From my own yoga experience, I have a lot to say about the effects of yoga on emotional life.
I remember when I began practicing Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. I was in great shape at the time: I had six years Jiu-Jitsu under my belt, and was surfing regularly, but there were many basic yogic postures I could not do. I was shocked. I had no ability to concentrate or regulate my breathing. I was becoming frustrated and felt I was not able to remain calm in the face of such challenging poses. I didn’t feel strength in the areas where I most needed it. I wasn’t flexible, had terrible balance, and my coordination left something to be desired.
While living in Florianopolis, my first yoga teacher was (fortunately) Jamile Ansolin. She was a very patient and caring teacher, and had a lot of experience both practicing and living yoga. Little by little, she managed to show me that yoga is not a competition. It was my very need to compete (which I had picked up in Jiu-Jitsu and professional fields) that were making me want to do the postures better than anyone else in the room. It was like I had to prove myself constantly. It was pathetic. Jamile continued showing me that yoga was about an inward journey, pointed my attention inside to develop a new self awareness and acceptance. There is no contest, there is no hurry.
The postures in and of themselves remain challenging, demanding strength, proper alignment, balance, and above all patience. With practice and self awareness, I learned flexibility, how to regulate my breathing, my coordination and concentration vastly improved, and finally, I began to develop a kind of emotional equanimity or evenness in the midst of the most challenging poses.
Yes, the poses are intense. I know they are working on a deeper level because more and more, I feel my muscles becoming stronger, but also more relaxed, eliminating the muscular tension that was a result of improper alignment and lack of awareness about my body’s full range of movement. All along, I observed myself, and what emotions came up, which ones I let come to the surface and which ones I kept locked inside.
I am sure, I was much more an impulsive and anxious person, than I am today. I was emotionally insensitive and the typically strong silent type – never showing emotions much less the kind that would lead someone to cry. I was emotionally blocked. The experiences that I have on the matt continue to emotionally sensitize me. One day I had the strange realization that such simple poses can bring with them such a diverse range of emotions, like happiness, sadness, anger, and even fear. Study the connection between body and emotions, have led me to a new emotional freedom and maturity and a feeling of peace and harmony. I also had the sensation that the universe is indeed a single entity – we are all one. The Hindus would say this was due to the unblocking of energy channels via my yoga practice.
The physical benefits also can’t be denied. I have never felt so flexible, yet strong and sturdy. My strength feels evenly distributed throughout my body, and there is no great accumulation of fat. I feel young and agile. In sum, I feel prepared for anything, and I owe it all to yoga.
I would like to emphasize, however, that yoga should not be used as a merely cosmetic tool, for example, a way to get a washboard abs or tight buns. You will look more toned, but this should be a simple byproduct of your new inner tones. The goals of yoga are multifold: but are principally emotional and spiritual. So a nice body will merely be a good side effect, but not the main goal or even the best result.
Today I feel more human: sensitive, balanced, and aware of my limitations. The yogic scriptures say that yoga is the “middle way”. I really feel that yoga help us to avoid go from one extreme to another.
15th sept. 2003
I was born in São Paulo, Brazil and I teach since 2001. I studied in India with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and Swami Dayananda Saraswati. Living in Europe these last 10 years, I teach regularly in Croatia, France, Portugal and in Denmark, where I am currently living. Besides Yoga, I am Bachelor in International Relations with specialization in Political Science at Sciences Po – Bordeaux. I think my diverse education helps me to see yoga as lifestyle that can balance the individual and result in a healthy society.