yoga, emotions, & monkeys

Yoga can serve as a deep emotional release for people. Yogic thought says that we carry emotional and intellectual baggage around the hips and shoulders. Anything we choose not to deal with can set up camp there, and when we work deeply into these areas, the feelings are finally able to release.

For the longest time, I had trouble understanding this. I tend to be a private person and keep my emotions guarded. In my 10 years of practice, I have felt the transformative powers of yoga on and off the mat, but I rarely let my emotions overwhelm me.

During yoga teacher training in Costa Rica, our master teacher led us through practice every morning, and the classes were usually themed… Forward folds, inversions, arm balances, cardio. And it just happened that heart-openers, hips, and shoulders were offered back-to-back, three days in a row.

All of our teachers warned us that things could get emotional. We were halfway through the training, and the physical demands were taking a toll on our bodies. We were also mentally raw, at the point where we lost the newness of the experience and homesickness had started to settle in.

They warned us that at this time people usually have emotions rise up, sometimes as a complete surprise. Working into those specific areas of the body, the process would probably be accelerated. They said we were likely to unravel and “lose our shit.” I didn’t really believe it.

And then I lost my shit.

I had just finished the beautiful shoulder-opening morning practice, and was walking back to my room. I was alone on the jungle path, and suddenly I heard rustling overhead. When I looked up, I saw howler monkeys on the tree branches above me.

The first day that we arrived at the resort in Costa Rica, we learned that howler monkeys dwelled in this jungle that we were staying in. We heard them often (there’s a reason they’re called howler monkeys), but seeing them required serendipity. I was determined to see them as often as possible in the wild while I was there.

But as with all things that we try to force in life, the monkeys alluded me. It was only when I stopped looking that I was able to find what I sought. As I walked quietly on that path that shoulder-opening morning, they finally revealed themselves to me.

As the monkeys rustled in the trees and began to howl, I felt tears begin to stream down my cheeks. The profound magnitude of the moment was so overwhelming, it took my breath away. Suddenly I allowed myself to feel everything I had tried to avoid in the tumultuous past few months.

I felt gratitude for the amazing experience I was having. I felt wonder for the natural beauty that surrounded me. I felt longing for the comfort and familiarity of home. I also felt a deep sense of peace, rooted in the knowledge that I was exactly who I was supposed to be, where I was supposed to be.

By letting the tears flow and surrendering to the moment, I felt intense relief. It felt like a weight was lifted from my shoulders, a weight I didn’t even realize had been pressing on me so hard for all this time. I let myself enjoy the authenticity of my tears and the moment for a little while, and then I went about my day.

These days, I don’t see monkeys much, but I do welcome that occasional class that has the strength to tug at my heart strings. I welcome the emotional release that yoga offers. I welcome the beauty of being so fully present in the moment and allowing myself to feel the depth of my experience. It is yet another reason why I am so grateful to have this practice in my life. <3