A confession: This used to happen to me all the time. And who am I kidding? It still happens now and then.
This is actually really common. The yoga practice is an opportunity to be quiet, to turn inward, to drop the armor and the masks and just be. It sounds so simple, right? To just be? But it's not.
Throughout my yoga journey, between being a student and as an instructor talking with students, I've identified a couple different stages the mind goes through in the yoga practice.
Stage One: The Chatter
Remember those days (nights?) in the library in school when everyone is studying for finals and you're with your friend and you know you're supposed to be silent but everything is just so funny and you can't stop laughing? That's sort of how my brain was when I first started yoga. I knew I was meant to be quiet and flick the off switch, but instead, it's like my brain went into fast forward and thoughts and to do lists were flying around. I mean, it'd be August and I'd be making a mental list of all the people I needed to send Christmas cards to.
Stage Two: Emotional about someone/thing
After a few years, I began to be able to filter out a lot of the nonsense before it entered my mind, focusing instead on the class. I'd hang on every word the instructor said. Not because it was particularly mesmerizing or anything, but just because I wanted to not give my brain a second to start thinking about anything else. I'd mentally repeat everything that was said, and when I did that emotions started popping up. Mostly annoyance. The instructor would say something that made absolutely no sense to me, or hold the right side far longer than the left.
I've had a lot of students and friends tell me that they get very emotional - usually angry - toward someone or some situation in their life. Something their parent said to them that bothered them, or a note a co-worker left with a passive aggressive undertone would suddenly become the most important thing during their yoga practice.
Stage Three: Emotional about nothing in particular
Later, my annoyance turned into anger but it wasn't aimed at the instructor. It wasn't aimed at anything or anyone in particular. Some poses just pissed me off. Namely, camel pose. 'Woah,' I'd think to myself after camel. 'I feel like I'm gonna throw up. My heart is racing. Ugh, I hate that f^cking pose!' Is it even good for your spine to bend like that?! It can't be good. I'm seeing stars. Am I? Are those stars?' What a terrible f^cking pose!' Blah blah blah. I'd give in to the emotion and engage the thoughts.
Sometimes, there'd be no anger, but lots of tears. This time it wasn't during any particular pose. Usually it'd come at the end of class in savasana, or during the opening centering and meditation. I didn't feel sad, mostly just a sense of overwhelming gratitude.
Stage Four: Nothing
I want to preface this by saying I don't reach this stage every time I take a yoga class. Usually I am stuck in stage three, but every so often I go through a class and when it's over I almost feel like I blinked and it's time to leave class. Nothing comes up. Nothing happens. I hear the teacher, I do what they say, but I don't dwell on what they say. I don't hang on every word. I might feel some anger bubble up, but I don't think about it. I don't let any thoughts come with it, and eventually it goes away.
So if you're experiencing anger or any other emotion during your practice, what should you do you do about it?
Nothing. Try not to engage any thoughts that come with the feeling. When the thoughts come, watch them leave just like watching a cloud pass in the sky.
Why do emotions come up in the yoga practice?
They may come up for any number of reasons. In my opinion, the why isn't really important. The investigating of some deeper meaning behind why frustration or sadness or anger is bubbling up is not necessary.
What's necessary is breathing and focusing on the practice. The emotions will bubble up- it's part of the journey, so let them come without reacting to them. The yoga practice is an ancient, comprehensive science, and is designed to nourish the body, mind and soul. Let the yoga do the work, and everything else will fall into place.