What Nobody Tells You About Yoga. ~ Laura Stumpf

Via Laura Stumpf
on May 26, 2013
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Photo: GraceD
Photo: GraceD

When people tell their friends to try yoga, they always say, “You’ll feel so good! I’m always so relaxed after yoga.”

What they don’t tell you is that sometimes, yoga makes you feel like shit.

Some yogis say that emotions are stored in the body, that memories linger on in cells stored deep in our muscles. When we go into a yoga pose and open a part of the body that has been mostly left alone until then, we stretch and release muscles that have gone unnoticed for years. We release tension, and in the process release memories and emotions that were stored in childhood, and have quietly slept deep in our bones ever since.

So one minute you may be lying on your back, enjoying happy baby, and the next minute you are flooded with rage and want to punch a baby in the face. You have no idea what triggered it, there is no reason to be feeling this emotion now, but it’s here and it’s real and it has to be worked through.

I’m not sure if I think emotions are stored in our muscles, but it makes perfect sense to me that yoga brings up emotions. In our practice, we learn to control our breath, to calm our minds, to help our bodies unwind. At first, this is great—we sleep better at night, we’re less stressed, and we feel great having released the tension from our shoulders. We learn to cope with our day-to-day stress, to release the muscles we have tensed up with our daily activities.

On the surface, everything is going great. But we are multidimensional beings, with long emotional histories. We have been sad and scared and lonely in the past, and we have suppressed old scars and defeats and humiliations just to be able to function in our everyday lives.

As we learn to connect to our breath, yoga starts working more efficiently.

Stress, anxiety, tension—wiped out! So it starts working on the backlog, trying to sort through some of that old mess, so you can finally unclutter your innermost being. Things you haven’t thought about in years suddenly rise up in Warrior II, and you can’t stop crying in Savasana because you’re infinitely sad and have no idea why.

It’s easy to feel like a lunatic when one of these emotional tidal waves strikes in the middle of yoga class. Nobody warned me about this phenomenon, and the first time I experienced it I was worrying about what other people thought of the tears running down my face instead of being present and feeling.

In Savasana, I lay on the floor, looking up at my teacher with teary eyes, pleading for an explanation. She just smiled and whispered, “It feels good to let it out.” Once she had given me permission to give in to the experience, my muscles immediately relaxed. I closed my eyes and felt the tears running down my face, and I felt all the sadness emptying out of my body. I felt so deeply relieved and peaceful.

I will always be grateful to that yoga instructor. She gave me a place where it was safe to feel all of the stress that had been accumulating in my life, to surrender, and to let it go.

It’s a cathartic process.

In the moment, it sucks. It sucks to feel sad, to feel angry, to feel pain. But at the same time, it feels really good to finally, fully feel. If you can create a safe space for yourself, in your body—to experience these emotions without judging, just accepting whatever comes up, and riding the wave—you, my friend, are really doing yoga. Your practice is far more advanced than the man who can put his feet behind his head.

The more we release our pasts, the more we are able to be present and enjoy everything that this moment has to offer.

So don’t try to hold back your tears, and don’t tell yourself that you’re being ridiculous the next time pigeon pose makes you want to bawl your eyes out. Remember, if yoga makes you feel like shit, that just means it’s working


Read the Spanish version here.





Things Your Yoga Teacher is Dying to Tell You (But Probably Won’t).


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 Ed: Thandiwe Ogbonna & Brianna Bemel


About Laura Stumpf

Laura Stumpf is a RYT-200. She teaches yoga as a wellness practice for the mind, body, and spirit. You can follow her on twitter @yoga_with_laura.



71 Responses to “What Nobody Tells You About Yoga. ~ Laura Stumpf”

  1. Jessica says:

    Very great read, very well written

  2. cami says:

    Loved this post. Had this happen to me for the first time a few months ago, and was a little embarassed, but the room was dark. Am just starting to understand that it is a good thing to feel deeply.

  3. vivianne escolar says:

    I've been yogini for a long time, and I am still releasing shit….! Thanks for the reassurance…. There's a lot of old stuff to release and then you hit the new stuff….welcome to yoga…..!

  4. Joe Sparks says:

    Really enjoyed your post. In my perspective, it makes lots of sense as we open up and start to trust more that feelings are meant to be felt. In my perspective the feeling part is the missing piece. If you think about it, that is a big part of our humaness. But for most of us, we had our emotions shut down as young ones, especially if you are male. If this natural healing ability was allowed to operate life would be more enjoyable, less confusing and we would be capable of doing amazing things, our brains would work better. Most of us do not have attention for it. That is why you feel embarassed when they come up. Your brain remembers the past. Takes lots of guts to cry in public. We would recover much faster from our hurts and upsets if we did. But, you need to set it up or it becomes innapropriate. You must have agreement, most of our pain comes from no one there for us. And most yoga teachers need to do the emotional work they are sitting on, and it will shift when that work starts to happen. Until it does yoga will continue to look like circus, people performing poses to please the crowds. It is one way to get attention that dosen't upset other people.

  5. Absolutely Laura!
    I have worked with recovering addicts for over 13 years now. I have seen this in my classes and of course have told these students to allow their feelings to come forth, to let go.
    Rebecca Smith, ERYT 200

  6. Drew Gardner says:

    Though my yoga training has been few and far-between, I can see the truth of this. Painful associations can be made during Yoga class, and for that matter in any active or still meditative practice, but catharsis indeed is not as efficient as most would like it to be.

    As Laura writes, we are multidimensional beings, with long emotional histories. Therefore a multifaceted approach to emotional wellness is in order to truly get things in order inside us. Many fears must be faced, and there is no facing them without feeling them. Depending on the depth of emotional wounds and how an individual is currently handling traumas, psychotherapy may be of great help to someone who has reached a point at which their fingers stop pointing at everyone and everything else, and even then, it can be expensive. In some locales exist licensed social workers who practice at an affordable rate, who do have empathic concern for others and all essential attributes of someone in a helping profession.

  7. Drew Gardner says:

    Although there is no clear and direct route to liberating oneself, I put myself through the ringer long ago. It gets easier everyday, or at least two steps forward and one back. I wrote a short novel that pertains to Laura's topic. It is an eBook, The Sands of Erebus. I have developed a website that some might find enjoyable, located at http://thesandsoferebus.webplus.net. As far as the actual book, preview pages will give any reader a good feel for whether he or she will enjoy the book as a whole. My structure of choice has been Aikido, but I can see Yoga being highly beneficial in its own right. A sort of devil has grown up along with us, and although I have not permanently conquered mine, it has become more pleasant and less painful over the moments, days, and years, to comprehend true existence even if most people haven't tried hard enough and right enough.


  8. Laura Stumpf says:

    Thank you for all the kind comments, it's great to hear students and teachers relating to this!

  9. Releasing those long-buried emotion sucks. I experienced this too, don't know why I just suddenly felt like crying during a yoga session, the only problem was I did not let those tears fall and I felt spent after the session. Lesson learned, glad to have read your post.

  10. Dee says:

    Thank you for this piece, Laura!!! You really connected the dots through it! <<3

  11. Jeneen says:

    Oh yeah…those wheels really bring it out of me – pigeon, too! Feels so good.

  12. getitom says:

    Exactly! I have had similar experiences in which I started sobbing in savasana or feeling incredibly pissed off after class, and I had no idea what was going on or why. Thank you for talking about this; it makes me and I'm sure other people feel a little more normal for not always feeling great in or after yoga.

  13. Stacey says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this. Lots has arisen for me in my practice in particular when I do backbends. I still need assistance to get into wheel but those are the times when the emotions certainly pour out of me.

  14. anitawbrown says:

    I resisted full wheel for about 3 years, insisting I was too tight and too old (47). About a month ago, I felt that I needed to just push past the resistance and with blocks against the wall, went right up!! That evening I began sensing I had to release a long held belief and by the next day it was out and I was free…Lots of tears but ultimately it was an incredibly healing release. First from the physical body then the emotional one.
    Thank you for a terrific post! bless you!

  15. Liz says:

    Very comforting to read. I remember getting nauseated from Camel pose for a long time. Fortunately I had an instructor who helped me understand what was going on.

  16. Georgina says:

    Thank you! I thought it was just me!

  17. Tahiche says:

    The best article i've read about YOGA. Thank you and congratulations.

  18. venusyogabcn says:

    Wonderful! if you give me permission, I'd love to translate it in Spanish!

  19. Laura,

    Excellent article! You are so right on the button in regards to how our bodies store emotions, and how yoga actually helps us to release those emotions… often in a painful and difficult manner… I actually found myself laughing out loud in agreement. Great article and thank you for sharing your words of wisdom!

  20. laportama says:

    NOR do they need to.

  21. @Chevanne168 says:

    Great article. I totally agree and it has been a strong part of my progress with yoga over the past 12 years. I am living an amazing life and totally relate it to yoga helping me find the "good" inner me. Regular practice moves aside the clouds, or mean and chaotic life experiences in order to let the real me shine. I always tell people about my freedom from the pain of arthritis, increased movement where injuries left me none, but the real joy of yoga is the ability to make good life choices that comes with an increased clarity of thought and release from the past. Awesome. Cheva

  22. mamaloshen says:

    Dear Laura,
    Thank you so much for a beautifully written article that comes in complete synchronicity with my own yoga practice. I recently noticed that every time I do Pigeon Pose I find myself overcome with emotions, and sometimes I will cry in class…I learned to bring a towel to wipe the sweat (and tears) away but they may fall freely in Pigeon, as I'm laying down with my face on my mat. After I noticed this for a few weeks, one of the teachers at my studio mentioned in class that deep emotions are stored in our hips so it makes sense that this pose would have that effect, and I felt that even if I'm the only one crying in Pigeon that at least I must be doing it right, in my practice, if it brings such a deep connectivity to my muscle memory and allows me to fully express the pose and breathe relief into the areas that are being released.
    Namaste, <3

  23. Sandra Hey says:

    Thanks. This certainly strikes a cord for me. Well written and very valuable article!

  24. Kelly says:

    AMEN to that!! And ironically think this article will motivate me to go back to yoga. Thank you x

  25. matthew says:

    Integration of emotional movement/release is the missing link in traditional yoga and in current 'trends' as well. Thank you for bringing this forward to be heard and to find acceptance in and for all who practice. Namaskar ~

  26. katie says:

    The issues are in the tissues.

    I'll never forget driving home after having been introduced to pigeon for the first time. I was overcome with anger, and felt road rage at another car for stopping too soon at a yellow light to the point where I was yelling obscenities at them. This behavior was definitely uncharacteristic and I felt like a yoga failure because I should be experiencing calm. Luckily, I came across an article like yours that put everything into perspective. It can be scary when these things come up, but when you realize they come up so they can go away it's a liberating feeling. Lovely read, thank you…

  27. emiliewarden says:

    I love this… it's so true! I've cried so many times during Shavasana (corpse) pose. Such a strange and humbling feeling. Thank goodness I was at a studio were I felt comfortable, with great teachers. : )

  28. Filey says:

    Thank you for writing this. This has happened to me a number of times at classes and while it hasn't seemed to faze the teacher too much it has embarrassed me wondering what other students think. I have never heard this discussed as openly as it has been in your article. I really did wonder if there was something wrong with me. You've given me a real gift by writing this. Thanks again 🙂

  29. Jennifer says:

    Thank you so much for this article. I just started yoga three weeks ago and am having a onslaught of emotions coming out on and off the mat. Thank you for making me feel normal again.

  30. Kristin Laing says:

    This was such a good read! I definitely bawled my way through savasana before!!

    I think it's really important to note that not all yoga classes permit the opportunity to process the emotions that come up. I have been to yoga classes that were like aerobics in bare feet, with downward dog thrown in for authenticity. There was barely anytime to process a pose, let alone any emotion that came up because of it! I feel like those classes are where the art of yoga, that is intended to train body, mind AND spirit are lost and it is such a slippery slope at that point.

    Thank you so much for this great piece!!

  31. Nancy/SpicieFoodie says:

    Fantastic article! No one ever talks about this side of Yoga, which is too bad because I think experiencing these emotions is part of the whole yoga experience and well being in the end. Thank you for writing this article!

  32. Billy says:

    This is why I did Bikram for 2 years every week. It was the best at creating deep physical release due to the combination of the heat and systematic routine of 90 minutes. But also creating the mental stillness required to watch and allow these deep emotional releases to come out.

  33. Paul From Ireland says:

    Thanks a million Laura for sharing this very important information. When I first done yoga I felt great, I was in my twenties then but when I did it in my fourties I was full of anger after doing yoga and found it very hard to focus and concentrate and was in a really bad head space. I had to give up yoga after this happened three times with the same teacher. I accepted that I could never do yoga again but after reading your excellent article I will go back to doing yoga and tell who ever is teaching this time if the same happens to me again and if I am advised to stay with these feelings by the yoga teacher then I will do that. At least I will know what is happening to me and why as I had a shit childhood. Paul from Ireland

  34. KerryPoppins says:

    Brilliant article. After losing my baby last year I returned to yoga simply to keep my practice going, and it was only then I realized the incredible power my practice had to help me deal with this horrible time and let go of so many feelings of guilt and pain. I feel truly connected to both myself and my practice. Thank you 🙂 x

  35. Tebazilena says:

    I haven't had one of those teary moments yet while doing yoga (it could be that I'm not doing it often enough) but I'm convinced that emotions are stored in muscles. I've been getting regular massages to work out the pain throughout my body. She's hit on a couple spots that have produced emotional tears. The first time took me quite by surprise. She was working under my left armpit and said, "Wow, what are you hiding under here?" Without missing a beat, and not knowing why I said it, I told her, "That must be where all my secrets are." and then I started crying and telling her about a secret that was weighing on me. She told me that women tend to store emotions on their left side and men on their right (which, ironically, my husband said his right side hurts more). Secrets are stored under the armpit. Your article makes me want to start doing yoga regularly again. If hips store deep seated emotions it could explain why my range of motion, especially on my left hip, is limited and why my lower back area is chronically sore. Time for more pigeon pose. Releasing emotions from my muscles through yoga would probably also help speed up the work of my massage therapist.

  36. ommyyoga says:

    Very true and it's a blessing to have a studio who supports the healing process <3

  37. Prema says:

    Definitely emotional release is part of the "undoing" that is the doing of yoga. We hold everything in our body as memories
    and without movement and breath release is not as likely. Thank you for a great article.

  38. YogaPants says:

    Great article. Yoga connects us to our humanity and helps us purge layers of conditioning to get to the spiritual heart which helps us all heal and will help the planet to heal.

  39. Karla says:

    Interesting timing. Both of my parents died in 2013 and I spent a fair amount of time crying during shavasana, both from grief and the stress of what I had to handle while they were ill. This evening during shavasana, I started crying for a different reason – joy. Joy from the happiness of my practice, from being so relaxed, and from feeling so grateful for the good things in my life. I really hate to get up with red eyes and smeared mascara, but the process itself feels pretty good.

  40. Kit says:

    Thank you so much for sharing! Everyone needs to know this!

  41. Avyonne says:

    My mentor gave me a yoga book years ago and told me " It will change your life". Well it is now that the book he gave me has purpose. I started doing yoga. And as each day I noticed changes the smallest changes in myself that turned out to be big changes to me and everyone. I am crying daily during my yoga hour. A lot is coming up and out. Thoughts and feelings I haven't felt in years and confronting feelings I didn't know where affecting me deep inside. I also too feel like bad, under the weather you might say.. I guess its the balance we feel the good and the bad in doing yoga to get ourselves to a place where we are all balanced and can maintain a sense of peace in our spirit daily. So starting on my yoga Journey to balance myself I am feeling both good and bad. Physical soreness and toxins surfacing along with deep emotions coming out. Everything is changing my Sensory perception is clearer. Even my voice tone is calm and I don't react to instant problems and situations the same. I almost feel sometime as if I'm an observer of my own life as its happening. I feel Yoga is the answer. It assists in aligning all your Chakras and I believe that is why we are all sick. Our Chakras are all wacked out and blocked and out of balance. Yoga daily works to get our body and mind working as one. And I don't have to say but as we all know diet plays a part in this as well. I will keep all posted on my Yoga Journey as I Feel it daily. I am writing down my feelings and thoughts as well. As I Do Yoga Daily my Hibernating emotional past, and my physical imbalances will become less and less as I see the Light Coming..Ahead.. this is my personal experience with Yoga.AEB

  42. rita says:

    Sorry I m ryt 500 ..teaching since 15 years..ttc…I never felt like Shit after Yoga..I felt akways being close to.higher spirit

  43. ilham says:

    thank you for sharing such an experience .
    It happened to me too and quite a few times

  44. Tania says:

    Exactly how I feel

  45. jeff says:

    What about male instructors or owner’s of yoga studio’s that take advantage of the girl who are feeling these emotions and they take advantage of their weak state of mind and proceed to utilize that opportunity to sleep/sex with the student. Why is this not talked about more? It’s time for instructor student ethics and moral being to coexist. Please help me understand and talk about something that is clearly happening and dmaging good relationships and marriages because of their actions.

  46. Jen says:

    A wonderful read, thank you 🙂

    As to whether emotions/memories are stored in our muscles; well this is a really good and informative book; “The Body Remembers: The Psychophysiology of Trauma and Trauma Treatment” (by Babette Rothschild). There is more and more increasing evidence that our bodies do in fact, ‘remember’. There are also more and more good and reliable reads on the subject. All of the emerging evidence makes simple sense of why yoga may very well ‘unlock’ certain reactions for some people that are experientially less than pleasant, but absolutely understandable, perhaps predictable, and with both understanding and compassion, completely manageable (& heal-able!!)

    Thanks again for your article.

  47. Gfc says:

    If something makes you feel bad, drop it. Follow what feels supportive and giving well being. If the focus is on releasing past events then one is only doing more of the past. Do whatever feels supportive, spontaneous movements and training outdoors is the best for me -this i tell myself. Trying a Bikram hot yoga class was the worst training experience. I also have tried yin yoga and it was relaxing and sooting. However yoga Or not yoga there are other ways to bring well being to mind, body and soul.

  48. Anonymous says:

    I’d say it’s better to release these emotions than keep them inside your muscles which may or may not induce, day I say, cancer!

  49. laurence says:

    My yoga master told me that Nadi’s, energy channels travel through our body through connective tissue, i believe this emotions are stuck in blockages in our nadis and when we do deep stretches we release the physical tention in our connective tissue, helping release the blockage in our energy channels, thus releasing emotions and mental tention. i dont think we store memeries in our muscles, i think they are stored in our brain 🙂

  50. Anna says:

    This really touched me because when I started practicing yoga, I really really was not expecting what would happen! I knew nothing about the effects of yoga, where it can take you emotionally and spiritually. It is so powerful and I am still dealing with the effects. I am still scared to fully engage with a practice now because dealing with the emotions is hard. Hopefully one day I will return to it and finish the work I have started.

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