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. ommyyoga says:

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

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. Kit says:

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

  6. 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

  7. 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

  8. ilham says:

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

  9. Tania says:

    Exactly how I feel

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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!

  14. 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 🙂

  15. 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.

  16. Pinelopi says:

    Dear Laura,

    Thank you so much for this article. I work at a yoga collective called English Yoga Berlin and I linked to your article in my blog under "post yoga bliss". I think it s a good idea for my readers to see that the post yoga bliss is not the only effect that one can get after a yoga class, but other reactions are also possible and probable. And that these reactions are perfectly normal and eventually also empowering.

    Thanks again!
    p.s. if you are interested you can see our blog here: http://www.englishyogaberlin.com/6-tips-preventin

  17. Andrew Hicks says:

    I enjoyed this post. Thank you for writing it, and I am glad that my friend shared it on Facebook.

    I'd like to share a few thoughts re: emotions being stored in muscles.

    I practice yoga semi-regularly and have also facilitated some auricular acupuncture and learned about/taught some acupoint techniques such as Emotional Freedom Techniques and Donna Eden's strategies. I bring this up because occasionally when I find myself in a state of body hyperawareness I notice a correlation between 1) thoughts and feelings happening and 2) tension in my body and itchiness in places corresponding to my acupoints. The body tension usually results in nervous tics: knee or leg bouncing, crossing arms, cracking knuckles, crossings legs, and many more, all of which resemble asana movements more or less. The itchiness usually results in scratching to relieve the itch, but what I have realized is that my bodily itches always occur on acupoints.

    What are your thoughts on this, Laura?

  18. Lakiesha says:

    It’s always a pleasure to hear from someone with exitrepse.

  19. I loved reading this because it has totally been my experience through the years! I recently picked up my practice again and had one of these emotional experiences. It was the first in a long time and challenged me to stay present. It lasted longer than I wanted it too, but not as long as I feared it would. The gift, once it passed, that lovely sense of being both light and whole.

  20. Mary says:

    Thank you. I attended an hour-long Yoga/Tai Chi/Pilates class for a few years. Every class was a challenge for me, esp. with balance, and sometimes I dreaded going. What I found to be the most emotional time was the 10 minute relaxation at the end – tears would stream, I'd quietly cry – thankful to be able to take the class at all with my pitiful level of strength in my late fifties. I miss it so much. Yoga.