I have often been told by yoga teachers that yoga lifts stress and depression due to unexpressed emotions being given a safe space to be felt in the body and that this is one way trauma can be healed effectively. I have been told that yoga creates a safe environment in our bodies to feel what has been suppressed, allowing the circuit to be completed, as it were.
What if anger is an emotion which has gone unexpressed?
Anger is a messy emotion. It feels tight in the body and doesn't want to be controlled by a yoga practice.
If you have been traumatized - and who hasn't to some degree - the tendency is to shut down and not complete the cycle.
If someone has been abused to any degree and not expressed what they felt in that moment, i.e. rage, then that trauma creates problems down the line. If you know anyone who feels things fully when they come up you will probably notice they do not usually suffer from chronic bad moods. They feel things intensely and move on.
There are two sides to this story. Another, more 'scientific' view of what actually happens when we practice yoga is that our 'logical brain' is 'given a workout' and quietens down the negative 'emotional brain'.
When the emotional brain is triggered by stress it goes into negative overload and the logical brain is unable to switch it off. The stress system impairs the serotonin, noradrenalin and dopamine signals and they become under-active.
When we practice yoga we give the logical brain a 'workout' and can then quieten down the emotional brain.
There is a fundamental problem with the practice of asana or 'yogic postures'. That is, when an individual geared to exercise (and so many who attend yoga classes are) applies the same ambition they have to increase fitness levels to their yoga practice, something happens which should never happen. They go beyond the point of tension, and into pain when it comes to stretching.
Students push and pull when they should relax.
It's not that you shouldn't work in yoga postures but many find it hard to differentiate between when to push themselves to increase strength and when to hold back when stretching.
Even if you were to hold back you might find a teacher pushing you into a posture! This actually astounds and devalues yoga in the eyes of those in the fitness industry. I've witnessed this myself.
In order to increase your fitness levels you need to increase the work load, whether this is running faster or longer, lifting heavier or whatever the activity. However, if, like many are doing in yoga today, you push yourself into a yoga posture to increase your flexibility, stiffness or injury are bound to happen eventually. You are going to create weakness in the joints and injure yourself over time.
I attended a kettlebells training earlier this year and the instructor noticed my flexibility and asked me 'You don't want to be anymore flexible, do you?' No, not if it's going to cost me my stability.
The muscle receptors actually create more stiffness if you push too hard into a stretch if you don't know how to do it correctly - simply knowing the antagonistic muscle and how to work them etc. I have found over the years that the more strength training I combine with my yoga practice, the more open my body becomes, as a firm structure can make one feel safer stretching beyond the usual range of motion.