Picture someone practicing yoga in a serene outdoor setting or an entire class practicing in a studio and you probably conjure up images of people with calm expressions on their faces. After all, yoga involves quieting the mind and becoming totally present in the moment.

It’s not uncommon, however, for some people to experience very strong emotions like anger, sadness, fear, overwhelm, and other unpleasant feelings. This can often come as a shock since yoga is supposed to help us cultivate more self-love and positivity in our lives.

If this has happened to you, know that you’re not alone, and that it’s actually quite common. By seeking to understand why this occurs, you can learn to deal with it in a healthy way that supports your wellbeing rather than suppresses it.

Why It Happens

In yoga, we seek to unify the mind, body, and spirit through breath work, physical movement, and meditation. Emotions are actually physical experiences, and research has shown that different types of emotions stir up energy in different parts of the body. When we resist feeling our emotions the way they should be felt, tension forms in our bodies.

When we practice yoga, we increase our awareness of our body as we bend, twist, and balance. This can release tense energy stored in areas such as the hips, abdomen, shoulders, neck, and especially the heart. The release is what brings those emotions back up to feeling them again. They may be strong enough to cause tears or shaking, and they can occur even if you can’t tie them to a cause or a memory.

How to React

We’re hardwired to run from discomfort. Even when we’re deeply present in our practice, all it takes is a very strong and sudden negative emotion to pull us back into the mental turbulence of our own minds. This is especially true if we experience the sudden onset of negative emotions during a class and are afraid that everyone else might notice.

Awareness in yoga, in meditation, and in everyday life, however, doesn’t involve suppressing the negative stuff so we can feel better. It involves allowing ourselves to experience anything and everything that we’re feeling. So when you do feel a bit of an emotional stir during your practice, try to heighten your awareness and lean into it.

Keep Breathing

If you have a difficult time holding your awareness high enough so you’re not fighting to suppress your negative emotions, just remember to focus on your breath. Notice the feeling of inhaling and exhaling as it supports and guides your body through the corresponding movements you’re performing. This will help you stay present and aware of the emotions you’re experiencing.

Experiencing your emotions is healing. Resisting a part of yourself that is true to you is like splitting yourself in two — turning one part of yourself against the other. Suppressing negative emotions may work in the short-term, but it certainly doesn’t heal you.

Remember that there’s no shame in feeling your emotions. You are an emotional being, and despite what we’re all taught by modern society about how “wrong” and “ugly” it is to get emotional about certain things or in certain situations, the reality is that we experience them and we will always experience them. Embrace them, and know that you are taking a step toward healing that not many people know they can do or are willing to take.