Q — You developed emotional yoga for very personal reasons. What are they? How did emotional yoga come about?
A — I've been practicing yoga for almost 20 years. I'm strong, I'm athletic, I used to be a dancer, and although I could virtually get myself into almost any pretzel-like position, when there was an emotional crisis, I was weak. I completely fell apart. I realized that it didn't matter how flexible I was physically, or how strong I was on the outside, if there was that one emotional weakness inside, I wasn't strong. So I looked to the yoga tradition and I found that there was a real relationship between our emotions and the tools of yoga. I discovered that the tools of yoga could help us all access, transform and heal our body and mind. Through a method called Viniyoga, I found the full spectrum of yoga practive that adapts to the needs of the individual. Emotional Yoga grew out of my own personal needs and the needs of my students and friends.
Q — We are all familiar with physical yoga. Are you saying that's not enough?
A — There is a big difference between physical strength and emotional strength. While it's great to be able to execute a complicated pose, climb a mountain, or lift heavy weights, if you have an emotional weakness inside, you remain weak. You find it difficult to function, and you collapse even with a small emotional problem.
Yoga is more about inner strength than outer muscles. The whole intention of your yoga practice should be to become an integrated human being in all ways, not to gain muscular prowess by doing a lot of postures.
What really counts is what's going on in your life right now. How are you feeling? How is your sense of well being? How are your relationships? If you easily become agitated it may be a sign that you are out of balance, but if you are emotinally in-sync, you become more tolerant, and your immune system is strengthened.
Q — In the last few years, we have all heard about the mind-body connection, how the mind can heal the body. Are you saying the reverse is also true? Can the body heal the mind?
A — Emotions are physical, not psychological. Scientists are beginning to understand that emotions are of the body, not just of the mind. Most psychologists treat the mind as if it has no connection to the physical body. Conversely, physicians treat the body with no regard to the mind or the emotions. But the body and mind are not separate, and we cannot treat one without the other. Therefore, the answer to your question is YES, the body CAN heal the mind and I want to teach people how to do it.
Q — Yoga is taking the country by storm. Time magazine recently featured it on its cover and there are now national franchises of yoga centers. What distinguishes your approach from the mainstream?
A — More than fifteen millions Americans are practicing yoga. Yet despite it's growing popularity, many people are still missing one of yoga's most powerful benefits — the opportunity to become more emotionally balanced.
The basic Western misunderstanding of yoga is that it's merely separate positions to be mastered. We have to understand that yoga is not just physical training, positions or movements, but an ancient, practical system for accessing, healing, and integrating the body and mind.
The word yoga means relationship, to deepy link or connect with the things in our lives. Yoga is the art of linking all parts of yourself — your body, your thoughts, your awareness, your emotions. "Emotional Yoga" is the action of linking your awareness with your emotions. It is a full spectrum teaching that involves postures, breathing, the senses, emotional self-inquiry, rituals, meditations, gestures, and healing sounds. While practicing Emotional Yoga, one can heal the mind and the body simultaneously. It's a complete methodology.
Q — Aren't you supposed to keep your thoughts and emotions out of your yoga practice?
A — Developing emotional self-awareness and strengthening the mind are integral parts of yoga practice. Feelings are not dangerous, but burying them can be. In the yoga tradition, balancing emotions challenges you to consciously link them to every action. This kind of exercise allows you to choose how you're going to observe life. Understanding your emotions by feeling and identifying them lets you recover autonomy and strength.
Yoga teaches you how to do this through a step by step process of self-observation. First, you learn to be aware of the "felt-sense" of your body. Then you learn how to recognize and balance what you feel. You can heal what you can feel, and this is good medicine. Understanding how your thoughts and your emotions affect every single cell in your body, and knowing how to change them in a way that is health enhancing, gives you access to the powerful health-creating secret of Emotional Yoga.
Q —Does Emotional Yoga eliminate the need for psychotherapy?
A — With any kind of serious emotional problem, it's always necessary to seek competent professional advice. Emotional Yoga provides you with the tools to access your emotions and create deeper states of mental and physical well-being. As you work with practices and stay with your feelings, you will begin to sense a broader understanding of your daily challenges. If you give your feelings a few minutes of attention each day you will become more aware and your innate wisdom will begin to emerge effortlessly. You'll develop emotional autonomy — and facilitate your own healing.
Self-transformation begins by confronting your issues internally. As a result, you will strengthen your sense of involvement with life, and the rewards will be profound. Once you follow your inner pathway, you'll create passion and independence.
Q — You talk about "telling your emotional truth." What do you mean by that?
A — Part of the problem is that there are so many versions of the trust, it gets confusing. Is the truth something you have to reveal? Is it a matter of clearing up past lies? Is it about admitting how you feel the moment you feel it?
In yoga, truthfulness is a practice of observation, then verification. First you have to notice the truth. It requires your constant attention. As you become increasingly aware of your emotions, they begin to show you what's true. By staying connected to your emotional truth, and then verifying it through your own experience, you will find that your life becomes more about doing and saying what you deeply know is true. All honest emotions are positive.
Q —Are there different kinds of yoga for people in various stages of life?
A — Yoga can be adapted to the needs of the individual no matter what age or condition. During the sunrise time of life, from birth to around age 30, is when the body is growing and developing. The most useful practice is one that trains and educates the body in order to build, strengthen, and bring structure to the body. During the mid-day stage of life, the importance shifts to protecting and maintaining the health of the body, preserving strength, and maintaining stability and flexibility. During the sunset stage of life, or for more specific imbalances, adaptation of sequences, breathing and meditation become more important for sustatining the body and mind. Through yoga, we can create health during all stages of life.