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March 10, 2017

There’s a phrase in the holistic world that says, “We store our issues in our tissues.”

In a nutshell, it means that we store emotional energy in our physical body. When that energy is connected to a negative event in our lives, quite often that energy then manifests as illness, injury, and sometimes even death. This is the definition of PTSD - the mind is so stuck in a past event that the nervous system responds by being stuck in fight or flight, leaving the body and mind in a hyper alert state.

Yoga is healing

Yoga is a form of somatic therapy where one uses movement in the body to basically retrain the mind, or to make the mind more aware. In becoming fully in tune mentally with what is going on with the physical body, we bring the mind into the present moment. By focusing so intensely on the breath, and the sensation in the body, we become able to discern between past and present when flashbacks occur because all of our awareness is being directed to the here and now, the breath and the burn, the gaze and the engagement. When the mind drifts or wanders, we begin to see the true nature of the “monkey mind” and start to develop the ability to witness our thoughts, rather than being connected to them in mind and body. We see that we are not our thoughts, we are our actions.

In addition, the breath work we do in yoga has a direct relationship with our nervous system and the vagus nerve, in particular. The vagus nerve also helps to control fight or flight, and during the course of a yoga practice incorporating the ujjayi breath, the vagus nerve is heavily stimulated, which helps to trigger the parasympathetic nervous system, shutting off our fight or flight. In other words, the breath helps to bring us physiologically into the present. And this breath work is the key to unlocking a relationship with the nervous system.

Process the practice

Lastly, savasana. Lying still, we process the practice. We let go of those things that may be lingering mentally. Sometimes, savasana can be like watching a movie of your life roll on by. I like to think it can also be like learning to see the world through the eyes of a newborn, letting go of labels, and even language. We learn to allow rather than control. And sometimes, that letting go, that allowing, causes us to cry. I am not ashamed to say that this has been a great part of my process over the last 9 years or so. And frankly, I welcome these experiences with open arms.

Why?

We store our issues in our tissues

Crying in yoga is the release of that energy. For me, it was the release of my wife’s murder in 2009. It was letting go of the guilt I felt for not being able to save her. It was letting go of the shame I felt for having my personal life blasted all over the press. It was letting go of the grief I felt in losing my best friend and lover of 10 years. I heaved and sobbed and left my mat in pools of tears.

And with that, I let go of those issues. I didn’t overdose. I didn’t beat anyone. I lashed out at people on a few occasions, but I’m still here and doing the work. I’m actually very happy.

Crying provides us the opportunity to release energy that doesn’t serve us. Grieving is an intense experience, and it needs a channel or two to release that energy; same with anger. We need to process the emotion of our experiences and let them go, rather than store them and have them come out in various negative ways, i.e. domestic violence, drug and alcohol addiction, suicide. As men in our society, we are taught that crying shows weakness. I am here to tell you that crying is a sign of strength more often than not.

We don’t have to store our issues in our tissues. We can let them go.


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