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Your Happy Place: Yoga for Emotional Balance

Posted on December 22 2017

The concept of balance is one many yoga students spend a lot of time exploring in their bodies -- standing on one leg in poses like Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III Pose) or flying into an arm balance like Bakasana (Crow or Crane Pose) -- and, as anyone who practices these asanas knows, it takes a great deal of focus to get to that point between surrender and control that makes what seems impossible, possible.  But, as challenging as finding physical balance is, getting to a point of emotional equilibrium can be even harder.

Staying centered emotionally is a one-day-at-a-time journey. Hectic holidays can put some major obstacles on that path.  From the sheer practical strain of extra time needed to prepare for this festive season, to the psychological tension of the New Year and its inevitable encouragement to take stock, you probably feel pulled apart.  So, how do you stay in the moment and enjoy this time without getting bogged down?

It’s important to understand that emotional balance doesn’t imply being perfectly in harmony all the time.  What it does mean is that you are basically at a "centered" point in your mind, so that the small disruptions and stressors of daily life stay in perspective.  Yes, you’re going to yell at your children/partner/friends when they don’t deserve that kind of treatment. You’re going to feel disappointed, if not downright depressed when the job or promotion goes to someone else. And, probably, you’ll shed a few tears when your favorite holiday cookies burned because you were putting out fires elsewhere in your house or life.  Being in balance enables you to see these detours for what they are rather than opening up a tidal wave of guilt or frustration that throws you off course.

Focus on the idea of progress, not perfection.  Like healthy eating or meditation, attaining a place of emotional calm takes practice.  An asana practice is a roadmap for reaching that stress-free state.  As you work through various sequences, the chatter goes away in your mind, the anger leaves you and you feel steady and free as you channel your thoughts into action.

While you can’t whip out your yoga mat in the car or at a meeting, you can use mantras or visualization to help you.  Taking time when you are stressed or frustrated to remind yourself of the good things in your life is a powerful tool to return to a better frame of mind.  You can also try using mantras of empowerment or calming.  Ask your yoga teacher for a few that might fit best with your personality and goals, or check on the internet.  A search for mantras that make you feel empowered will bring up more than a million results — a clear message that a lot of people around the world are looking for the same things that you are.

When you can hit your yoga mat, use that time to help you create a “safe zone” where you can go to recharge your batteries.  A practice with energizing, relaxing and heart-opening elements is a great way to help you find a place of calm.

Here are some poses and tips to try:

  Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog)

Benefits:  This heart-opening pose helps cultivate openness and receptivity to the other people in your life, encouraging you to feel loved and loving — which is a great balance point.

How to do it: Start by lying on your stomach on your mat.  Keep the tops of your feet pressing into the ground, legs extended behind you.  Place your hands near your waist.  Spread your fingers.  On an inhale, press your hands into the floor to lift your torso and thighs off the floor into a backbend.  Open your collar bones by rolling your shoulders back and down.  Keep your neck long and your breathing even.  Feel the stretch across your chest.  Hold for 15 to 30 seconds, then release.
Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Forward Bend)

Benefits: This pose helps you calm your thoughts, making it easier to return to an emotional center. 

How to do it: Start in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Step or jump your feet three to four feet apart. Place your hands on your hips. On an exhale, hinge forward from your hips. As you bend, place your hands on the ground. With your torso parallel to the ground, make your back long and take a few breaths looking up with your head at hip height. Then, fold as far as you can, bringing your head toward the ground.  Stay for 30 seconds to one minute, then release.  If you’re very flexible and your head easily comes to the ground, narrow the distance between your legs until your spine is straight.

Makarasana (Dolphin Pose)

Benefits: This pose is a great way to help you feel more energized.

How to do it: Starting on your hands and knees, bend your elbows and clasp your hands, forearms on the floor. Exhale and push your heels to or toward the ground. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute.

Make time. 
 It’s not easy during the holidays, but setting aside even 15-30 minutes a day for yourself is an important tool.  Nobody feels at their most centered when they are constantly rushed.  So, find a time where you know you can make a practice happen — say early in the morning or in the evening — and make a date with yourself.  If you don’t have a meditation practice, start one.  Whether seated or walking, commit to 10 minutes a day at first and let your mind be free.

Pay into your emotional bank account.  As much as the holidays are a wonderful time for you to indulge everyone else in your life, don’t leave yourself off your list.  Pick one thing a week that’s just for fun -- coffee with friends, a class, a massage, or just some uncommitted time -- and enjoy.

These are just some suggested poses.  As you practice, be sensitive to the poses that feel good to you now.  Maybe it’s a good time to explore challenge poses, or maybe you’re into a restorative practice.  Or maybe it’s a good time to try the comforts of practicing in a hot room.  Think about you really need at that moment, and follow your bliss.


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