Feeling depressed after yoga is kind of, well, not really what you were expecting. Right? Right. So why does it happen? Aren’t we supposed to feel warm and fuzzy-like after a sweat sesh in the hot yoga room?
Contrary to what you might think, yoga can really do a number on your emotions. Today I’m bringing you three reasons why you might be feeling a bit dopamine-deprived after that killer savasana.
Feeling depressed about yoga? Let’s get into yoga philosophy first.
Yogic philosophy tells us each human has five bodies, or koshas: the physical body, the energy body, the mental body, the wisdom body, and the bliss body. The mental body, or the manomaya kosha, and the energy body, or the pranayama kosha, can sometimes form a protective field around us whenever we experience pain or trauma. It can keep us stuck in patterns or behaviors even without being conscious of it. While protective, it can also hinder us from growth.
When we practice yoga, we work through the stories these two bodies tell. This brings that pain and discomfort to light.
1. Yoga breaks down the emotional armor we’ve built.
So many of us move through life with this invisible shield, a shield that protects us from the deep, scary emotions of our shadow. This shield the pranayama and manomaya koshas have built around our intense emotions is certainly helpful at times. It protects us from difficult feelings, strong emotions, and traumatic memories. It can make uncomfortable situations easier to manage, so it’s not a terrible thing to have in some situations.
But, the thing about armor is it’s hard to take off. It can block us from facing necessary emotions. It keeps us from processing things that have happened to us. This tough outer shield can hinder us from emotional growth. It keeps us in a mindless state, a default mode.
When we practice yoga, we begin to develop an acute awareness of our bodies as they move in space – and of our minds as we tune into our instructor’s cues. When that happens, we slowly chip away at our armor, becoming more mindful of what we’re feeling at any given moment.
This can be overwhelming to those who aren’t used to shedding their protective armor, and it can leave you feeling vulnerable and raw post-yoga class.
2. A vigorous flow can stir previously stagnant emotions.
We already know our protective shield that keeps us from experiencing intense emotions is all but shattered once we adopt a yoga practice, but where do those emotions go? They must go somewhere!
Well, in your body, that’s where. We can hold emotions in our chest, our shoulders, our neck, our back, even our hips. They fester there, setting up camp in our joints. It’s why we sometimes experience neck pain after a stressful week or chest pain after a horrible breakup. The body keeps the score.
When we practice yoga, especially a one-breath-to-one-movement type of flow, we can stir up those emotions, releasing them from their stagnant spaces. It’s this variable movement that shakes the emotions out of us! Without a home in our bodies, they creep up into our minds, forcing us to acknowledge and process them. It’s why you might be feeling depressed after yoga. You simply aren’t used to all these previously-hidden emotions hitting you at once!
3. You might be judging your practice – or yourself.
Feeling depressed after yoga can also come from being really hard on yourself during the class. There have been times during a yoga practice where I’ve just beat myself up, whether it’s because I couldn’t do something that day I could normally do other days or it was that conversation at work I handled oh-so-poorly.
We can be so awful to ourselves without really recognizing it in the moment. If you’re bummed out post-yoga flow, maybe it’s because you’re putting too much pressure on yourself to have a certain type of practice or to be able to do all-the-things. Are you comparing yourself with others in class? Did you do something awkward during your work day that you’re kicking yourself over as you move?
This, combined with your new mindfulness superpower, can leave you feeling all sorts of wonky after your yoga class.
What should you do if you’re feeling depressed after yoga?
Feeling depressed is obviously not the goal of practicing yoga, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue doing so. It’s a great indicator that we have inner work to do. If you’re experiencing any negative emotions after you practice, I have a few ideas that might help.
1. Create a safe container to process.
When I say container, I essentially mean a channel. It’s important to have a safe outlet for you to visit or use when you’re feeling some type of way. Your container can be a journal you write in, a nook in your home, a blank canvas to paint on, the driver’s seat of your car, a piano, a park bench, or something else entirely.
Identifying a container that feels like a safe spot to process will help you feel supported. Make it a habit to associate post-yoga with your container.
2. Establish consistent care for your emotional self.
With this container, you’ll begin processing those emotions. If that’s a journal, write down what you’re feeling. If it’s the driver’s seat of your car, throw a guided meditation on. Is your container your beloved piano? Process those emotions through freestyling or playing an emotional number.
Consistent care goes beyond just one time. You can begin to create a ritual for yourself. Maybe after every yoga practice you take 30 minutes in your container to process – even 10 will do.
3. Retreat if you need; seek connection if you need.
You know yourself. Do you prefer to be alone when you’re stressed, or would you prefer to be surrounded by loved ones? If you know you’re going through it, and you’re going to your favorite yoga class, plan to either spend some alone time or connect with friends and loved ones. Either option is perfectly okay – we are all different!
The key is to get clear about your needs, and then honor them.
4. Remind yourself these feelings aren’t permanent.
“This too shall pass.” I know, I know. We hear it all the time, but it’s for a reason. When we’re wrapped up in deeply intense emotions, we may feel the despair will never end. That’s a mind trick we’re playing on ourselves, and it isn’t true. Every emotion we have is fleeting, even if it takes awhile to dissolve.
Remind yourself of your emotions’ impermanence the next time you’re going through it.
What am I missing about feeling depressed after yoga?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on feeling depressed after yoga, and what you do to process those feelings and care for yourself. Let me know in the comments. I look forward to reading it!
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