Mental Health Yoga

What is Emotionally Intelligent Yoga?

It is a form of yoga that considers our ability to process emotion to be of paramount importance in well being, transformation and spirituality. It is a system that blends the wisdom of yoga, psychology and spirituality into a theoretical and deeply practical model that is meant to ease the tensions of emotional life – unlocking bound energy increasing freedom. Combining the deepest practices of yoga with the most effective psychotherapeutic techniques to create a vehicle for understanding, coping and transforming life’s most difficult emotional challenges both present and past.

Where does the term Emotional Intelligence come from?

In the 1980’s a number of authors began questioning the over-emphasis on intellectual intelligence (IQ), and developed models that instead emphasized human’s potential for a wide variety of intelligences. Daniel Goleman popularized the term emotional intelligence in 1995 in his book Emotional Intelligence – Why it can matter more than IQ. Since that time much has been written about the topic. I use this term to now as it pertains to cultivating capacity within yoga to care for the heart and our great potential as emotional beings.

How was Emotionally Intelligent Yoga developed?

Sun-Heart-200x200It was at the beginning of my yoga journey that I realized not all yoga was “created equal”. Some ways of being taught or practicing yoga took me deeply into connection with myself. Other forms distanced me. I have spent 15 years intently focused on what factors create this difference. I’ve had the great fortune of working with spiritual teachers who have responded to my thirst for depth. This anchored me in the knowledge of something “more” that yoga had to offer. In particular, my experience has been that yoga culture obviously focuses on form in the body and focussing of the mind, but is lacking in the realm of heart. When I started working with people as a psychotherapist it began to crystallize even more fully that emotions are a largely neglected part of our psyche. And for good reason – they HURT. Defending against the powerful sensations of emotion is a natural response. We escape, evade, bury and deny. And we live in a culture that does not socialize people into learning the capacity to do otherwise. Not knowing how to deeply connect to emotion, understand its messages leaves an untended energy within us. That energy takes on a life of its own, sometimes shutting us down, sometimes usurping our thoughts creating fixation and obsession, sometimes causing reactivity and behavior that only digs us deeper into dysfunction. Yoga, when taught and practiced from the place of deep respect for the process of the heart, can get at this emotional energy and help us create a functional relationship with it. We befriend the heart, and our lives take a new shape – integrated, whole and tender.

What happens in an Emotionally Intelligent Yoga practice?

Part of the contemplation that has emerged over a decade is not just about the “idea” of emotional intelligence in yoga but how to actually embody this intelligence. In other words, what is the skill and means required for a genuinely practical approach to working with our emotional body? As a result of this questioning I have developed principles and processes that include what I’ve experienced to be the most important factors for creating transformation in our emotional “caretaking”. These principles and processes are at work in each of my weekly classes, and are what I teach in workshops and retreats on the topic of emotionally intelligent yoga. They include ways of reframing our beliefs about emotion, practices for experiencing emotion in gentle and safe ways, and understanding emotion as energy which can betransformed through a variety of means. Please visit my blog for more insight into this approach.

Who is Emotionally Intelligent Yoga for?

Heart-Hand-200x200Whether you’re learning its daily stress, emotional impacts or old trauma emotionally intelligent yoga respects the psyche’s desire for wholeness and collaborates with it. With 13 years of teaching yoga, 20 years in human services and 4 as Registered Provisional Psychologist I have worked with a large range of people seeking wholeness and wellbeing. From functional people seeking spirituality to those who have been hospitalized for psychiatric conditions emotionally intelligent yoga can be a safe space for all people to explore their inner workings.

Just because it doesn’t require acrobatics, Emotionally Intelligent Yoga is not necessarily easy. It can be challenging because you’ll be asked to maintain deep focus on micro movements of body and energy. In class and workshops you and I work to co-create your practice, you may go as deeply as you wish or gently dip your toes into the principles of the practice at your own pace. This approach is for people seeking depth and intimacy with themselves through yoga. If you thirst for a deeper connection to yourself and your life, let this fill your cup.

Why does Emotionally Intelligent Yoga matter?

Sunflower-200x200Yoga is often performed in the West with a physical obsession. The form of yoga has become a commodity, an art form, a science, a product, a workout. When physical form is not a center focus, often the hub of teaching becomes the mind. Creating awareness, cultivating attention, focusing the mind becomes dominant. Both of these practices are important. What is fundamentally neglected in this scenario is that between attentional functions of the brain and the concrete forms of the body is the fluid, living dynamics of the emotional heart. To truly be a wholistic practice yoga must begin to recognize any deficiencies in this realm. The body not only is used as a tool for the performance of asana, but asana affects our emotional selves. Through asana, breath and meditation we can move deeper into focus on deep patterns of emotional energy that keeps us recycling old habits long after their natural season has waned.

Emotionally Intelligent Yoga matters, because our heart matters. Our emotions matter. We are feeling beings, and we often don’t have the tools to celebrate and channel our emotions in life affirming ways. This nuanced form of yoga is intent on changing that. We have great tools at our exposure, and we can use them to increase intimacy with ourselves and at the deepest layer with the Divine. Like the mystics of various traditions, Emotionally Intelligent Yoga begins with intimacy with our self, and sinks us in toward intimacy with Source and Soul. Here the deepest intent of yoga is realized, the fluctuations of the mind cease, and the Seer abides in communion with the Seen.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
— Jelaluddin Rumi,
 translation by Coleman Barks