Everyday life can feel like a rollercoaster (now more than ever). With work responsibilities and family obligations set against the backdrop of police violence, systemic racism and the novel coronavirus pandemic, you might be experiencing a lot of ups and downs.
Managing all these feelings can be challenging, to say the least. Rather than letting negative, restless energy stay stuck inside you or boil over, it's better for you — and those you love — if you find a healthy, positive way to process, express and release this expanse of emotions.
And you can do that cathartic work through a daily yoga practice.
How Yoga Is Cathartic
"Yoga helps us to see what we are really feeling and experiencing, allowing us to sit with ourselves, just as we are," says Calgary-based yoga instructor Paige Berling-Mackenzie. "This is important for catharsis, because before we can release, let go, move through and move on, we need to know where we are at and what's really happening in the first place."
In other words, sitting still enables us to recognize our thought patterns and examine the root of our emotions. And, in the process, what we often learn is that our surface feelings, including confusion, anger, frustration and sadness, come from a deeper place of grieving, hurt or shame.
While yoga works its magic on your mind, it also calms you and offers catharsis at the physical level as well.
"We store a lot of emotions, experiences, traumas and memories within the tissues of our bodies," Berling-Mackenzie says. (Think: tension in your shoulders, aches in your hips or tightness in your chest.) "The asanas [physical postures] allow a freeing up of all that we hold on to."
Check out more of our 20-minute workouts here — we’ve got something for everyone.
Try This 20-Minute Cathartic Yoga Flow
Designed by Berling-Mackenzie, this 20-minute cathartic flow will provide emotional release and refuge during trying times. As you perform this soothing sequence, allow yourself to move through your yoga practice with an intimate awareness of your feelings.
“Any yoga pose can be cathartic if you allow it to be — all it takes is a simple intention,” Berling-Mackenzie says. She suggests finding whichever flow feels most nourishing and works for you as an individual, as we all have unique bodies and emotional experiences.
Move 1: Easy Seat (Sukhasana)
- Start in a comfortable seated position with your legs crossed.
- Take this as an opportunity to check in with yourself. Let your thoughts come and go without expectations or judgment.
- Breath naturally for 3 minutes.
Move 2: Child's Pose (Balasana)
- Come onto your hands and knees, then lower your hips toward your heels and your chest and head toward the ground.
- Reach your arms forward or back behind you, whichever is most comfortable.
- Focus on your breath, taking time to inhale deeply.
Move 3: Cat and Cow (Bitilasana and Marjaryasana)
- Come into a tabletop position with wrists under shoulders and knees under hips. Spread your fingers wide.
- You can tuck your toes, or alternatively, the tops of your feet can lie flat down against the mat.
- Use a slow, long inhale to lift your tailbone and gaze and drop the belly down for Cow pose.
- Then exhale, round the spine and tuck your tailbone and chin towards your chest for Cat pose.
- Continue to alternate between Cow and Cat. As you do, let your body begin to guide you into any additional free movement that you’re craving. Stay on the sticky, tight spots in your body a little bit longer.
- Do this for 10 rounds.
Move 4: Melted Heart (Anahatasana)
- Find stillness in the tabletop position.
- Take your knees a couple inches wider on your mat and walk your hands forward as you sink your chest and head toward the earth for Melted Heart. If your head doesn’t touch the ground, place it on a block or pillow.
- Stay here for 10 full breaths and feel any heaviness in your chest melt into the earth.
Move 5: Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
- Gently come back onto your hands and knees.
- Walk your hands a couple of inches forward, spread your fingers wide, tuck your toes under and lift your hips up and back to find Downward-Facing Dog.
- Peddle your feet by lowering one heel at a time toward the floor, swaying the hips side to side, to really find awareness of your body in the posture. No need to have a “perfect V” shape.
Move 6: Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
- From Downward Dog, walk your feet up toward your hands, arriving in Forward Fold.
- Keep a deep bend in the knees and sway the body side to side, like you’re moving in water.
- Let your body hang loosely like a ragdoll and slowly lift, bone by bone, up to a standing position.
Move 7: Halfway Lift (Ardha Uttanasana)
- Inhale as you walk your hands up to your shins or thighs to lengthen the spine for Halfway Lift.
- Bend your knees slightly and lift the sit bones away from the backs of the knees.
- Lengthen the spine and draw the shoulder blades together.
- Exhale and come back into a Forward Fold. Inhale all the way back up to standing, sweeping your arms above head and performing a slight backbend.
- Exhale and bring the hands to heart’s center.
Do Moves 6 and 7 four more times before moving onto Move 8.
Move 8: Chair Pose (Utkatasana)
- From standing, place your feet hip-width part.
- Inhale and sweep your arms above you.
- Exhaling, bend your knees and sit back into Chair pose, bringing your hands to heart’s center.
- Stay here for 5 full breaths.
Move 9: Twisted Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana Variation)
- From Chair pose, exhale into a Forward Fold, bending deeply into both knees.
- Plant the right hand down in the center of the mat (optional: use a block or tent your fingers).
- Keep the right knee bent and slowly begin to straighten the left leg, as you reach the left arm up for a twist.
- Stay for 5 breaths, then exhale back into the center.
- Repeat on the other side.
Move 10: Expressive Chair Variation (Utkatasana Variation)
- Come up to standing with feet hip-width apart.
- Inhaling, reach the arms up over head. Exhaling, sit into Chair pose with hands at heart’s center.
- Bring your weight onto your right foot and step your left foot behind you toward the right side of your body.
- Reach your arms up and over to the right. Close your eyes, feeling your breath and the expansion of your heart and the full flow of your emotions. Stay here for 5 to 10 breaths.
- Take a moment to rest before repeating on the other side.
Move 11: Yogi Squat (Malasana)
- From standing, step your feet a little bit wider than your hips and point your toes out at a 45-degree angle (this may fluctuate depending on what is comfortable for you).
- Inhale and reach your arms up above head.
- Exhale and sit down into Yogi Squat. You can place a block or pillow beneath you.
- Stay here for 10 breaths.
Move 12: Reclined Twist (Supta Matsyendrasna)
- Lie on your back and hug your knees into your chest, allowing a little bit of free movement.
- When it feels right, let your knees fall over toward the right side of your body for a twist.
- Position your hips slightly towards the left. Place any props (pillow, towel, etc.) between or under your knees until you’re comfortable.
- Reach your arms out in a T shape and gaze over your left shoulder.
- Stay here for 10 to 15 breaths, then repeat on other side.
Move 13: Corpse Pose (Savasana)
- Lie flat on your back with your arms and legs spread wide. You can place a pillow under your knees for additional comfort.
- Concentrate on your breath, completely releasing effort in the body and focusing on the feeling of release.
- Stay here for at least 5 minutes, or longer if your body is craving the rest, release and introspection.