The Power of Yoga and Its Ability to “Unlock” Emotions

The belief that emotions are locked in the body has become widespread in recent years. What does that really mean? And how can yoga help unlock whatever is stuck?


Let’s imagine a person sitting in a crossed legged position on the floor.  This person appears confident and at ease.  Her spine is tall, head lifted, and in this posture the rib cage is free to expand in all directions as she breathes.

Now imagine a different person. She is sitting on the floor with crossed legs, but her posture does not appear confident.  She appears sad. Her shoulders are hunched forward, her head is hanging low which causes her rib cage to compress inward, limiting the free flow of breath. This is an image of a woman struggling with depression, sadness, grief, and fear.

Feeling betrayed or scared causes us to curl in to protect our vital organs, most importantly our heart and lungs. Over time if heartbreak and fear continue to arise, this protective stance becomes our posture and in turn, our posture attempts to protect us from feeling painful emotions. This is one example of how emotions get ‘locked’ in the body.

This is where yoga can help. Yoga can appear quite intimidating if we only see it through the lens of popular culture. We may think of yoga as slim young bodies contorted into pretzel-like poses, or dreadlocked hippies in deep meditation.  However, yoga is much more than the achievement of physical poses and yoga can be practiced by anybody. Through yoga we learn how to breathe, how to use our muscles to sit up taller, to feel our feet on the ground, and to ultimately be with painful emotions as they arise.

When the woman in the example starts practicing yoga she learns how to move through a series of yoga postures while intentionally breathing slowly. The emotional patterning in her posture begins to change. Week by week the depressed, scared woman sits up a little taller, her breath capacity deepens, and the frontal ribcage begins to decompress. All of the grief and heartbreak that was once held tight begins to soften its grip and something else profound happens: her heart opens.

A dedicated yoga practice heals our bodies, hearts, and minds. As our posture changes through unlocking emotional holding, we gain the ability to sit up a little taller, and we lift our head to see a new horizon of hope, compassion, and self-love.