When we experience pain in the body, many of us often relate it to the physical situations we have put ourselves in, and we also look for physical cures. It makes logical sense, we think.
I have a good friend named Edwina who works for an animal rights organization. Part of her job is going through reports of animal cruelty, and so she spends her day seeing pictures or watching videos of the violence done to animals, so that she may take action and respond to the reports. One time, she told me she was experiencing shoulder pain and she was looking for an acupuncturist or someone who might be in a position to help her ease the pain. Again, another perfectly reasonable response to our desire to relieve physical pain.
In yoga philosophy, we speak of having 5 bodies. Each body is a layer, or a kosha as it is called in Sanskrit, and the bodies affect one another. The emotional body or the manomayakosha makes up our emotional experiences of the world. Our emotions, when repressed or unaddressed, can be trapped in the physical body which we experience as recurring physical pain or discomfort. Thus, the issues are in the tissues. The common physical manifestations of emotional reactions are the following:
Shoulders- burdened by responsibilities and feeling the weight of the world
Upper back- anger and resentment (right side), guilt and shame (left side)
Lower back- sense of inadequacy, financial insecurity (right side), emotional insecurity (left side)
It may seem "new age-y" to those of us who are conditioned to think that the only rational way our bodies work is that it is an independent entity. Dig deep though through your own experience. When you had to do something you were unwilling to do, say, sing in front of people, did you not feel knots in your stomach? When you were stressed out at work, did you not lose sleep? When you underwent a difficult breakup, did you not want to go to sleep all the time? The point I am making is that our emotions do affect our physical well-being, from recurring pains to terminal illnesses.
When we practice yoga asana, we have this opportunity to observe our emotional reactions. When we are challenged, do we feel irritated or angry or insecure? When we are asked to do something familiar, are we impatient or arrogant or bored? Do these tendencies recur in our relationships and our jobs and our day-do-day lives? Have they become our default reactions, so much so that we are not even conscious of it? Are our negative reactions so deeply embedded that we end up desperately gripping on to them, unwilling to let them go? Do we act as though we are holding on to dear life to these emotions, when these exact emotions are costing us the quality of our life?
Let us draw attention to the body. Where are we holding tension? Let us draw attention to our emotions. Where might we still be holding on to anger, resentment, guilt, shame, jealousy, bitterness, envy, greed, or fear? Until we are conscious of the ways we keep holding on to these emotions, any physical relief will only be temporary.
Yoga teachings are not fatalistic. It tells us the cause of our "dis-ease", and it also provides the cure. To purify the manomayakosha, the practices of satsang, chanting, yamas, compassion, nadam and bhakti are particularly helpful. All of these practices unburden the negative emotions and allow us to give them up. Instead of holding in negative emotions, we release them. Instead of thinking that we alone carry the sole burden of our load, we acknowledge that we are part of something bigger than us. Instead of being self-centered and being weighed down, we become others-centered and lift others up.