Observations About Yoga and Primal-Oriented Psychotherapy

by Cindy McNellis

In my experience and hindsight, when I'm not regularly doing a yoga routine the feelings that surface for me are usually appropriate/perfect for what I'm prepared to deal with at the moment. When I was doing it almost daily [for 45 minutes or so, and fairly intensely], it seemed to trigger more and bigger/deeper feelings than I was prepared for. It took me years before I made the connection.

The yoga I mostly do/did was Astanga or Power yoga, which engages the breath, bandas [internal locks], stretching and mental focusing all at the same time, so it was pretty intense stuff. So I would say yes, definitely, doing a regular routine can really help to access deeply repressed feelings. But I have lived alone for some years and done most of my primalling on my own without a therapist, so what was coming up was sometimes too much to handle comfortably. I realized later that I was 'pushing it' by doing yoga and so I cut right back.

The feelings don't normally come up while I am actively doing the postures although this does happen occasionally. They usually surface hours or days later - that's why it took me so long to connect the two. As for getting insights - they would come along with or after I primalled the feelings. So I would say that the insights are indirectly related to yoga practice since the postures precipitate the feelings and these feelings/primals in turn give us the insights.

I recently had the insight that my suicide attempt when I was in my early twenties was probably influenced by doing yoga. At the time I had been interested in yoga and Eastern philosophy for a few years and had started a regular hatha yoga practise a few months before. I couldn't understand why I was feeling so bad since yoga was supposed to bring balance, tranquillity etc. My thought now is that doing the postures and breathing was 'shaking the tree,' breaking down my defences before I was ready to deal with what was underneath. I think it's likely that many people who are doing yoga and other bodywork have this experience and just aren't making this connection.

In the book Power Yoga, author and Astanga Yoga teacher, Beryl Bender Birch, writes about yoga and emotional release. She says: "You cannot work day after day on "opening" the muscles, cells, joints, and connective tissue without affecting the nervous system and the emotional condition. The emotions have to be stored somewhere. . . . If it was a painful memory, it seems to become insulated, like a physical injury does by scar tissue. These little insulated pockets create blocks, detours, and limitations."

Each of us is unique and this includes our accessability to feelings. I once taught a class in which a woman who had not done yoga for years participated. She told me that when she had done it years before she had had an unpleasant kundalini experience and so was a bit cautious. The next day or so, she complained to me that the yoga had been too much. Shortly after that she came to a weekend group intensive I was at. A few weeks after that she had a psychotic episode and ended up in the psych ward for a few days. She did come out of it and is okay now, as far as I know. But it didn't take much to put her over the edge.

I read [part of] a book by Gopi Krishna called Kundalini where he tells of his extremely unpleasant experience of kundalini awakening. It went on for years and was brought about by long periods of intense meditation. He believed he was going crazy and no yogi or any so-called enlightened people he sought out could tell him anything helpful as they themselves had no experience with this.

So, I have reached a place in my process where I occasionally do some yoga because I enjoy it, but I don't feel the need to encourage anything more to surface. I happened to glance at a recent posting of yours where a doctor told you access to feelings dulls with age. This makes sense since our armour thickens as we age if we continue to repress our feelings. As well, many people as they age get "stuck in their ways" and don't recognize or acknowledge their feelings as being the problem.

For me it's been a progression of what I have been able to handle. E.g., as I let go of addictions and compulsive behaviour, the feelings become more intense but I become more able to handle them. The feelings get stronger but so do I. I believe that deep emotional release work like this is very high level spiritual practice. If we are dedicated and consistent, the results are phenomenal and life changing.

I think if we are getting too much or not enough, we might need to wonder if we are being compulsive at all. Or maybe not recognizing that whatever is here is just perfect.

Many have written that the ability to primal becomes easier as we lower our Pain level with primals. However, the issue Dr. Graham Farrant was considering in, "The Problems of Aging" was the efficiency of primalling by an older person compared with that of a younger person. He felt that, when all things are considered, the younger brain is more efficient at accessing and processing a primal feeling. As you noted above, the process usually becomes easier as lesser pains become resolved. However, when that happens, we also become more able to connect to earlier and more severe traumas because they are now easier to access and resolve. Oftentimes the material may not present itself for resolution. The more traumatic material is often kept for the end phase of the primal process. This can become an issue for a person who has a lot of pain to feel and who began the process much later in life. Dr. Frarrant writes, "Many in their sixties, however, haven't gotten as much out of therapy as people in their twenties and thirties with similar problems." The sad truth is that if you begin primalling late in life and have severe traumas, you may not live long enough to process all of your repressed major traumas.
-- John A. Speyrer, Webmeister, The Primal Psychotherapy Page

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