What to practice when intense feelings come up – like with a broken heart? And when you don’t want to hear standardized sentences any longer like it’s only your ego. What tools from yoga can you practice? Adrienn asked her teacher Ganesh Mohan. He is experienced in self practice and how to work with stronger emotions.

Sometimes life knocks you out.

In such moments you don’t need slogans, standardized stuff or even advice. In such moments you want to be seen with all your vulnerability and with what you need.

When you sit by the ocean crying. The normal human drama. Daily suffering. Nothing special. Maybe you suffer from a broken heart oder you have lost someone.

For me personally, I don’t want to hear any longer, that’s just your ego.

You don’t really suffer, it’s only your expectations which didn’t fulfill. What might help is connecting with other people. Maybe you want to be hugged by a friend or you want to feel understood without much need to say.

What does this have to do with yoga?

A yoga teacher can be someone – with a little distance – who creates space for you to be seen, held and supported. The teacher can listen to you and try to help you.

Yoga cannot heal anything. But you can practice some tools from yoga in your daily life to cope better with difficult circumstances.

I asked my teacher Ganesh Mohan about these things.

He is practicing yoga from childhood on and was trained since then in other related traditional studies. He is the son of  A.G. Mohan (one of the three long term students of Krishnamacharya) und Indra Mohan, who has been on her husband’s side in each step of his journey in yoga.

Ganesh is a doctor, having trained in both modern medicine and Ayurveda. Together with his father he has written Krishnamacharya: His Life and Teachings und Yoga Reminder.

Ganesh’s whole family is working in the field of yoga. Ganesh is specialized on yogatherapy.  Additionally he teaches the Svastha Teacher Trainings, where students can study yoga philosophy (much from Patanjali’s Yogasutra) in combination with functional practice of asana and useful knowledge from yoga and ayurveda for daily life.

Ganesh, what if I’m practicing yoga asana for a few years and want to go deeper?

I would suggest establishing  a self practice. Where you listen to your own body, your own mind, and spend some time breathing and moving. Without an instructor, telling you what to do. That should be the first step.

And where can I learn it if I don’t know how to do it?

From a teacher who teaches you. (Ganesh is laughing)

That’s the kind of a point of a teacher. The teacher is supposed to make the student independent. Students should be able to practice on their own after learning for a while. That is how my father learned from Krishnamacharya. He learned one on one once a week. But then he was mainly practicing at home. Every day.

And if we don’t have a teacher like Krishnamacharya – where can we learn it? How do I know what to practice if e.g. my heart is broken?

That requires a one on one consultation. These are not problems students ask a teacher in a group. But then that is an issue with the current model of yoga delivery. That we always deliver it to a group of people in a fixed time in a fixed format. And this requires a one on one consultation. They need to have a teacher who they can talk to and some kind of relationship with the teacher and then work gradually. But that’s not surprising, that’s how it works in any other situation, isn’t it? Whether it’s a physiotherapist or a psychologist. One expects to first be comfortable with them, talk with them. See what their needs are and work from there. Yoga isn’t any different from that. It’s about self-transformation. That basically requires that the person be heard : What my needs are and what I need to do. This can’t be addressed in context with all the 20 other people at the same time.

Adrienn and her teacher Ganesh Mohan at the Svastha Teacher Training in Bali 2016.

How do I know if I have found a good teacher to teach me one on one?

You need to be comfortable with the teacher. The teacher needs to be professional with good boundaries. The teacher needs to make sense. You need the same things you need in any other relationship: First of all, a sense of safety, boundaries and trust. And then you need to have guidance and knowledge. Information that actually makes sense and addresses the needs that you have.

My father used to keep saying this : It’s important to be a professional as a yoga teacher. First and foremost. As student that’s what we expect from the teacher. Nobody has all the solutions. But it’s the teacher’s role to try and help the student to work out whatever they can work out for themselves. And then support them in the areas that they can’t.

But it always has to come from a place of being professional, knowing your boundaries, knowing what you are doing in the first place (as a teacher). It’s a process, it’s not certain. You need to start working and see if it works with that teacher. If it doesn’t work for you you need to find somebody else. There’s no harm done (Ganesh is laughing). You need to do what works for you.

But more than anything else it’s a good idea to ask whether the teacher is making sense. Especially in yoga now, where there are so many ideas.

What if I’m overwhelmed by emotions which got triggered in my practice – how to deal with that?

That’s not an easy question to answer. That’s a big issue nowadays. We are realizing that there is the existence of so much trauma, generally in people. There is lot of interesting adverse childhood experiences.

If you take a bunch of people and make them do practices, inevitably you will find some people not comfortable with it as bringing up past body mind unconscious patterns making them conscious now and making them uncomfortable.

The simplest answer:

„Most important is to keep the student safe and the students needs to keep them safe.“ – Ganesh Mohan

And most importantly: Leave! Don’t persist with an experience that is triggering or uncomfortable. It never goes anywhere useful usually. Most of the time being uncomfortable and doing a practice doesn’t lead to any resolution on the long run.

What if I want to challenge myself a bit in my practice?

It is one thing to challenge yourself. It is something else to be uncomfortable, unpleasant, to feel unwell while doing so.

That problem cannot be solved entirely by the student or by the teacher. It needs to happen together. But it’s most importantly the responsibility of the teacher to make it clear that some of these practices can be a problem.

One of the issues with trauma is empowerment. If somebody is traumatized already, putting the entire burden on them and then saying it is your responsibility: If you’re not ok you have to take care of yourself – is not how a teacher should be going about it.

A teacher in the first place needs to hold the space and make it reasonably safe for everybody or at least make sure what the pre-requisites are, give people choices whether you want to do or not to do.

It is a difficult question asked from the student’s perspective: what should I do? The simplest answer is you have to let it go, walk away. And then find another way of practicing that is not triggering and not uncomfortable.

There is a well-known issue that with trauma: that the more you trigger it without being safe and grounded, the more those pathways are reinforced.

„You can’t get out of trauma by triggering trauma.“ – Ganesh Mohan

You can only make it more deeply rooted in the brain.

That happens sometimes. Even with the best intentions as a teacher. Because you cannot completely control each person’s experience in the group. You cannot insure rather anybody’s experience.

Commonly it happens in yoga because the teacher isn’t really being aware of the possibility that students could have adverse experiences.

So as a student really the best thing to do is: let it go, walk away. It’s very difficult to be in that situation and handle it. And then you go back and start doing more grounding skills, breathing, coming into the body, learning how to keep yourself safe and stable. And then little by little, you expose yourself to more challenging circumstances gradually again. But then very very slowly. Making sure you are able to stay grounded and safe.

What exactly do you mean by trauma?

That is hard to say. For some people they can face intensively traumatic experiences and for some people it is barely simple things. To what extent are people resilient is also a key question. And that is one of the areas when – done well – yoga can be usually helpful. Teaching people how to handle what they feel. Because we can’t control the external circumstances. But we can learn to manage ourselves in the sense of self regulation over time.

What is trauma is a tricky question. It really depends on the person.

You mentioned we as students should learn to stay safe and stable. How to do that?

Most people should begin with a little bit of slow movement and mindful breathing. One simple relaxation practice, probably learning to lie down, feel the support, let the body soften. And some self compassion, being kind to oneself. Usually making these a kind of a platform. And just doing them regularly over time. With relaxed slow mindful breathing. Learn to let the body soften into supports. Be a little open to the body sensations, little by little. Practice some kindness to oneself.

And then gradually build on from there. Into more movement, slightly longer seated practices, mindfulness and then into other emotional practices such as gratitude, joy and love.

Those come a bit later. Little by little building. Some body based, some breath based. Some about dealing with negative thoughts. Simple affirmations.

The point is there a several. But I would usually suggest starting with maybe three of them. A little bit of breathing, slowing down and mindfulness. Allowing the body to soften and relax and being kind to yourself. That is probably a really good baseline. That we can just keep doing again and again to help ground ourselves – no matter what we face in life.

Trauma problems and stress is inevitable anyway. That’s going to happen.

The point of yoga is to learn the skills so that we are able to deal with it when it happens. This would be a baseline.

How long should I practice?

Begin with five to ten minutes – as long as you feel safe. And gradually extending into 15-20 minutes. It’s simple, but it’s not easy. But not that hard either.

What if I already practice mindfully and still intense emotions arise during my practice?

Normally that should not happen provided you take your awareness too deep within yourself. Normally in that case you open your eyes, you feel the earth beneath you, you begin to stand up, move a little, take your awareness outside – away from those sensations. And then you come back to the practice. The practice should not trigger these. If the practice is triggering these, then it is not the practice you need. Maybe it should be something different, for example chanting a mantra. To start, chant it for a little while. Or maybe just move a little more and not being so still and feeling so much. In other words: You take only small bites.

The problem is:

„Being aware of something also allows previously unconscious experiences to become conscious. If you start noticing your breath and noticing your body, these things might come up.“ – Ganesh Mohan

The point is not to go so far. You do it in smaller doses. You train yourself gradually to feel a little more grounded and let them pass. By taking them in small doses at a time.

Often these kind of things happen because people try to go to deep too fast. They sit in meditation, they allow themselves to be completely absorbed in some of these experiences and then something comes up. Instead: Keep it a little light. Start in a gentle way. And do it through the day. In small doses. Until it gradually becomes more natural for you to do those practices. And you can TRUST those practices to make you feel a little more stable.

It’s a slow process. Mostly we’re all in a hurry. So we tend to do a little too much too quickly. But then we learn, ok, that’s my limit, I don’t go so far. I don’t sit so long. When I get uncomfortable I get up and move, I open my eyes, I take in a few deep breaths, I say a few affirmations in my mind.

This is a learning curve, for each person. For each person it is different.

The skills are actually not complicated, they are simple. But they are not easy. We have to do them until it becomes gradually natural over time.

Do it through the day – what about yoga practice in the office?

What is it about the office that prevents us from doing these practices? We are more stressed maybe. Well that’s why we should do them.


Books by Dr. Ganesh Mohan:

Where Ganesh Mohan teaches:

Svastha Teacher Training (Adrienn participated in Bali) and Svastha Yoga Therapy Training , worldwide.

title photo from: Network Yoga Therapy

This interview was also recently published in german translation on: fuckluckygohappy