3 Places We "Store" Emotion in the Body (and How to Release It All)

I didn't exactly anticipate erupting into tears during a crowded, mid-weekend yoga class a couple of years ago. To be clear, I was in a great mood when I unfurled my mat, opting to make the most of a very relaxing Saturday afternoon with my favorite kind of workout. But then, in Pigeon Pose, it happened: My left hip joint popped into place with a distinct thud that I won't soon forget, and suddenly, my eyes began swimming—not with pain or even discomfort, but some kind of nameless but nonetheless overwhelming emotion.

It wasn't the first time I had cried in yoga, which has served as a consistent place of comfort and refuge during troubled moments in my life. But I had never before experienced this kind of spontaneous emotion facilitated exclusively by, it would seem, physical movement. That notion had seemed rather woo-woo to me—yoga speak that didn't quite resonate. It was only after this particular experience piqued my interest that I learned just how closely our physical and emotional bodies are intertwined—a mind-body connection that scientists have explored extensively. Soon, I began to observe the ways my emotions were manifesting beyond the chatter of my mind.

My jaw, I realized, was particularly painful during more chaotic times at work. A tension headache became a good indicator that I was repressing sadness or anger. Our bodies are highly intelligent; they do a fantastic job of telling us when we're avoiding something. It's just up to us to pay attention.

"We can all recall a time when we got sick, fell ill, or experienced bodily discomfort as a result of stress," says Lauren Eckstrom, yoga instructor and executive director of Inner Dimension Media. She emphasizes that the reverse is also true. "Can you remember a time when you were restricted from doing something you love because of physical tension? For example, imagine you love to go hiking but were prevented from going outdoors because of a migraine. These are reminders that physical tension can add to our mental distress and cause us emotional pain and suffering."