How to Calm Emotional Over-Sensitivity With Yoga

Emotion is a good thing.

Being able to feel allows us the capacity to enjoy love and beauty, to feel compassion and to connect with others.

Aaron & I above Tioga Cliff

But too much emotion can be like trying to surf in a hurricane.

I am not a good surfer. Sure I can stand up, but don’t ask me to steer! And, well, you probably should get out of the way when I try to…

None of us “surf” well when we’re overwhelmed, triggered or just can’t stop crying. Sometimes we need these cleansing releases to both heal from past troubles, to recognize patterns of reactivity and also to make room for new, more balanced ways of being.

So please hear me when I say emotion and sensitivity are good.

But so are logic, structure and strong, healthy boundaries. We need the rational and linear side of ourselves to express these traits.


The Brain’s Role In Emotional Response

brainPhysiologically, these two sides of ourselves are centered in the two hemispheres of our brains. The left hemisphere is the one devoted to organization, critical thinking, logic, reason, seeing the individual parts that make up a whole, math and science.

The right hemisphere is the artistic, creative, and emotional half of the brain. It is responsible for imagination, intuition, musicality, spatial awareness and the ability to see interconnection and the big picture.

In a perfect world, both halves of the brain communicate with each other through a membrane called the corpus callosum. If we are balanced, we see the distinct parts, their individual roles, and also how they work together to make up a whole.

We are not born with these skills, but with the potential to develop them.  Adverse environments of neglect, abuse, chronic stress or violence impair this development. Especially if trauma occurred in childhood, brain architecture will be transformed into right-hemisphere dominance.

This means the damaged midline structures of the brain impede communication between the left and the right. But here’s the good news: we can balance our brain hemispheres and our emotional sensitivity at any time in our lives, with a few simple yoga practices.


Crossing the Midline

The best way to bring the right and left sides of the brain into balance is to do what’s called bilateral movement. All this means is anything that crosses the midline of the body can restore communication across the corpus callosum. Any bilateral action can help stabilize emotional oversensitivity, bring the whole brain back into communication with itself and restore a logical and rational view of the present moment.

Seated Twists 

Any version of a twist will work to cross the midline of the body, but this one is pretty simple to do, no matter your size, shape, experience, energy level or emotional state.


  • Stretch your left leg straight
  • Bend your right knee towards your chest, and put your foot flat on the floor near your bum.
  • With your right hand as support on the ground behind your pelvis, inhale and sit up straight and tall.
  • On the exhale, twist to the right and hook your left arm over or around your right knee.
  • Turn your head to the right and gaze over your right shoulder.
  • Hold for about 30 seconds to a minute —the goal is not cranking to your maximum, but about being gentle and even n your breath and movement.
  • Release slowly and practice on the other side.


Alternate Nostril Breathing

Focusing on your exhale will always trigger a relaxation response. So if you find yourself overwhelmed, breathe normally and emphasize that side of your breathing to help yourself calm down.

Alternate nostril breathing is better utilized when you’re not feeling triggered, but want to make inroads towards more balance and harmony in your life.

nadi_shodanaFor the set-up:

Form a pincer with your right hand, placing your ring and pinky fingers together against your left nostril, and your thumb against your right nostril.

The other two fingers can either extend up and rest against your forehead, or curl in towards your palm.

Tuck your chin and lift your chest, and allow your right arm to be as relaxed as possible by your side.

The breathing:

  • Place the tiniest amount of pressure against both nostrils with your fingertips.
  • Breathe through both nostrils evenly, maintaining this pressure for a few breaths.
  • After a full exhalation, block your left nostril and breathe in through your right.
  • Now, close the right with your thumb and breathe out through your left.
  • Breathe back in through the left nostril, until you are full.
  • Block the left, open and breathe out through the right, until you are empty.
  • This completes one cycle —set a timer for a couple of minutes, and when the timer is finished, continue until you’ve completed a cycle (you’ll end with an exhale out the right nostril).
  • Release your hand, put your head in whatever position feels comfortable, and take a few moments to breathe normally, whatever that means now.
  • Lie down and rest for a minute or two when you’re finished with the breathing practice.


Other Exercises

  • Balancing Table pose (alternate arm and leg reaching)
  • Relaxation Nature Sounds with Bilateral Stimulation

  • Butterfly Hug