Whenever you walk into a yoga studio or group meditation center, you might sense certain vibes, either negative, positive, or both. You might not be able to pinpoint who specifically is sending out these charged emotions; the people around you emitting the energy may not be aware of what they’re giving off (yourself included). But you can feel it. We all can. You don’t have to be extra intuitive or super sensitive to experience its effects.
“When you enter a space, you’re stepping into preexisting energy,” says Tris Thorp, a certified Vedic master educator, who has worked with Deepak Chopra for 10 years. “That energy, good or bad, then mixes with your own energy and may trigger a chemical response in your body, launching a series of thoughts, emotions, and responses. You then start creating a narrative regardless if it’s true or not,” she explains. One report backs up Thorp’s theory: According to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Columbia Business School researchers found that many Americans believe that emotions can affect a physical environment, leaving behind a so-called “emotional residue” that may influence the moods and behaviors of those who come in contact with it.
Take your yoga class, for example. Sometimes when you’re having an off night, which happens to all of us, you may notice that your peers are struggling, too. You might fall out of a pose and set off a domino effect of three or four others around you losing their balance and concentration as well. The yoga teacher might even take note out loud how the focus isn’t there that evening. Or vice versa, you might all find that you’re collectively crushing it in class and holding challenging postures for longer than ever. Good or bad ju-ju, there’s always something you can learn from these circumstances.
“Anyone or anything that triggers you on any level is providing you an opportunity to address accumulated emotional stress that may have been buried deep within. It’s your chance to examine what this experience is ‘Showing me about me’,” advises Thorp, who specializes in meditation and emotional healing. So don’t just dismiss someone’s grumpiness by saying (or thinking) ‘I don’t want to be around your bad energy.’ Instead take a moment to explore your own thoughts and feelings that may come up as a result. “Anytime there’s growth and personal development, it’s usually more uncomfortable in the beginning, but that can lead to an actual breakthrough,” she says.
It’s not always obvious that others’ energy is affecting your own. It starts on a subconscious level, Thorp says. Self-awareness is the first step to not letting a foreign sensation consume you. If you notice that your mood has shifted from the moment you started your practice, avoid diving immediately into judgment mode about anyone in the class. “You have no idea what the people around you are going through. It could be that someone’s husband had just left them that day and is in tremendous pain. If you were to walk into that same room another day, it would feel totally different,” says Thorp. Rather than play the blame game or write off the class entirely, do this: “Stop, take a deep breath and observe,” she says. “Notice any imagery that comes to mind as a result of the feelings and try to identify or describe what kind of thoughts it is bringing up. Having this awareness will allow you to proceed with compassion, empathy, kindness, and understanding for yourself and others around you.”
Related: The Trouble with Meditating Together
After you’ve completed an internal assessment of your external environment, you may still not want to be there. And that’s OK! At that point, you have two choices: 1) get on your mat and focus inward, or 2) smile, gather your things, and quietly walk out the door. Most yoga teachers will encourage you to do the former, of course. “Deepak teaches that no one else can ruin your day. When you move through life with an attitude that other people have the capacity to upset your entire experience, then you’re giving away your power,” Thorp says. At the end of the day, however, you need to trust your gut instinct above all else. If you walk into a studio and don’t feel like you’ve found your tribe, then keep looking.