pain and tension

Techniques to help you to reduce tension in your body – Yoga

Tension ballIn an earlier blog, I wrote about how we can Focus on tension to tell us more about why we’re feeling it just there.

Yoga is well-known as a great tool for helping us to relieve tension. Here I am going to look at how Yoga can help us, and how it can work well with Focusing.

Where do you feel tension?

Is it in your back, your shoulders, your gut, your head? We all feel tension at times. Sometimes it’s in a familiar place, and sometimes it takes us unawares, or we don’t recognise a pain as tension, and think it’s something else.

We learn ways to cope: painkillers, exercise, Yoga, meditation, relaxation, massage. These are all valuable and we all need to find a way to release tensions, otherwise they can cause more problems. Indeed in my Yoga classes are many who come with the prime aim to relax and release tension.

How can Yoga help?

Yoga helps in the first place by helping us to be aware of our bodies. So often we don’t pay attention to what our body is doing – how we are sitting, standing or lying. Of course, we can’t be noticing it all the time, but the awareness we learn in a yoga class spills into our everyday life, so that if we are sitting or standing with poor alignment, we know we are doing it, and we know how to do it differently to minimise postural problems.

There are times when we want to slouch in a chair, or lean against something with our weight mostly on one leg, or sit with one leg tucked underneath. If we have become aware of how to sit or stand with a healthy alignment, then this is not a problem – our body can adapt, and we have the body awareness and strength to instinctively find a good position when we need it.

It’s when we’re unaware of good alignment, and habitually choose posture that does not serve our bodies well that can cause problems. Tension can build up and become evident in these places.

Tension or pain can be the result of poor body alignment and awareness, and it can be because of problems in our lives, and we unconsciously choose to store those tensions somewhere in our body.

A Yoga teacher will normally invite a student to notice if s/he habitually holds one shoulder higher than the other; or if the pelvis is tilted forwards, backwards or to one side – and other areas that we may have become accustomed to holding awkwardly for many reasons. Then all of the asanas (Yoga postures) increase this awareness, and help to bring alignment to the body, as well as strength and all the other benefits of yoga.

Listen to your body

Most Yoga teachers will invite their students to listen to their bodies: this is such an important aspect of Yoga. In order to avoid injury, we need to differentiate between a good stretch and pain in the body. For beginners this can be difficult. If a Yoga student has practised other forms of exercise, they might have been exhorted to stretch themselves further or hold postures for longer than they might be comfortable with. We don’t do this in Yoga. And sometimes when we begin, it’s hard to know the difference between a strong stretch and pain.

The difference between a strong stretch and pain

To help us recognise the difference, we can pay attention to the quality of the breath. Our breath can tell us if we are relaxed in a posture, if we are working energetically, or if we are straining.

Virabha 3 3

  •  An even, calm breath, where is it easily comfortable to deepen your breathing, is the aim.
  • An uneven, ragged breath, or one which is difficult to control, is a symptom of holding a posture in strain.

Victor Frankl said:

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

A strong stretch might take you beyond what you thought you were capable of, and you might feel the after effects for a day or so. But then the body recovers, and you might notice in your next practice that some postures come easier – and not just those where you stretched previously.

Pain is a danger signal, and it means you need to stop. You might feel something suddenly “go” in your body, or the after-effects don’t disappear after a day or two. Then you have overdone it.

It takes a while for those new to Yoga to notice the difference between the strong stretch and pain, and I always advise caution, until you get used to different way that Yoga works on your body.

And then what?

So you are getting to know the postures, or are very familiar with them.  You can practise Triangle, or Downward Dog, or Camel without strain, and you can breath easily and gently and don’t overdo it.  You leave the Yoga mat feeling uplifted, re-energised, calmer about – everything.  Brilliant!  What else is there?

And here is where I have found Focusing has enriched my enjoyment of Yoga over and over.  For example, in a recent Yoga session, when I Focused as I practised, I noticed a ‘something’ quite high in my back, just to the left of my right shoulder-blade.  This something started as a patch of white space – not much in that, you might say!  This white space changed very gradually over the period of my practise, and by the time I was in Savasana (relaxation) it had turned into an image which reassured and comforted me, and felt like a glimpse into the future.  There was an interdependence between the Yoga practice and Focusing – one integrated with the other – helping me choose which posture to practise next, and helping me make choices in my life too.

I would love to hear your thoughts on all of this, and you can comment below, contact me here, or sign up for my newsletter here.

I offer Focusing 1:1 and in small groups – face-to-face and by Skype.

Techniques to help you reduce tension in your body – Focusing

Tension word cloudWe all have tension in our bodies from time to time. Some of us carry tension most of the time, so that we may even accept it as part of who we are.

And we often use techniques to reduce the tension, without addressing the causes. So we exercise, practise yoga, have a massage, practise relaxation therapy, watch TV – and this is all great, and can work very well.

Sometimes we know or guess what is causing the tension. It could be long periods driving, or sitting at a computer, work or relationship difficulties, or a myriad of other things. And sometimes we know that these things might be causing tension and that there might be something else as well – something that we can’t quite put into words.

I think it can help if we can accept that the tension may be trying to help us, to tell us something.

To look at this in a Focusing way, I suggest that you settle yourself comfortably. If you look here, I have written a short script which might help you to bring yourself into the present moment, and bring awareness to your body, and there is an audio file as well to help you do this without having to read the script.

Now bring your awareness to the part where you perceive the tension – it might be your shoulders, your back, your jaw, your abdomen – or anywhere. Stay here for a while and be curious about this place. Is there a word, an image, a metaphor, or maybe a colour that describes what you’re feeling here? Test out, in your mind, anything that comes to you, to see if it really ‘gets’ it. If you are Focusing with a companion, see if it feels right to say this aloud. As your companion says it back to you, check if the word, phrase, etc, still fits.

Then if it feels right, you might ask your body if there is another part that is linked with this tense part. It might be that this is is a part that wants to be heard. It’s not always immediately obvious, so it’s worth spending some time here, being curious about why this part of your body has a connection with the tension.

Be kind to yourself, and patient – felt senses (for this is what they’re called) don’t always come straightaway. Sometimes they do and we sense connections quite quickly, and it can feel like – ‘Well that’s so obvious why didn’t I realise before?’! And sometimes we might need to just stay with it while the sense forms. When this word, picture, phrase is right, the whole felt sense stirs and eases slightly – a sort of ‘Ah, yes, that’s it’ feeling. It sometimes is a sort of ‘remembering something that you thought you’d forgotten’ feeling.

It’s good to stay with this for a while. It may change, and you may become to be aware of the link between ‘it’ and the tension.

Sometimes it feels right to lay your hand on this place; or there might be an emotional quality about it. You might choose to ask your body to show you how it would feel if everything is alright. If it feels right, you might ask this part of you what it needs.

Whatever comes, be curious about it. Take time to get to know more about it – even say ‘hello’ to it – it will often change.

And be curious about the changes too. Keep checking how it feels in your body, and take time – sometimes these parts of us show themselves slowly.

After a while, you might feel that the time is right to stop. Do check within you to see if your body wants to make you aware of anything else before you end, and then give yourself a few minutes to get used to being in the everyday world again.

Recently, the person who was Focusing with me had tension and discomfort and it was preventing her from noticing much else in her body, and she was finding it difficult to settle into Focusing. I suggested that she Focus on this tension and discomfort.

She could feel the discomfort, describe it and where it was, and then not much else. It was only when she said ‘hello’ to it, that it began to change. This proved a turning point in her Focusing session, and other things arose that she had not realised were linked until then.

When you learn Focusing, you are re-learning something we have all had within us, and many of us have forgotten. For some this re-learning comes quickly, and for others it takes a little longer – and that’s okay.

I would love to hear your thoughts on all of this, and you can comment below, contact me here, or sign up for my newsletter here.

I offer Focusing 1:1 and in small groups – face-to-face and by Skype.


The flow of life within us

P1010178Many of us will have experience of Focusing, without ever having given it any thought.  We often know that something feels right, and something else doesn’t.  

Shall I go and see this film / take this job / go to that Greek island for my holiday?  And we often get a strong feeling of what feels right or not.

And sometimes we hear ourselves saying something like

A part of me doesn’t want to do something.

Many of us use these phrases in our everyday lives, without even noticing.  I know I used to.  And they are both phrases that Focusers use a lot.  The difference with Focusing is that we pay more attention to these feelings.  We might say to ourselves:

This part of me that doesn’t want to do this something – where is it in my body?  Can I describe it?  Can I sense where exactly it is?  Does it have an image associated with it, or an emotion, a colour?  Or does a metaphor come to mind?”

And then we wait for a while, as Fiona Parr says “for the dust to settle, so we can see it more clearly, like sediment settling in a glass”.   And the image, or feeling often changes.  So we stay with it, noticing how it changes, and we might find we settle more deeply into this awareness, and things often change, without any effort or trying from us.  We reconnect with the whole of the issue.  And sometimes things continue to unfold over the next few days and weeks.

Before I learned Focusing I would notice these voices within me. and wouldn’t know how to go further.  My excellent teacher, Kay Hoffmann, puts it like this:

We are finding our way home to the solid ground of what is true for us in the moment; thereby reconnecting with the flow of life within us”


We can choose how to respond


Condor at Colca Canyon 2Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Viktor  Frankl