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.

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