In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is listen with our ears and our hearts.Fred Rogers
Why did you start yoga? Was it to learn cool poses like headstand or crow? Was it to improve your flexibility to do the splits or a backbend? Maybe you came because you heard it was good for helping with weight loss, sleep, headaches, migraines, or a whole multitude of other things? Everyone comes to yoga for different and often very personal reasons, but one thing many practitioners have in common is that yoga helps them to manage the daily stresses of life.
When we are living under an increasing amount of stress, or body goes into survival mode. Our fight/flight/freeze response kicks in and our senses go onto high alert. The body becomes a highly efficient energy producing machine, ready to run for our lives or fight off that sabre-toothed tiger. But when the stressful even has passed, we don’t allow adequate time to return to a state of calm and ease. Our nervous system becomes so used to the constant red alert that it finds it more challenging to switch back to feeling safe.
This is where yoga comes in, through our yoga practice we are actively stressing the body. Particularly in yin yoga where we are remaining in yoga poses for an extended period of time. We deliberately place ourselves into uncomfortable positions to create a reaction within the body, but also within the mind. Yoga is as much about what you take off your mat as it is about what you do on it. We are cultivating an inner strength of mind as well as working on the physicality of our yoga.
As we stay in a yin yoga pose for up to 5-minutes we learn to sit with the uncomfortable, find our breath and use whatever props we wish to support ourselves. The option is always there to leave the pose sooner, we are always in complete control. The same is true off the mat, we can the discomfort from our yin practice and use it to remain in difficult situations, finding our breath and using whatever methods we need to support ourselves.
This could be a conversation with our boss, a confrontation with a colleague or even walking into a retirement party on your own. These are all situations which could bring up a stress response, but we have a choice – to follow through on them or to walk away.
While teaching us lessons to take off our mat and into the ‘real world,’ yin yoga also helps us to manage the various symptoms of stress within the body. Holding the poses for longer allows us to observe the body in a state of stress, which we can then contrast with the rebound pose we take after coming out of the shape. The slowness of this practice can be an ideal antidote to a hectic daily schedule, as we can focus on our breath, remaining in the pose and finding that stillness we’ve not experienced all day.
Putting on the 5-Element Theory hat, stress is linked with the wood element and the season of spring. This may mean that we notice our stressful symptoms more at this time of year, but it also means we have the tools to address them. For many people headaches are a common companion of stress and can be a great excuse to opt out of our yoga practice – but wait! Using a bit of our meridian knowledge we can use a couple of yin yoga poses to stimulate the chi in the Liver and Gall Bladder meridians – both of which move over the head.
A side bend like Bananasana to help restore the free flow of chi along the Gall Bladder meridian, which starts at the outer corner of the eye before moving over the temples and down the back of the neck. This pose is a fantastic way to help release a build up of tension within the shoulders too, helping to feel a little looser. With the Liver meridian you could go for an inversion such as Headstand, but as we’re talking yin let’s keep it there. And the good news is that Bananasana also targets the Liver meridian as it travels up the inner seams of the legs and along the front of the torso.
This 10-minute Yin Yoga for Headaches video uses poses which stimulate the side of the body and the temples to help restore the flow of chi along the side of the body, and working to ease a headache.