Noting the Differences
There is no doubt that yoga poses have different energetic effects on the nervous system. While there are some broad generalizations ~ backbends are said to be energizing, forward bends soothing ~ each person has an individual experience. This is a topic I’ve been paying closer attention to recently.
As such, a couple of this month’s 6-word insights have been observations on the effects of various yoga poses on me: “Double Dips, Open Hips, Mood Flips” and “Backbends often agitate my nervous system.” I also wrote on Christina’s blog how balancing poses agitate me just SLIGHTLY less than backbends. This was after a challenging core and balance sequence that she taught on Wednesday night.
I love discussing these energetic effects with my friend Iyengar Anne. She is very tuned into this idea. I’m not sure if this is more of an Iyengar “thing” or just Anne the Insightful Philosophy Professor “thing”, but either way, she’s willing to go there with me. It’s been through my conversations with her that I’ve realized how unique each person’s reactions truly are! Read Anne’s post on Yoga Energetics!
And Then the Mailman Came
So with all of this mulling around in my head, I ran across the November issue of Yoga Journal in which Kelly McGonigal writes about stress reactions and using yoga to alleviate its effects. She outlines different stress responses noting that one person may get highly agitated, while another goes into an inactive, low-energy funk. Just like our reactions to asana poses, stress reactions are equally individual. In the article, McGonigal describes a stress management technique of yoga therapist Elissa Cobb, and it all started to make sense.
“This practice will help you become aware of what happens in your body and your mind during stress. It can also give you insight into how a yoga practice can help you balance your body’s typical response.”
“Sit on your yoga mat and bring to mind a challenging experience you’ve had, something that triggered a strong stress response in you. As you do this, try to conjure up your reaction in your body and mind. Maybe that means clenching your fists or tensing your neck and shoulders. Whatever it is exaggerate or enhance the response. Don’t try to change it ~ go right into it, and try to amplify it. Notice the thoughts and emotions that go along with the body’s response.”
“After you’ve been with this experience for a few moments, think of a yoga pose that would bring you in to a completely opposite state. Move into the pose. Notice the difference. Observe your thoughts, emotions, and sensations. Stay for as long as you’d like. After you release the pose, come back to a seated posture and take some time to reflect on your experience. Compare how the real response and the recaptured response felt, and notice the freedom you had to transform the first.”
Because we each have a unique reaction to stress, we will also find different poses soothing in those situations. Some people need the energy and lift that a backbending practice can infuse. Others (like me) find solace and comfort in the deep forward bends that bring us down from an agitated state. When we understand what we need, we can practice our own yoga therapy.
To be successful with this, you have to be cognizant of two things:
- What is your typical stress reaction and pattern? Do you get worked up by stress or overwhelmingly lethargic?
- Which poses (for YOU) create the necessary effect to counter your response?
Armed with this information, we can alleviate our own suffering. Hey, this is all sounding kind of Anusara-ish: When we know the SELF, BLISS follows!