relax your neck

Bridge Pose, or Setu Banda Sarvāngāsana 

This is one of the first poses I learned when I started practicing yoga in 2012. All āsanas (postures)are essentially mental exercises through a physical experience. But Bridge Pose is particularly effective at training our minds to compartmentalize effort or discomfort, and release or relaxation. As a newcomer to yoga, and someone in desperate need of reconnecting to her body, this pose immediately began shifting me at a cellular level.  

Here’s how it goes.  

Lay on your back, either on a mat or rug. Bend your knees to place your feet flat on the ground at hips-width distance from each other and as close to your rear as possible.  

Place your arms by your sides, palms up, as if you were resting, like in Śavāsana (Corpse Pose). Oh, right – start breathing deeply, inflating your belly on each inhale and deflate it on the exhales.  

On your next inhale, lift your hips up only, so your butt comes off the ground. Make your adjustments. It’s okay to maneuver once you’re in the pose; we don’t need to land perfectly every time, with anything. If you feel any discomfort in your lumbar area, lower your level a bit. Stack your knees directly over your ankles, and aim your feet forward so they are perpendicular to your shins. Lift your toes to press the soles of your feet into the surface beneath you, and now place them back down.  

Keep breathing deeply, with focus, and eyes gently closed, if possible. Engage your gluteal muscles, the backs of your legs, and thighs. The entire lower half of your body should be engaged to support your lower back. Now, with several long, deep breaths, completely disengage your upper body. Heavy your arms and upper back as if they were weighted. Release your shoulders away from your ears. Most importantly, relax your neck. Turn your head gently from side to side to facilitate this.   

Hold this posture for as long as you can. If you feel any severe discomfort or pain, exit the pose. But if what you feel is your muscles working, shaking even, continue to deepen your breathing. Focus on working your legs, but relaxing your neck and shoulders.  

Here you are, experiencing something stressful while also remaining calm and clear-headed. Now think about how difficult this is to do in real life.  

Since I started practicing yoga almost 9 years ago, yoga has helped me to train my mind to pause before reacting to emotional triggers. I have more muscles than I did prior for holding that space between stimulus and response. But I still miss the mark a lot of the time. It takes practice.  

Trauma, especially repeated trauma, continuously sabotages our ability to have embodied experiences. Breathing gets us present in our bodies. It’s like being tethered when the wind picks up, versus not. Being connected to our bodies can also feel terribly frightening. Yoga has helped me with that, too. This body I’m in has shaped my human experiences, but it is not who I really am.  

I am not a psychologist or well-versed in brain science by any means. This has just been my experience with yoga as a person who has also experienced scary things. And writing is another approach I’m taking to not living outside of my body and mind, but rather being fully aware of what triggers me and why, so I can navigate it. If I don’t write, I’m afraid it will all get stuck in there. I won’t experience as much joy, I won’t be the best partner I could be, or friend or sister or daughter. I won’t be the best mother, when I become a mother one day. It’s worth saying that yoga reminds us that we are not in control of outcomes; but it does encourage us to put in the effort to continuously transform ourselves for the better.  

I’ve decided the best thing I can do for my future child is reign myself in and love the mess I learn to control, through movement, breathwork, and words. I’m finding the making-sense-through-language the most challenging posture these days. Whenever I sit down to type, I always need a comforting hot beverage.                                                 

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