With what we’ve all been going through these past weeks, I don’t think I need to do much to convince you of how the state of your thoughts can have a huge impact on your body and the way you feel. One of the reasons why yoga is such a powerful practice is that it consumes your attention, changing your physical experience, challenging you to think differently, and narrowing your focus, bringing it back repeatedly to the experience of your body in the poses.
This important aspect of the practice can be easily extracted from the physical performance of yoga poses in what I’ve thought of for years as a “quiet practice,” where you take all that attention and clarity of thought and apply it to simple experiences such as lying down, breathing, sitting, or simply standing, without any of the exertion of yoga. In the quiet practice, you have the opportunity to observe how muscles, joints, and a nervous system respond to dynamic and expansive thought processes.
Imagine, for example, if you took the same awareness and intention you might apply to your shoulders in Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog), and you applied them when lying down at rest, or in a simple movement such as raising an arm up to the ceiling. It’s an attention to detail you would never give to reaching up to get something from a high shelf, but a few moments’ practice in this way can begin to repattern your nervous system and the way you use your arm at a profound level.
Try it for yourself in this short movement study:
Simple Arm Release
- Release tension in your neck and shoulders
- Calm and focus your mind to relieve stress
- Improve organization in your neck, shoulders, and back when sitting or standing
Stage 1: Arrive
- Recline in the semi-supine position of Constructive Rest, with your knees bent, your feet flat on the floor, and a lift under your head so that your neck muscles can soften.
- Notice the quality of your thoughts. Are they agitated or lethargic, focused or distracted?
- Notice the amount of tension in your body, and especially in your neck and shoulders.
Stage 2: Release
- Spend some time allowing all the muscles of your body to do less as you allow yourself to be supported by the floor.
- Allow your neck to release so your head can ease away from the top of your spine, and the weight of your head can sett;e back into its support,
- Allow your whole back to lengthen and widen across the floor.
Stage 4: Organize
- Raise your arm up toward the ceiling once or twice to become familiar with the quality of the movement. What moves first when you lift your arm up? Where does the power for the movement come from?
- Think about the width of your shoulders.
- Allow your chest, your back, and the sides of your body to soften and release their grip on your shoulders and arms.
- Imagine your arms releasing away from your body and settling back into the floor.
- In your mind’s eye, rehearse raising your arm up two or three times. Think about leading with your fingertips and allowing your shoulder to stay wide as you raise your arm.
- Raise your arm and bring it down again and notice how the quality of your movement might have changed.
- Repeat with your other arm.
Stage 5: Integrate
- Taking your time, come up off the floor and sit in a chair.
- Notice the quality of your thoughts having taken this short time to be with yourself and think about your shoulders and arms.
- Notice the quality of your body, and especially your neck and shoulders.
- Perform a simple action—perhaps typing or writing, or picking something up.
- Notice how the quality of the action might be different from the way you have done it before.
This mode of quiet practice is the next level of yoga. It will help you bring the benefits you get from yoga to all other aspects of your life so that everything you do can give you the same sense of freedom.
I you try the practice, let me know how it went, either via email or before/after one of my classes this week!