At the beginning of my group hatha yoga classes, I ask my students how they are feeling and what they would like to do. Pretty much every time, most hands are drawn like magnets to their respective necks and shoulders, and relieving tension there is always at the top of the list of things to work on during the session.
It’s so common for people to have neck and shoulder pain in our culture that many people have no memory of ever feeling free in that part of their body. The habitual misuse of the neck continues into asana practice, even amongst yoga teachers.
Without a doubt, a physical misalignment of the head is the most likely culprit of the pain and stiffness, but the true source of the problem is an over-use of the mind at the expense of the heart.
The physical body is referred to as anna maya kosha, or the “food layer” of our being, because it is the visible result of everything we ingest – from the food we eat to our emotional and psychological experiences throughout life.
Our bodies are like a hologram, and the physical appearance is supported by the energy body, called prana maya kosha in this ancient model. The prana maya kosha is affected by the mano maya kosha, or mental/emotional layer of being, and when there is an imbalance here, it will show up in our energetic presence and our physical appearance.
The heart is the seat of our inner wisdom, our capacity to know what is right for us, and what is important for life. The heart feels instinctively, then the intellect translates this into an emotion which generates new thoughts. Scientists say an emotion lasts 90 seconds on average before shifting into a new one, so anything longer than that is due to over-thinking and mulling over the past, however recent that past might be!
When the head leads the heart, we can see this physically manifested in the posture. Driven by anxiety, fear, jealousy, willfulness and competitiveness, the head will jut forward of the body, whether it is to meet a work deadline, beat the traffic, or scan through Facebook updates. Notice how this makes you feel, and come back home to yourself, bringing the head with you.
We can read the emotions of a body by its imprinted shape, which is held by the fascia that shape and direct every muscle in your body and are highly emotionally responsive.
Our posture improves when we can open up to our emotions and experience them without clinging to them. By expressing emotions in a healthy way, letting them run their course, and then moving on, our bodies can relax and change shape. When our emotional, psychological and physical experience of life are aligned, the body will be aligned in the best way possible for each individual.
I invite you to put this into practice in your daily life, as well as in your asana practice. Leave space for your neck and shoulders to relax, align the head over your shoulders and always allow the neck to be a graceful and natural extension of your back. Notice if emotions like shame, guilt, sadness or anger well up in trying to keep an open and upright posture, and allow them their place to be processed and released. It’s old news.
Observe how you use your head and your devices – phones, laptops, games, vehicles – and be especially aware of the attitude with which you use these things. To what extent is your thinking overriding your instinctive, intuitive self? To what extent are you being run by over-thinking and challenging emotions that are actually physically ruining your body, and – inevitably – your heart and spirit as well.
Our heart is our most powerful centre – physically and metaphysically – and should lead the way in everything we do. When you find your best alignment, you will carry with you a sense of dignity and well-being that are your birthright. You will rediscover the youthful lightness of being and joy that were there before you started to believe the admonitions and judgements of the adults in your world, and you will be at home wherever you are.
With love and light,