We all hold tension in our bodies, in different places and in different ways.
But becoming aware of, and noticing where we hold tension, provides us with an opportunity to recognise the early signs of ‘dis-ease’. Just like the canary in the coal mine, tension in the body, is an early detector that something is out of balance.
What tends to happen for most of us is we either don’t notice, or we ignore these early warning signs. Like the canary in the coal mine, if we don’t listen, things can get ugly. It’s often not until things do ‘get ugly’; when the body starts to break down, that we decide to take action. We might go to the doctor, the chiropractor, acupuncturist, have a massage or even start attending a yoga class! There is nothing wrong with these approaches, they are very beneficial and often very successful at alleviating the symptoms.
From a yogic perspective, the true source of tension in the physical body is not because of the physical activities we engage in but because of the way we feel, the way we think, our thoughts, our beliefs, our perceptions. What that means is “dis-ease” in the mind, from a yogic viewpoint, is the precursor to disease in the body, and a very early warning sign of this, is tension.
This concept is not new, it has been around for 1000’s of years as part of Yogic philosophy and eastern medicine practices and then in more recent times, in the 70’s with Louise Hay’s book. But historically, this concept has mostly been categorised into the spiritual realm. For instance you wouldn’t find ‘Heal your body - the mental causes for physical illness’ by Louise Hay in the health or medical section of any book store - it’s tucked away in the spiritual, woo woo section.
But, now this concept is starting to gain more western, more mainstream attention and is currently one of the most widely researched topics. The books that are being written about this topic are no longer delegated to the woo woo section of a book store, but are now front and centre New York Times best sellers. Dr Joe Dispenser, Bessel Van Der Kolk and Dr Gabor Matè are just a few of the world-renowned doctors and psychiatrists leading the change in the way in which we perceive and therefore manage our health. What they speak of is the obvious connection between an individual’s beliefs, perceptions and the types of illnesses that they manifest; how an individual’s beliefs and perceptions affect their behaviour and lead to specific diseases.
So signs of tension in our bodies offer us an opportunity to ask some questions. What is out of balance? What is out of balance on a physical level; too much food, alcohol, sleep, work, too much taking care of others and not enough of yourself. And then asking the question, where is that coming from on an emotional level; what are your overwhelming emotions, thoughts and beliefs about yourself.
In yoga we utilise the breath and movement of the body to identify where we hold tension in our bodies and practice ways of working through that tension. So through yoga and various other practices and approaches, we can relieve tension in our bodies, however the first step to dissolving tension, is to get clear about what is out of balance.
Yoga teaches us how to use the tension in our bodies as a tool to guide us into those areas that we need to work on most. Everything can be solved by understanding yourself and Yoga offers us the tools to do that. Yoga teaches us that we don’t need to wait until the end of the working day to relax, we don’t need to wait for that glass of wine to ‘relieve’ the tension, or the weekend to ‘unwind’ or the twice-yearly holiday to ‘get away from it all’. We can, in every moment of the day, if we are aware, use techniques such as breathing, to relax and relieve tension in the body.
If we learn to recognise those sensations in our bodies when they occur, in the moment, we get the opportunity to let it go, to release and perhaps prevent things from ‘getting ugly’.
Marg Burton - Karma Yoga