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How Yoga Changes Us

by Nona Jordan

Have you ever noticed how when you get tense or angry, you might tighten your belly or clench your jaw, or your shoulders come up around your ears? These reactions are, at their essence, body memories–habitual ways that our bodies respond to certain stimulus. Especially, I think, when we don’t express our negative emotions, they can get stored and compound our responses in the here and now. (ie; have you ever overreacted to a situation? I believe this is often a result of stored body memory)

About seven years ago, I was taking a wonderful series of online meditation courses through Wildmind. One of the things that the teacher, Bodhipaksa, shared with me was related to how we hold our bodies. I was expressing to him all the stress I was under at work and he, to paraphrase, basically told me to drop my chin when sitting at the computer and feeling stressed.

Well this was nothing short of a miracle. First of all, it worked. I would drop my chin, my neck would lengthen and all of a sudden I wouldn’t be a stressed out mess. Somehow, the simple act of dropping my chin and lengthening my neck allowed me to step back and be more mindful of the choices I was making. I had this total *aha* moment, “This is how Yoga asanas change our lives.” (But it took a Buddhist monk to show me!)

Let me explain. We learn these habitual body responses that “match” up with a neurological pathway that prescribe to us how we are going to respond in any given situation: remember our tight belly or our clenched jaw? By moving our bodies in new ways through consistent asana practice, we give ourselves the opportunity to rewire our brain’s responses. If our belly doesn’t tighten automatically (or we loosen it as soon as it tightens up), all of a sudden, we have shifted our habitual experience just enough to allow for a few moments of space in which to change our mind.

A relaxed belly, a soft belly, a long neck…all of these ways of being in our body are associated with relaxation, spaciousness, and perspective. Just as shallow breathing can bring about a stress response, so too can long, deep, relaxed breathing reverse that stress response. By changing the way we hold our bodies, we give ourselves the opportunity to change our mind. Practicing Yoga, we open and lengthen our bodies and the breath over and over again. Doing this, we are able to get past the layers of body-habit.

As our bodies move and respond in new ways, new neurological pathways are carved in our brains- this is one of the ways that the simple act of practicing asana over a period of time begins to spill out into our daily life. Organically, we find ourselves accessing our own wisdom, being able to step back and choose, which translates into being present and mindful. We find we don’t have to respond in the way we always have- through making space in our bodies, we magically make space for new ways of thinking and responding! We are, fundamentally, transformed.

Is there a way in which you respond physically that you can experiment with changing? Lengthening the neck, relaxing the belly? Uncrossing the arms? Loosening the jaw? Pick one and work with it for a week and notice if it changes how you habitually react.

nonaAs a Martha Beck trained coach, writer, Kripalu yoga teacher, and speaker, Nona helps dynamic women who want less stress and more joy in their lives.

For Nona, yoga and meditation were a catalyst – the experience of being fully in the body combined with feeling the stillness and power of her inner wisdom led her to belief that living a life connected to the wisdom of our
bodies is essential to vibrant health and happiness. For more information about Nona, you can find her at Insight Health Coaching.

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