The other day I lay down on the floor, my favorite napping place. I like to feel the pressure of weight against my body, so I laid a folded-up blanket and two yoga blocks on my belly and chest. I was quickly soothed into dreamland.
This nap-time set up reminded me of an article in Yoga Journal about a teacher who uses a variety of bolsters, blankets and yoga straps to support people who have experienced trauma. The support and containment of the props would allow her clients to deeply relax.
Why does this work? There are many reasons, but I will offer the following:
Our bodies can tighten from both functional use and emotional flow. Fascial and muscular tissues hold our structure together. To varying degrees they contract and expand as we move throughout our day. However, rarely are the tissues in a state of ease, either during activity or rest.
These various tissues also manage the ups and downs of our emotions. For example, if we are not able to fully express distress, often certain areas in the body will tighten to contain it. My lower right rib cage, around the liver, is a bellwether for the amount of stress I am undergoing, pulling into itself during difficult times.
So for a variety of reasons, our tissues are frequently contracting, whether maneuvering leg bones forward to mount the subway stairs or to hold on to the worry of unpaid bills.
This is why when our bodies make contact with an external support–whether it's the floor, a pair of hands or a bolster–it is easier for our tissues to relax and give in to the support. We no longer have to work so much on containing and activating ourselves.
Also, this support gives the message to our bodies that we are not alone and I think there is great comfort in that. The embrace of a friend or the snuggle of a dog can break our feeling of isolation, but even an inanimate yoga block can offer us some form of company.
I recently witnessed the power of physical support when I helped ease two clients into a deep state of rest by holding them. It wasn't necessarily my intention, it just happened naturally. With one client, I sandwiched her pelvis with my hand underneath her sacrum and the other atop her lower belly. I didn't need to do anything but hold her, and she quickly drifted off. With the other client, I held his head, which had been abuzz with a thousand thoughts, and he fell into a timeless, blissful state of sleep.
Try an experiment after your read this. Sometimes when a Gyrotonic client is lying on the bench, I will invite her to feel as if the bench has grown out of the floor to support her body, rather than just telling her to relax on top of the bench. It really does make a difference.
Take a moment now, close your eyes and see how much you can relax your seat onto the chair. Notice if there is change. Now imagine the chair underneath you has arisen to support your body weight. Notice what happens. Does the support feel different? Has your body noticeably relaxed?
This was originally posted November 13th, 2010.