The trauma absorbed and stored within the body can be associated with severe life threatening or violent incidents, but also more commonly is associated with anything that causes stress such as work conditions, family expectations, falls or physical injuries to the body. Yoga poses can help to unlock this tension and help manage the symptoms of trauma.

1. The Hips

Agnistambhasana (Fire log pose)

We often hold physical and emotional tension in our hips and tend to tighten in these muscles when we feel threatened. The adrenaline fueled state of our increasingly busy lives can become a default mode that ultimately leads to fatigue and exhaustion. Fire log pose provides an intense stretch to the outer hips, particularly the piriformis muscle, which is a major culprit in sciatica.

 

step by step instructions:

  1. Starting in a cross legged sitting position with your right shin in front. Rock forward onto your sitting bones and lengthen the crown of your head to the sky
  2. Bring your right foot and ankle to rest on top of your left knee, drawing your shins parallel with each other
  3. You should feel a deep stretch in the outer hips.
  4. Hold for 5 breaths and then repeat with the other leg in front.

fire log pose

 

2. The Diaphragm

Tadagasana (Pond Pose)

Panic attacks and anxiety can result in tension forming in the diaphragm and can disrupt the normal function of this important skeletal muscle. Stretching out the body in Pond Pose lengthens the abdominal cavity and opens the chest so that the diaphragm can move easily. When the breath is free, the nervous system is calm and we feel less desperation.

 

Step by step instructions

  1. Lie on your back, with your arms stretched over head and ankles together
  2. Spiral your inner thighs down to the mat as you draw your pubic bone up towards your belly button
  3. Widen through the back ribs and soften through the front ribs
  4. Draw your shoulder blades down your back as you spread across your collar bones.
  5. As you breath in allow your side ribs to expand and your belly to rise up.
  6. As you breath out, allow the ribs and belly to gently return to their resting position
  7. Continue for 5 breaths

pond pose

3. The Throat

Upward-Facing Dog Pose (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)

Restriction in the throat is a common symptom of anxiety and is often described as a ‘lump in the throat’. We often feel this locking sensation when we’re holding back from something that needs to be said. Upward facing dog moves clearing energy from the Earth into the throat through the power of the legs and the arc of the spine, flushing out those blockages.

 

Step by step instructions:

  1. Place your hands under your shoulders and ground down firmly through your hands, spreading your palms and fingers wide.
  2. With your feet hip width apart press the tops of the feet into your mat
  3. Engage the quadriceps and the belly as you lift the knees and hips
  4. Open the chest as you spread the collar bones wide
  5. Send energy down from your shoulders through your palms as you push away from the floor and lift the crown of your head up and back and open up the space at the front of your throat.

Up dog

4. The Jaw

Simhasana (Lion Pose)

The jaw joint (TMJ), is very strong and tends to lock when we try to hold back emotions. By opening the mouth wide and sticking your tongue out to its full extension while exhaling in Lion Pose, the jaw opens completely, which helps to release the tension in the jaw. It also stimulates the platysma, a thin rectangular shaped muscle at the front of the throat and keeps it strong as you age.

 

Step by step instructions:

  1. kneeling with your palms resting on the tops of your knees
  2. Inhale as you tip your hips forward and lengthen your spine
  3. Open your mouth as wide as your can and lift your gaze as you exhale through your mouth like a lions roar

Lions pose

5. The Hamstrings

Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Forward Bend)

We all know what it’s like to ‘run away’ from feelings that make us uncomfortable. The hamstrings are a large muscle group essential to allow us to run and hence play an important part in our fight or flight mechanism. When we are stressed the sympathetic nervous system releases hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol to give the body a burst of energy, increasing blood flow to the big muscle groups like the hamstrings. When the perceived threat is gone, the body systems are designed to return to normal function via a relaxation response. In times of chronic stress and also grief this often doesn’t happen causing damage to the muscles and body.  Wide-legged forward bend releases tension in the hamstrings and helps to restore healthy muscle morphology.

 

Step by step instructions:

  1. Come to a wide legged stance with your feet parallel with the short edge of your mat or turned in slightly.
  2. Bring your hands to your hips, inhale and open your chest towards the sky,
  3. Exhale, fold forwards tipping from the hip joints.
  4. Reach to your toes and grip your big toe with your index and middle fingers (peace fingers).
  5. Spiral the inner thighs backwards as you lift the pubic bone back and up.
  6. Let the back of the neck relax as you drop the crown of the head towrads the floor.
  7. Gently bring more weight into the balls of your feet and try to straighten the knees.
  8. Hold for 5 breaths then bring your hands to your hips, slightly bend your knees and come up with a flat back.

prasaritta

 

6.  Shoulders

Uttana Shishosana (Extended Puppy Pose)

Feeling like you are ‘taking the weight of the world on your shoulders’ at times can make the shoulders tense up and feel like concrete. Extended Puppy pose is a cross between child’s pose and downward facing dog. It lengthens and releases tension in the big latissimus dorsi and trapezius muscles, helping to restore a balanced posture and calm the mind.

 

Step by step instructions:

  1. Kneel with your knees hip width apart and stacked under your hips.
  2. Reach your arms forward so that your elbows and armpits descend towards the floor.
  3. Widen the collar bones and separate the shoulder blades away from each other.
  4. Let the forehead come to rest on the floor or onto a block.
  5. Hold for 5 breaths

puppy

 

7. The Neck

Salamba Sirsasana (Headstand)

The human head weighs an average of kg 8–10 pounds, so holding it up all day long is a heavy feat for the neck muscles. This is especially so, if we protrude our chin forward when we sit in front of a computer screen. Our neck muscles also become excessively strained when we shallow breathe high in our chest, as is the case when we are stressed or anxious. In headstand, we’re forced to line up the head with the body, which improves the alignment of the whole body and strengthens the stability muscles of the neck. Turning yourself upside down also gives you a new perspective. Since you must stay focused and present when you are in an inversion such as headstand, you can’t worry about the future or dwell in the past.

 

Step by step instructions:

  1. Kneel on the floor with your arms resting on the floor in front grabbing opposite elbows.
  2. Keep the elbows in place and bring the hands in front to make a fist.
  3. Open the plams and bring the crown of the head the floor, cupping the back of the head inot the seat made by your palms.
  4. Curls your toes under and lift your hips high into a modified dolphin pose.
  5. Start to walk your feet in towards your hands so that your hips stack up over your shoulers
  6. If you feet begin to lift off the floor, draw in through your belly and activate your core as you elevate the feet towards the sky.
  7. If your feet don’t start to lift easily from the floor, hold the modified dolphin pose to build strength in the neck and shoulders.
  8. Hold for 10 breaths and then come down slowly with bent knees.

headstand

Written by: Cathy Aganoff

Cathy is an experienced physiotherapist and passionate yoga teacher. She founded TriBalance Health + Wellness to help her clients cultivate positive change and transformation.