Let Me See Your Hands In The Air
One of the things in class that gets the most groans of disapproval is any exercise involving holding the arms up. Holding the arms up for 3+ minutes is one of the most challenging aspects of Babacool Yoga. So why do we do it and what are the techniques that will allow you to go the distance?
There are some really great reasons for working with the arms:
1/ Holding the arms up for extended periods of time starts to strengthen the nervous system, helping you to manage stress and be less nervous in tense situations. A person with a strong nervous system can process painful situations faster as they have the strength to allow the situation without avoiding it. Furthermore when the nervous system develops the capacity to hold pain, then you can heal. We have become a society that seeks pleasure and avoids pain – this is not to advocate masochism but life involves good times and tough times – by running from the bad times you are avoiding reality. As they say, a calm sea never produced a skillful sailor. When we hold the arms up for 3+ minutes we put the body under stress and activate that side of the nervous system – however when we lower the arms, we are able to drop into a deeper state of relaxation than previously. It’s not uncommon for the breath to become extremely slow and light. It’s thus a great practice for those with nervous system imbalances and those who find it difficult to relax.
2/ Depending on the angle in which we hold the arms and the hand position, we exert pressure on our glands and direct energy to various organ systems. For example if the arms are held out to the side with the palms up, energy is directed to the throat, thyroid and parathyroid glands. If the arms are held at a sixty degree angle, then it has a strengthening effect on the heart.
3/ We store much psychological, physical and emotional distress within the arms. Holding the arms up, directs healing to the arms and can help to release trapped pain. The shoulders in particular accumulate much stress and trauma over the years as we carry “the weight of the world” on our shoulders. Furthermore the shoulders can act as an insertion point for the lungs, starting a process of healing the past and emotional hurts that we keep buried away.
4/ Arguably the most important aspect of working with challenging arms positions is that it provides us with a wonderful opportunity to work with our minds. Even in short period of time like 3 minutes, the mind can come up with countless reasons why we should be doing something else. As the muscles begin to burn the mind starts to say ”Enough”, “This hurts, I don’t want to do this anymore”. Every time you quiet the mind in these situations and allow yourself to go further, it’s a little victory, a chance to overcome old patterns of behaviour and establish new ones. You are starting to develop the capacity to be calm under pressure and to go that little bit further even in difficult times. Our mind is continually predicting how much energy we need to expend in order to survive and a lot of its predictions are based on your emotional response to what’s going on around you. Learning to remain calm or relatively neutral during times of stress, means less energy expended and this has wonderful knock on effects for your health and well-being.
So the big secret to holding the arms up lies in your ability to maintain a meditative (or neutral) state of mind. Here are some techniques to help you achieve that and to help you the next time you find yourself holding up shaking arms with your mind screaming “Stop”.
1/ Transform your thinking – when your mind starts telling you that you can’t do this, inject something like “I can do this”, “it will pass” or “I have completed something similar before”.
2/ Use a mantra or just count. You’ll be amazed how much quicker the time passes when you focus on a mantra.
3/ Detach from your thoughts – just witness the thoughts as they come and go. Don’t get caught up in them, just let the negative thoughts float away.
4/ Focus the eyes – focusing the eyes towards the point between the eye brows or to the tip of the nose, stills the mind. Like the mind the eyes have a tendency to wander so keep bringing your awareness to your eyes and refocus as necessary.
5/ Remind yourself of the benefits and congratulate yourself continually on how well you’re doing. Remember how wonderful it will feel when you finally get to lower your arms and be still.
6/ Relax – draw the shoulders down the back, lift the chest and stretch into the pose. Use the breath to stay as relaxed as possible.
7/ Don’t stress over time – challenging arm postures can bring about an anxiety over time. Often when I tell the class “just 30 seconds more” I see people relax and their mental attitude changes, like they know they can do 30 seconds easily. Try to stay present from moment to moment with no thought of how long remains.
Want to work with your arms? Try the Meditation to Release Anger:
Sit (either on the floor or in a chair) with a straight spine and tuck the chin in slightly. Extend your arms to the sides, thumbs hold down the ring and little fingers. The index and middle fingers are together and point out to the side, palms face forward. Inhale by sucking air through closed teeth, exhale through the nose. Continue for at least 3 minutes working up to 11 minutes. To end inhale hold and stretch out through the fingers, exhale and repeat twice more. Then relax.