'Carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders' is one of my favourite sayings because it is EXACTLY what we do. When we are stressed out or worried, our shoulders seem to automatically tense as if we are trying to hold something up. It's no secret! The problem is, we walk around in this physical state for so long that it begins to feel normal and we forget what it's like to not tense our shoulders. We think we are relaxed because we are so used to feeling this. Letting go of that tension becomes harder.
It's not just our shoulders that carry the weight of the world. All the muscles in our body tighten up when we are under stress or tension. As the fight or flight response often kicks in, our breathing becomes shallower and faster, blood vessels restrict to keep the blood supplying our vital organs, we either prepare for battle or to run. These natural bodily responses tell our brain that we are under threat. The longer our shoulders remain tense and our breathing short or shallow, the longer our brain things there is a problem.
Today, our stresses aren't the same as they were when we were primal beings. They are often unseen and not life threatening - a deadline at work, an influx of emails that need to be replied to, a bill that needs paying, being stuck in traffic and late for a meeting. But our bodies don't know the difference and so they respond in the same way. These modern day stresses are consistent, like a low-level hum. And so, our nervous systems often don't have time to switch off and reset. Hence, people wander around with their shoulder's hunched up to their ears unaware of what their bodies are doing, creating a negative loop of stress that can be hard to break.
So how do we overcome this? It's not so easy to just disconnect and take off to live on a desert island (although I'm working on it ;-) ) Obviously, my answer is yoga. When we practice yoga the first thing we do is breathe slowly and deeply. Moving with an awareness of our breath helps to slow our breathing down which tells our brain that we are calm. Spending time focusing on what your body is doing, how it feels in a certain position, where it is in space, brings our attention away from the outside world AND away from the world inside our minds, simply into our bodies.
Yoga Chitta Vritti Niroda is another one of my favourite sayings. Yoga is the stilling of the changing states of the mind. More often than not, in today's world the stresses we are placed under come predominantly from our minds. We have so much going on and are so 'connected' to everything and everyone that it seems impossible to switch off. This creates tension. Yoga gives our brain time out, something that it needs.
As we allow our mind to settle and focus more on how our body feels, noticing whether our arms are in line in warrior 2, or whether our spine is straight, brings our focus back to our bodies. From here we are able to notice where the tension lies. How tight are our hips and shoulders. Which muscles feel stiff, which feel loose. Over time this body awareness heightens, and we are able to notice it faster. Only then are we aware of the moments when our shoulders are hunched up by our ears and only then can we take the steps to release them.
Sometimes, especially in a fast paced world, we seek fast paced activities to keep us entertained. Sometimes what we really need is the opposite. To slow down, allow the noise to become quiet so that we can listen to what's really going on. Sometimes taking the time to listen is daunting, but the relief we feel when we can finally hear is worth it.