Remember a morning when curling up into a ball and pulling the covers over your head seemed the only reasonable response to the upcoming day? Contraction into the fetal position may seem like one of the less debilitating responses to stress, but it’s rarely an option—at least not one with a satisfactory result.
Nevertheless, part of the stress response hardwired into our nervous system is the contraction of the major flexors of the torso—somewhat like the response of a caterpillar if you poke it with a twig. A verbal jab from a co-worker, the close call on the freeway, a long-standing argument with your spouse, free-floating anxiety—all of these elicit a contraction in the flexors. This is the tightening in the gut, the hunching of the shoulders, the sinking of the heart. As with all responses to stress, the problem is that the response becomes habitual, resulting in chronic tension and contraction, which we then experience as our “normal” state. Our yoga practice is an opportunity to undo this chronic tension, and establish a deep and abiding sense of harmony in the body and mind.