Monday, 4 March 2013

Relax Your Face (There Is No Facepullasana)

Are you pulling a face mid-pose?

The Short Of It
When I look around in class sometimes, I’d swear half the class had just eaten a lemon or were engaged in facercise. 

Your tongue has nothing to do with lifting into handstand.  Squinting like you are a sniper looking through a lens won’t help either.  There is no facepullasana.

Tension in your face and throat will make your poses harder, not easier.  It restricts the flow of blood to the head and your mind will not be at ease. 

As you practice, keep your face soft, the breath soft, and give your mind a break.

The Long of It.
My niece enjoys copying me doing yoga.  She loves to do a one legged version of down dog, easily transitions to a full cobra (feet on head), and gracefully rolls onto her back while hoisting her legs to her face to fold herself in half.

We have also recently discovered she can do ‘bums up’ pose (a bit like bridge), which really helps when changing nappies.  This latest pose has come after I realised she had somehow learned the word ‘bum’ and could go around pointing at everyone’s backsides to entertain us.  Since she knew ‘arms up’ I figured she knew enough to generalise to her rear end and she quickly mastered bums up/bridge. 

Anyway, nowadays I just have to start doing something that looks vaguely like yoga (basically meaning things she does not see adults normally do like sit on the floor, stand on one leg, reach both arms overhead, put my hands on the floor) and quick as a flash she’s either in her one legged dog or running to fetch my yoga mat. 

The other day I was in the back yard trying some arm balance poses and she rushed over.  As you can see from the photo below, I’m about to bite off my lip.  I believe I was actually laughing but let’s say I’m pulling a face since that is a weird looking buck-tooth laugh I wasn’t sure I had.  My niece is hard at work about to lift her back leg up (like mine), recruiting that all-important tongue to help. 

Are our faces helping us here?
Flicking through the family photo album reminded me of the dangling tongues and contorted faces that sometimes crop up in yoga class.  Little kids often poke their tongue out when they are trying something new or challenging. 

And, after teaching yoga for the past 8 years, I have developed a theory (based on hard scientific evidence of course) that tongue poking and furrowed brows must be some sort of hard-wired response that emerges from humans when we do something tricky. 

It is good every now and then to state the obvious, so here goes.

1) Your tongue is not going to lift you into handstand. 

2) Knitted brows are not going to help you hold longer in a squat. 

3) Buck-tooth lip biting won’t help your arm balances.

4) Squinting your eyes and hardening your eyeballs as though you are trying to send lasers through the floor are not going to helping you balance either.

5) There is no such pose as facepullasana.

Relaxing the face is important throughout your yoga practice.  Hardening and contorting your face definitely has some effect on mental state.  Furrow your brows and your brain somehow feels tense.  Relax them and it feels instantly calmer.  Try it now. 

The same goes for your tongue.  Doing funny things with your tongue while practicing yoga stifles the free flow of energy and rather than making your pose easier it will make it feel much, much harder.   

Think about your tongue now.  What is it doing?  Can you close your eyes relax it? Feel how this affects the jaw, cheeks, and throat?

Tensing muscles restricts the flow of blood to an area.  Tension in your tongue and face is often accompanied by tension in your neck. 

If you hold tension around your throat and face you are going to restrict the flow of blood and energy to your brain.  Generally, this is not what we are looking for. 

Yoga is very much about activating a global awareness; feeling and responding to the tiny changes that are going on throughout the entire body. 

When you are in the learning stage of anything you tend to focus on what seem to be the ‘major’ elements. 

Since the face is never really involved in moving you or holding you in position it is easy to forget and unless you remind yourself to feel what is going on there you will often find it doing its own thing. 

In class I will constantly remind you to feel what is going on with your tongue, throat, neck, the little muscles around your eyes, your eyebrows, and even your eyeballs.  But perhaps you can also start to make a mental note to remind yourself to check in on this too!

 Happy and safe practicing!


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