Your body’s response to threat is to contract the flexor muscles. These include the large muscles in the front of your body that support you in curling into a ball, doing a forward roll and lying in “child’s pose”. All this flexing prepares you to either run away or fight in the event of an attack. How? Being rounded/flexed puts you in a ready position – like a sprinter in starting blocks – so that a powerful contraction of the extensor muscles in your back lets you spring forward with great force to either flee or attack.
When real or perceived threat is long standing your flexor muscles continue to work hard and you experience what we call stress and anxiety. With the powerful flexors working overtime, your extensors/back muscles have to work extra hard to keep you sitting and standing upright. Instead of the muscle groups working together, they essentially fight each other – both groups working as hard as they can battling for dominance. This can lead to chronic backache, neck ache and more.
Your instinct may be to stretch or dig into tight muscles. Over time you may eventually weaken the grip of one group or the other. But there is an easier, more pleasurable way.
Think of your powerful flexors as whiny 3-year old children begging for attention. Want to calm them down? Simply give them what they want – to flex. As with breathing, taking conscious control of a natural response allows you to let go into ease.
Here are several options:
1. If you’re a yoga fan, lie in child’s pose.
2. Lie on your back, draw your knees up over your chest. Wrap your arms around the front of your shins and draw your knees a little closer to you. Let your lower back press gently into the floor. Breathe deeply, pushing your belly out to press against your thighs as you inhale. Take several breaths then let it all go and lie flat on the floor.
3. In sitting, slump your shoulders, round your whole back and let your head hang. Take several breaths, pushing your belly out as you inhale. Return to sitting. Notice how much easier is to be upright.