I just got home from a week of training in LifeForce Yoga for Depression and Anxiety. The training was led by Amy Weintraub, and if you haven't checked out her book, Yoga for Depression, I would highly recommend it. I learned a lot from this experience, and I'm sure it will fuel a number of posts in the coming weeks. One of the most memorable experiences from the week was also one of the strangest for me. It was a therapeutic long hold of a bridge pose.
Bridge pose is a simple back bend, but it requires a lot of leg and spine strength, as well as flexibility in the psoas muscles. The psoas muscles reach from the rear of the body along the inside of the spine, through the hips, to attach to the top of the femur bone. They are involved in balance and stability, and are also thought to be a repository for emotional baggage such as past trauma, a lack of support in early development, and chronic everyday stress. The theory behind a therapeutic long hold is that the body will release tension without the mind having to get involved. This allows for opening without re-experiencing traumatic memories. However, this is not an exercise that should be done by anyone with PTSD or acute traumatic symptoms, it is simply too powerful.
I have to say I was extremely skeptical that this exercise would do anything other than test my endurance, because I don't love bridge pose. I was with a really great group of people, however, some of whom have done this before, and assured me it would be worth it. So, I dove right in. We held the pose without props, and with no idea how long the experience would last (we later found out it was about 13 minutes). The facilitator also told us we could push up to full wheel pose if we felt the need for more opening. I did go between the two poses a couple of times, and it really allowed me to take it to the next level. Amy and her staff also helped us stay grounded, telling us to stay present and not "zone out" in the pose.
People around me were in varying states of emotional release within 5 -8 minutes. Some people were sobbing, some were laughing, singing, chanting, or just trying to muscle through. In the first 5 minutes I had a flash of a childhood memory, not traumatic, as I fortunately had a pretty "normal" childhood. It was a moment I can best describe as feeling unheard. I don't know why that memory popped up, as I've honestly not thought about it in decades, but there was really no emotion attached to it, in the usual sense of the word. Then I really kind of lost myself in the sensation of my body in the pose. I felt extremely strong and free, and after a second full wheel, I started to cry. I have no idea why. There were no thoughts attached to it initially, but then I had a burst of insight about a dilemma I've been batting around in my mind for months now. When they told us we could release the pose, I didn't want to. When we finally came down, the facilitators led us in a really deep yoga nidra experience (literally "yogic sleep") which is a guided body sensing that relaxes the mind and body and allows you to connect to your deepest source. We did some processing, and some people were unable to let go, and ended up feeling angry and let down by the experience. But most of us had some form of emotional release, whether or not it resulted in any great revelations.
I do not think this is an exercise to be undertaken alone. First of all, I'm not sure it would work without a safe presence in the room to allow you to release. Secondly, I believe the processing afterwards is needed to really garner the benefits. However, it can really open the body and the mind for yogis wanting to get at their deeper core. Interestingly, my body felt really good afterwards. My legs weren't sore, my hips and lower back didn't ache, they felt magnificent, and still do. Amy told us that would be the case, but I honestly didn't believe that for a second. My main lesson from this was that the body is connected to the mind in ways we cannot see in an anatomy book, and not all emotional release needs to come from talking. I do not foresee using this technique with patients or students, but it was a revelation for me personally, and I'm very grateful for the insights I gained.
Here is a link to Amy Weintraub's LifeForce Yoga for Depression website: http://www.yogafordepression.com/index.html
Check out http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/472 for a description of bridge pose.